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Security Still Contested Issue at Eastern Market

Security or lack of it has bedeviled the Eastern Market since the COVID pandemic. It was a key topic at the Nov. 29th meeting of the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC).

The District government and the City Council wisely took steps to preserve the Market during the pandemic, but in the wake of COVID they are now cutting corners on security costs. That budget comes from the Department of General Services (DGS), the market owner and landlord.

As in the last few years, zero dollars are budgeted for a security presence at the Market next year. Consequently, there is zero security at the Market.

This leaves the market vulnerable to petty crime as well as the looming threat of a mass event, especially as an increasingly robust Market approaches its pre-COVID peak income of just under $1 million.

DGS’s market manager Barry Margeson announced that the FY2024 budget is $838,052.

Many thousands of people shop at the Eastern Market each weekend with a steady drumbeat of business during the week.

EMCAC for years has pressed for a stronger security presence and plan. DGS has presented an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) that EMCAC members characterize as more suited to a building when it should be tailored to a successful indoor and outdoor public food and arts and crafts market.

Responding to these currents, EMCAC Chair Chuck Berger has created an Ad Hoc Committee on Public Safety to tackle and report to the EMCAC on public safety and its various complexities.

A springtime incident that involved an assault and an attempted carjacking caught the attention of both the community and EMCAC. The result was a greater but voluntary presence of an already overstretched MPD force at the Market.

Fears of vendors and merchants were appeased with “active threat” classes. The third in the past year is scheduled for Jan. 16th from 6 to 7 p.m.

Meanwhile on Nov. 18, 19 and 22 pickpockets successfully invaded the Market, reportedly stealing from three different customers. Admittedly, these are nowhere near the seriousness of a spate of carjackings or of a mass shooting event they nevertheless show on a very small scale how easily things  could get out of hand.

At the most recent EMCAC meeting, held in the market’s North Hall on Nov. 29, Market Manager Barry Margeson reported that there will be “overtime PSD [private security detail] at the  Eastern Market from 8 a.m. till 6 p.m. each weekend day through the holiday season. “

What is not clear is how long the market will have a security presence. The language of the Manager’s Report suggests seems to suggest that security will be present through the holiday season.

Another sign that security concerns are not a priority is that two security measures scheduled for installation in November have been delayed. These include long-awaited street bollards, a building block for Market security. An update is due in the next few days.

Peter Waldron islong time resident and former Chair of ANC6B. Waldron has been reporting on the Eastern Market for fifteen years and can be reached at  peter218@prodigy.net.

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