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June 17, 2008
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D.C. police chief defends checkpoints

By Brian Westley
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The District of Columbia's police chief on Monday defended vehicle checkpoints in a neighborhood struggling with violence, saying the measure was a success and that no shootings occurred while they were in place.

Police Chief Cathy Lanier, testifying before a D.C. Council committee, also refused to refrain from using the controversial checkpoints again, despite those who said the tactic had brought the city a rash of bad publicity.

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"We are trying to do the right things for the right reasons," Lanier said.

Under the initiative in the Trinidad neighborhood for six days earlier this month, officers checked drivers' ID and turned away those who didn't live there or have a "legitimate purpose" for visiting, such as a doctor's appointment or a church visit.

The measure has been criticized by civil liberties groups as a violation of citizens' constitutional rights.

Johnny Barnes, executive director of the D.C. branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, has warned that police "are on a collision course with the courts" if the checkpoints continue.

At the hearing before the council's public safety committee, council member Mary Cheh asked Lanier to consider backing down.

"I think the costs here are extraordinary and the benefits are either marginal or nonexistent," Cheh said.

Lanier, however, testified that the initiative announced in June was a success and that she would likely use it again. She noted that there were no shootings while the checkpoints were in place from June 7 until Thursday. She said police were also using other strategies in Trinidad, such as increased foot patrols.

Some are calling for long-term solutions to crime. D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., who represents the Trinidad neighborhood, is pushing a 10-point plan that, among other things, calls for expanded access to drug and alcohol counseling services and establishing youth outreach centers.

Residents who testified Monday about the checkpoints were divided.

Kathy Henderson dismissed concerns about civil liberties, saying the level of violence was a greater threat to residents' rights.

"We're in crisis mode, and frankly any academic discussion about the merits of this program and civil liberties is best had in neighborhoods that aren't overrun by violence," she said.

Deborah Golden said the checkpoints left her furious.

"You don't teach children to obey the law by ignoring it when it doesn't suit your purposes," she said.

 




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