Trip to the Police Station Yields Concerns About Safety, by Council Nedd

Being born in Washington, D.C. and having spent most of my life in the Washington area, I know one gets numb to – and even expects – a certain level of sloth and ineptitude when dealing with city officials. The sort of sloth of which I speak is by no means unique to our nation’s capital. In part due to the District’s notorious reputation, however, bureaucratic malaise seems to reach new lows.

After reading about lacadaisical “7-11 cops” in a recent issue of the Washington City Paper, I wasn’t looking forward to going to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) offices at 300 Indiana Avenue NW. Upon arrival, it was immediately clear that officers assigned to this building must be far removed from the activities that one generally associates with beat cops.

Officers I see on the streets (and in assorted convenience stores) generally look quite fit. If something were to go down, I’m confident these officers – even without guns – could take care of themselves. They may not accurately report what occurred, but I believe they could keep the populace safe. As the son and brother of former officers, I know overweight cops exist. In the MPD, they all seem to work in this one building.

I needed police assistance because I recently made a career change. Having worked in the public policy arena for about a decade, I am becoming a high school history teacher and Anglican priest. Understandably, and as part of a requirement to teach in Washington, I need police clearance. I was told this process doesn’t take long.

I filled out the proper forms and handed the officer my driver’s license. Mind you, I’ve never been convicted of a felony. I’ve never even been arrested. But, hearing horror stories about clerical errors, I expected to be informed of my vast criminal record and detained on some outstanding bench warrant. I was pleasantly surprised when the city later confirmed what I already knew – Council Nedd II has no criminal record.

I have to say I was impressed. There is a tendency to be overly appreciative when a city employee accomplishes even the simplest tasks. I can’t say I was impressed about the treatment of the two other gentlemen whom I’ll call “Butch” and “Sundance.”

When Butch presented his papers and identification, the officer chided him about the condition of his license. It was an older laminated license with dog-eared corners and scratches so severe that information could barely be discerned. But the officer was in a good mood and decided the license was valid enough for obtaining a felony clearance. Evidently, this is what is meant by “close enough for government work.”

Sundance’s license, by comparison, made his friend’s look brand new. His was completely wrapped in scotch tape to the point that the words “Washington, D.C.” were not even visible across the top. Again, the officer dutifully scolded Sundance but processed his paperwork anyway.

Within ten minutes, we were all called to get our clearances. Butch and Sundance were as happy as I to find no felonies on our records, but they seemed especially ecstatic. Once we got on the elevator it was clear why.

We rode an elevator already occupied by two of Washington’s finest. Butch and Sundance proceeded to laugh and joke about how they’d gotten one over on the system. In the short ride from the third floor to the second floor, as Sundance removed the mounds of tape from the license, they told us all about their time in the Lorton Correctional Facility – the recently closed prison serving the District. They also said they had to return the licenses they used to their rightful owners.

Since then, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying to guess where Butch and Sundance could be working. Will I see Sundance working security the next time I fly out of Reagan National Airport? Maybe Butch will hand me my allergy prescriptions the next time I pick them up at the pharmacy. Then again, maybe Butch will be teaching in the classroom next to me.

(Council Nedd is a member of the national advisory council of the African-American leadership network Project 21. He can be reached at [email protected].)

Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.

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