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Public Safety Focus of June EMCAC Meeting

Hearing the words “active shooter training”  in a public meeting has a way of capturing attention. Market Manager Barry Margeson did so while updating members of the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) at their June 28th meeting.

It was part of Margeson’s briefing on public safety, an effort quell the notion that there are related issues at the Market spinning out of control or that those that exist are not being addressed.

What is indisputable is there is no longer a security presence on weekends at the Eastern Market.

This elevated concern for public safety is directly traceable to an incident on June 3rd. On that day, a member of the community was assaulted on North Carolina Avenue SE, adjacent to the market. The assailant then attempted a carjacking.

There is a growing sense among vendors that the Market is seeing a rise in theft and aggressive behavior. 

The special police presence  ended during the pandemic. The funds once allocated for security are no longer a part of the Market’s budget.

EMCAC addressed these two issues at its recent meeting: the lingering threat of a ”major incident” that might occur on the public space; and, rising crime in the larger Hill community and how it impacts that Market.

EMCAC Chair Chuck Burger laid out some of the proposed solutions. Those include the placement of bollards around the Market as well as a plethora of cameras and regular threat assessments to address possible major incidents. One suggestion was to make an application for a grant from Homeland Security.

In lieu of a police presence some proposed solutions seem more desperate than realistic, such as hiring and training youth from the DC summer programs or hiring “ambassadors.“ They would carry walkie talkies, but security personnel no longer exist.

Burger even suggested resuscitating the Orange Hat patrols as a model. Orange Hat volunteers attacked crime in the 90s on the Hill with mixed success.

Burger and EMCAC have an even more formidable task in getting an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) for the market in place. They are working on an ERP with DGS, a large project given the sheer number of vendors and the thousands who attend the Market on a daily and weekend basis.

Associate Director of Department of General Services (DGS) Protective Service Police Nero Priester offered the department security services but not the actual security presence of the police, citing constrained finances. Priester even raised the possibility of the vendors paying  for this service as is done at other markets  but cautioned that the cost was prohibitive at $50 to $60 per hour. 

What was not on offer was the funding to pay for a police presence.

Priester guessed that the reason for the lack of protective security at the Market was financial, citing the “tremendous cost of overtime,” as well as insufficient number of officers as DC exited the pandemic.

As the discussion closed, DGS Ombudsman Olivia Warren weighed in with a proposal to provide for “safety spaces” to relocate to during an incident and a common call-in number to reassure that vendors are safe.

The first of the active shooters training sessions was at noon on Wednesday July 5th at the North Hall with more scheduled.   

Market Managers Report

According to Market Manager Margeson, Market revenue is currently $444,414 —approximately $40,000 ahead of FY 22. It projected to reach $761,852. Revenue from the pandemic is recovering and slowly approaching the nearly one million mark achieved in the last year before the pandemic.

The North Hall has already surpassed the previous year’s revenue with four months left to go, a sure sign of the growing health of the Market. Booked events are where the real and significant and profitable growth stems from at Eastern Market.

Peter Waldron is a long time Hill resident and former Chair of ANC 6B. He has been reporting on the Eastern Market for thirteen years. Waldron can be reached at peter218@prodigy.net

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