Sherwood’s Notebook: Illegally Parked Police Cars Spoil Police Week


You’ll see them in evening and morning rush-hour lanes, in the bus stops, in the crosswalks, on the sidewalks, in “no parking” zones and in commercial loading zones. In short, you see them parked everywhere.

We’re talking about illegally parked police cars, an embarrassing side of what normally is a heartfelt week in which officers come from around the nation for “Police Week” in the nation’s capital. It continues through Friday.

There are solemn ceremonies honoring slain officers. There are other ceremonies that mark the good work that police officers do every day.

And the officers who come to Washington bring the prestige and honor of the departments for which they work.

Which is why it’s particularly embarrassing when many police vehicles lawlessly park anywhere they damn please.

NBC4’s cameras captured the scene on Monday. Especially near Thomas Circle, there were dozens of illegally parked police vehicles.

The Newark, N.J., contingent went a step further. The officers brought along their own hometown orange cones and put them in the street to mark their territory. The Newark orange cones blocked a busy bus stop, forcing riders into the street as they got on and off the buses.

Your Notebook asked D.C. officials about the rampant illegal parking.

“They are expected to follow the laws just like anyone else,” was the reply from Police Chief Cathy Lanier’s office. A spokesperson for the Department of Public Works, which assigns parking ticket writers, said there was no instruction against ticketing the police. And Mayor Vincent Gray’s office said “no pass” was given for the out-of-towners.

But over several hours on Monday, NBC4 did not see even one ticket on any police vehicle. We did get grumbling about the vehicles from passersby. We did get emails and tweets pointing out other locations and more violations. (And yes, we got a few tweets criticizing us for focusing on the issue.)

Your Notebook is not sure why the city doesn’t block off parking spaces on non-rush hour streets and reserve them for the officers. Maybe the officers could bring their trailers into town, offload their cycles and other gear, then drive the trailers to a less busy part of town.

In fact, there are many more vehicles parked illegally in a sparse area of Southwest near the baseball stadium. A huge lot there is fenced off for outdoor eating, vendors selling police memorabilia and general socializing. But the illegally parked cars in Southwest cause no trouble for anyone. There is even a steady stream of shuttle vans to take officers and their families to and from other parts of town.

Before next year’s Police Week, maybe some better planning could be done. Police officers are an important part of the fabric of our free society. They shouldn’t be seen as Wild West cowboys riding in for a rules-be-damned Saturday night. Let’s find decent parking for all their gear, and then we can salute them rather than have people grinding their teeth over blatant disrespect for our city laws.

■ Better than before. Several D.C. police officers pointed out -- and we agreed -- that Police Week is a lot better than before. Years ago the public drunkenness was as bad as the illegal parking and the racing through the streets, blocking intersections at will.

Chief Lanier has taken to sending a letter to other departments urging officers to respect their badge when they come to town. It has helped a lot.

■ It’s getting crowded here. Mayor Gray told the Notebook last week that the city’s economic boom is continuing. He said planners now expect 250,000 more citizens to live in the District within the next 20 to 25 years. That would take our population to about 880,000 people.

That’s why you’re seeing public meetings begin this week on whether and how to raise the city’s height limit to accommodate some of those folks. It’s why you see city planners thinking up ways to minimize single-occupancy automobile traffic in favor of mass transit and better density for housing.

■ Tourism is booming, too. The marketing group Destination D.C. last week reported that the city set a new record for visitors to the city. It was only a slight 3 percent increase over the year before, but the nation’s capital continues to be a popular destination. The city says tourism supports some 75,000 jobs and creates more than $6 billion in annual spending here.

■ A correction: In our posting last week on the city controversy over food trucks, your Notebook mistakenly wrote that “Andrew Klein” was representing the restaurant association. As we have known for way too many years, his name is “Kline.”

As his email to us read so succinctly, “Dude, I’m still Kline!”

Our apologies.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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