As you may have noticed, a recent post elicited a high volume of comments about an increase in the amount of indecorous behavior taking place on The Promenade. Simultaneously, there was a discussion thread on my neighborhood listserv addressing the very same issue. This leads me to believe that something there has recently changed for the worse, or it could be that pent up frustrations are finally coming to a head.
It's clear that this is a subject that everyone has an opinion on. The main gist of the discussion is that people are feeling that there is an inordinate amount of rowdy behavior occurring in the DTSS area and that the situation has recently deteriorated. Some are put off by the raw language that they regularly overhear on Ellsworth St. and many have shared specific examples of intimidation, sexual harassment and abuse that they or acquaintances have suffered. These negative experiences are not imaginary and based on some sort of age, gender or race bias, and apologists who claim that this is so are unfairly blaming the victims.
The behavior in question primarily occurs on Friday and Saturday nights during the summer months, but one bad experience is enough to drive people away from DTSS year-round. Not to mention the number of people to whom the victims will relate their experiences. Remember, Bethesda ain't that far away.
Photo by Flickr user moworld.
No one's ever messed with me personally, but I can definitely say that on many occasions I've heard some pretty bad language when there were scores of young children around. Not that I don't use the same language myself, but I do so a bit more discreetly (such as yelling at the TV during a Redskins game). The threat of violence is always there, though, even in the residential neighborhoods adjacent to DTSS that my wife and myself walk through to get home. On April 23rd of this year, a man on his way home was attacked by a group of ten youths at the corner of Springvale & Pershing. There's been reports of muggings on nearby blocks, as well.
(What really bothers me, of course, is the behavior in the theater, but I won't go into that again in this post. I drove to Cleveland Park to see The Dark Knight at the Uptown this past weekend because I couldn't deal with the Majestic crowd for 2 1/2 hours.)
Fairly or unfairly, a lot of blame has been placed on outsiders, mostly teens that come into Silver Spring for the movie theater. Granted, I have no concrete figures on how many people are from outside MoCo, but I have definitely seen plenty of kids rolling up in cars with D.C. plates. I don't begrudge kids from D.C. and P.G. county the right to come to Silver Spring for the movies. If they won't build a theater near you, what else are you supposed to do? Back in the day I had to hop the 8, 9 and 14 Ride-On shame trains over to Wheaton to go to the movies there because we didn't have squat in the way of movie theaters in Silver Spring, at least before the City Place 10. Ironically, all the Wheaton theaters are now closed and Wheatonites have to come to Silver Spring for movies.
The good news here is that in this case Peterson Management (unlike the management of the Majestic) seems to be responsive to resident concerns. The property manager of DTSS sent out a letter to neighborhood groups acknowledging their concerns and detailing Peterson's efforts to improve the situation. Some highlights:
- We, at Downtown Silver Spring, take these types of comments from the community extremely seriously. We immediately brought in a new Director of Security (who most recently served in this role at Union Station and the Shops at Georgetown Park in DC – both properties with similar types of issues). (Of course they would - they need people with photographer-harassment experience.)My only issue with their response was the repeated use of the word "perception", which seems to imply that there isn't really a problem, you just think there is.
- [W]e implemented an “Action Team” consisting of Downtown Silver Spring, City Place Mall, Silver Spring Regional Center, Montgomery County Police and Council member representatives with the goal of providing a safe environment for all visitors to the Silver Spring downtown area.
- [W]e hold informal meetings and planned activities with local teens to obtain social and demographic information and feedback. Our next event will be held on July 31st and will include a free movie for teenagers wherein they will be asked to fill out a survey. The effort is to obtain feedback from the teens regarding their thoughts and opinions regarding the Downtown Silver Spring development. (I'd definitely like to see the results of this survey.)
The bad news is that the police have cut back the number of cops on patrol in this area. That, and unbeknownst to me, the Majestic no longer hires off-duty cops to work in the theater as security because if the cops shoot someone they're liable. What if a customer shoots someone??? Maybe the reduction in the presence of law enforcement, both on and off-duty, has emboldened those at whom the recent complaints are aimed.
Anyway, if The Man is listening, here are my suggestions:
- Install plenty of surveillance cameras around the area. There’s probably a lot already there. Yeah, it’s a bit Big Brothery, but if you aren’t doing anything wrong, then there’s no reason to sweat it.I'm certainly not advocating anything extreme like instituting a saggy pants law or setting up checkpoints, only that the authorities do a little bit better job maintaining a more welcoming atmosphere in that area. Optimally we'd have Robocop, Judge Dredd or Batman - or all 3 - patrolling Ellsworth, but unfortunately they don't actually exist, so we'll have to rely on Peterson's security and MoCo's finest. (Unless, of course, one of you wants to take it upon yourself to become Batman.)
- Don’t park half a dozen police cruisers at the corner of Fenton and Ellsworth (see above photo). While this may be more convenient for the coppers, the mere presence of these vehicles gives the impression to law-abiding citizens that some sort of violence could pop off at any moment. Retain the same number – or more – uniformed police to provide security, but leave the cruisers in one of the many garages – or at the police station around the corner. Have more bike or Segway cops patrolling the area. Really, you can never have too many Segways. Mounted officers would be good, too, especially if they could drive the miscreants into giant nets à la Planet of the Apes.
- By far the #1 solution in my book - install one of these Mosquito jobs near the entrance to the Majestic.The Mosquito™ ultrasonic teenage deterrent is the solution to the eternal problem of unwanted gatherings of youths and teenagers in shopping malls, around shops and anywhere else they are causing problems. The presence of these teenagers discourages genuine shoppers and customers’ from coming into your shop, affecting your turnover and profits....[T]he Mosquito ultrasonic teenage deterrent has been described as “the most effective tool in our fight against anti social behaviour”.- Pipe in Baroque music through the PA. Perhaps this could replace the endlessly-looping drum music they play in the hallway between the Wayne parking garage and Ellsworth. I hear those drums in my nightmares.
- UPDATE: A commenter pointed out that Virginia Beach has "Courtesty Rules" which outlaw profanity. Violation of these rules can result in a fine for the offender.
Photo by flickr user Tuaussi.
Of course, Silver Spring isn't its own jurisdiction, so we couldn't get a no-profanity law passed, but perhaps there are county laws already on the books that can be interpreted in a way that would allow the cops to do something similar. If nothing else, I like the signs.
No one wants to see Silver Spring go back to how it used to be. Well, almost no one. Pretending there isn't an issue and creating a permissive environment by denying a problem exists will only lead to things getting worse. It's not about prejudice against any race, income or locality, no matter how much some people will try to make it out to be. It's about common decency and the responsibility of authorities, both public and private to create a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone. As has been mentioned before, a high-profile violent incident could be the tipping point that reverses the upward climb downtown Silver Spring had been enjoying over the past five-plus years. I'm not saying that I necessarily expect that to happen, but it very easily could.
That's all I have to say about that. What are your suggestions for improving the situation? No flame wars this time, por favor.