LiveLink – Another Tool for Fighting Crime? By Charles


Charles last wrote about Bladensburg, MD.

I think everyone who’s lived East of the Park for more than a year has found him or herself in the basement of a house party or bent over a bar, bitching about the DC cops, particularly how slowly they respond. Two women, with the support of neighborhood organizations in Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights, are trying to take this conversation out of the repertoire, however, with Operation LiveLink. 

Operation LiveLink puts cell-phones in the hands of beat cops who take calls directly from people who are witnessing suspicious activity or a crime in progress, or have been a victim of a crime.   It doesn’t replace 911; you have to call 911 first.  What it does is short-cut the multi-step dispatch process, which significantly increases the odds that the responding officer will arrive quickly and be familiar with your neighborhood. 

It turns out that while the responding officer gets the blame for being slow, a lot of times it’s the dispatch system that’s screwed up.  Bad information gets passed from 911 to the dispatcher to the cop, or the dispatcher doesn’t make the call a priority.  Marika Torok, who has coordinated Mt. Pleasant’s LiveLink since its beginning four years ago, tells of an incident when an officer showed up long after the truck which had rammed four cars on her block had disappeared.  The problem: the dispatcher didn’t understand that the crime Malika reported was still in progress, and had instead sent the officer to investigate a burglary that had occurred the night before.   “911 doesn’t work right.  That’s why the program is needed,” she declares.   Continues after the jump 

It’s hard to measure LiveLink’s success.   Northwest Columbia Heights Community Association President Cecilia Jones, the force behind that organization’s year-old bi-lingual effort in PSA 302, issued a report in December recording a low of 25 and a high of 217 calls in her program’s first six months.   In Mt. Pleasant, the record-keeping is less formal, but Marika estimates 25-50 calls per month.  Both Marika and Cecilia report enthusiastic anecdotal support, and both neighborhoods claim arrests and convictions for crimes ranging from check fraud to armed carjacking to unlawful entry.  And LiveLink appears to have significant preventive value – reports of suspicious activity are answered by a local officer who knows the territory, rather than indifference from a dispatcher who considers “suspicious activity” a low priority.

Both operations face challenges.  Probably because of its association with the controversial MPNA financial support has been hard to come by, forcing Marika to pay for the cell phones out of her own pocket.  “I’m no Bill Gates,” she says.   The business community and Mt. Pleasant Main Street have been particularly noticeable in their failure to support a program which – for Pete’s sake – only costs $120 and month. Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham has shown interest, but has yet to earmark funds.
In Columbia Heights, in Cecilia has found funding from the neighborhood but also indifference, suspicion and even hostility on the part of the police.  On a ride-along, she noticed that the officer didn’t even know why she had been issued the phone.  “Officers don’t know what it is or why they have it.”  In some months, less than half of LiveLink calls were answered or returned. But, Cecila has “kind of gotten over the shock and the outrage.” She writes in an e-mail “Operation LiveLink would probably be more successful if we could persuade the MPD to operate it through their existing systems and procedures, and integrate Operation LiveLink performance into their regular set of criteria for appraisals and rewards.”
Getting word out is also a problem.  The program depends on eyes on the street.  But, despite passing out thousands of flyers and (in Columbia Heights) hundreds of refrigerator magnets, too few people have the Livelink numbers tucked into their wallets or punched into their cellphones (I wonder if the mugging related on PoP the other day – they guy who was almost garroted on Park Road – might have ended slightly better if LiveLink had been called in addition to 911).  Both Marika and Cecilia would like to see signs similar to the Neighborhood Watch signs throughout their neighborhoods, and Cecilia is working with the Tivoli North Business Association to try to get signs in business windows, while hoping to do door-to-door outreach in English and in Spanish.  

But both are hoping to see the effort expand, as well: into Petworth and south as far as Logan, suggests Cecelia, and into neighborhoods around the city, under the aegis of a dedicated nonprofit, suggests Malika.

Does the program work?   I don’t know for sure, and I’m curious to hear if anyone else has experience with this.  But, for all he smoke everyone from the Mayor on down has been blowing about “community policing” (for at least 15 years) this is the real, if on a limited basis.  And, after talking with Cecilia and Malika I’m going to kick at least a week’s worth of Starbucks into the Mt. Pleasant effort, and put the numbers into my cell. 

And, how does it work? 
First call 911!  A recording of your call is needed to support potential prosecution.  LiveLink officers will not respond unless 911 is called first. 
Then call the appropriate LiveLink number, identify yourself to the officer and give a brief description of the crime or suspicious activity to which they are to respond.
Donations can be made on the Mt, Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance Website (specify “LiveLink” on the PayPal form) and on the Northwest Columbia Heights Community Association site, (PayPal as well).
In Mt. Pleasant, numbers vary according to shift:

Sunday-Thursday 10:00AM-6:30PM 202-689-4278

Sunday-Thursday 2:00PM-10:30PM 202-689-4277

Friday-Saturday 6:00PM-3:00AM 202-689-9913
In NW Columbia Heights, numbers vary according to language.

English 202-870-9855

Spanish 202-870-9856

12 Comment

  • I heard about this a few months ago and would love to have it in Petworth. This is the perfect solution to people using and selling drugs in the alleys. If you call 911, the users/dealers have almost always moved on by the time the police respond. I think it would be different if I were talking to a patrol officer, rather than a 911 operator, when I’m saying “there are 6 people in two cars doing a drug deal RIGHT NOW behind — — ST NW, if you get here in the next three minutes you are going to be able to get all of them, the money, and the drugs.” Because I’ve had recent occasion to say that to a 911 operator, and the result was that the patrol officers slowly drove by the entrance to the alley about 10 minutes later (all the guys were actually still in the alley), but didn’t drive into the ally to investigate. I have to imagine that was because the dispatch notice didn’t describe what was actually going on, and said something like “suspicious persons in alley.”

  • i’ve used livelink before and i think it is a great idea, although i’ve been in communication with cecilia about how the past few times i’ve called, the responding officers have not answered the phones after several calls. at one call, the officer told me “im busy now so i can’t come, call the other line.” i’m not really sure if any of my livelink calls directly contributed to the cops showing up sooner than 911, or if any arrests made were helped by livelink. perhaps if there were more funding it might help…

  • I tried using Livelink about a year and a half ago when my car was stolen. I called 911, reported the info, got a call back from the auto theft folks and gave them the details about my car. I then called the appropriate Livelink number. No one answered it went to voicemail. I left a message. No response or follow up and so based on this experience I’ve never tried using it again.

  • And P.S.: My car was eventually found, being used as a getaway car for a shoplifter at a store in upper NW. In between getting stolen and being found, it had received multiple street sweeping tickets a few blocks away in Columbia Heights — as I found when I got a notice of unpaid tickets from the DC gov. Apparently the police didn’t even bother checking for tickets on the plate number.

  • Lets hope they arent busy “Sexting”

  • This program is ridiculous in nature. Think about it – it’s basically an admission that the 911 dispatch system here doesn’t work. I guess this is what we get when we allow the mayor to place someone with ABSOLUTELY NO PUBLIC SAFETY EXPERIENCE as head of the 911 communications center. Add to that her huge attitude problem, but maybe that just ‘trickled up’ from the attitude given off by most of the call takers and dispatchers.

  • While this program sounds good in theory, when I heard about it I was originally put off by the fact that if you were to need to call you would have to consult which shift it is in order to determine which number to call (which means carrying the #s around with you), it’s not like you can simply program a number into your cell phone which would then forward to the on-duty officer, or have 911 forward the call for you. Now that I understand that the program is independently sponsored, I don’t think that it’s surprising to hear that the officers don’t always answer their phones — they have no obligation to. I agree with ontarioroader, fixing the 911 dispatch system would go much further to solving the problem of slow police response times. It’s a good idea, but it appears to be a band-aid on a far larger problem.

  • This is a third-world work-around for a broken dispatch system. What an embarrassment!

    I’ve been to a lot of livable, functional, world-class cities. DC ain’t one of ’em.

  • @Buck Turgidson
    Perhaps the dispatch system is broken, perhaps Live Link is not the answer but at least citizens are trying. Why the vitriol? I don’t think that this “world class” toss down is called for in response to an article about people that are at least trying to make things better for all of us as Quixotic as the attempt might be. Save the nasties for the Atlanta folks that want to be “world class” m’kay?
    By the way, I don’t think Live Link is a workable or good idea on many levels and think that it’s a shame (and I’m ashamed) that residents believe they have to try to create an end run around 911 in order to get police response. I do support it to the extent that it creates another bond between MPD and residents.

  • Arguably, Buck has a point — he may have been to a number of “world-class” cities where his obvious wealth and sophistication drew muggers the way light draws moths and his subsequent global experience with the local “Neun-uno-un” system revealed a brutally efficient police force and city bureaucracy. If only he’d given us details.

    Also, arguably, Buck has the intellectual capacity of his namesake, meaning that he considers bluster an adequate substitute for thought.

    Inarguably, the people involved in LiveLink are committed to their community and playing the hand they’re dealt, as best they can.

    It’s far from a perfect system. Nobody is more aware of that than (I believe after having spoken with them) Cecilia and Marika. But people who commit to more than a blog post deserve the benefit of the doubt and, to the extent that LiveLink is a sharp stick in the eye of a deeply flawed 911 system, it succeeds on multiple levels.

    Bitching about 911 isn’t enough. You have to provide competition or an alternative.

  • In re. to mt p post about tickets on a stolen car – this is the absolute best way (sadly, pretty much the only way) to find a stolen car in DC. Stolen cars are often used for a while then ditched – You can go online to DMV and enter your tag number and find the location where it is parked. I have personally found 3 cars this way, just seeing them seemingly out of place in my neighborhood. Twice I just looked inside through a window and found enough info. to find the owner and call them.

    I saw one stolen car parked on my street (illegally) for over a month. It got 5 tickets, but no officer ever ran the plates. (I reported it several times.) Finally, after it was ransacked and left open, I went in, found a dry-cleaner receipt and called the owner who had reported it stolen so long ago the insurance had already replaced it.

  • Live Link in my opinion, can be a potent tool for both citizens and law enforcement in promoting enhanced safety and quality of life issues in our communities. With the greater use of cell phones, opportunities exist as well for enriching or destroying our locales. For those who wish to circumvent the law in using cell phones for illegal drug activities, this has been observed in Mt.. Pleasant; likewise, citizens have been able to counter these activities in their areas via mobiles and Live Link. Why not use the latest technologies in promoting healthier communities. The organizors of the Live Link efforts should be highly commended and supported by private and public funds. At a recent police communiy meeting, I heard a resident relate the use of Live Link thwart a mugging attempt. As related in other comments, various applications of the service are repirted. Only our imaginations can unlock the constructive potential of Live Link for the greater good of our communities, if we give it a chance.

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