This year's annual Capital Pride Parade was a larger event than in the past, with an extended route that stretched from the far edge of Dupont Circle in the east to Logan Circle and downtown in the west. But while the event was an expanded logistical challenge for organizers, only a handful of police officers were on hand during the parade, leaving the event seriously understaffed according to both parade organizers and the Metropolitan Police Department.
Because of the small police presence -- organizers say they expected 70 officers, but only 19 were present -- some roads were not closed for the parade, which started at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 11. Metro Weekly staff observed the parade sharing the road with oncoming traffic along P Street early in the parade, as well as civilian parade volunteers directing traffic at busy intersections such 15th and P streets NW.
"It impacted [the parade] tremendously," said Allan Dudley, volunteer chair of the parade. The parade was stopped for extended periods when it reached intersections that had not been closed.
"We didn't have much of a choice," said Dudley, who pointed out that he did not ask any volunteers to direct traffic. "Do I think my volunteers should have been directing traffic? No. [But] someone had to do it so we could continue the parade."
Dudley, who also chaired the 2004 parade, said that a similar situation with police turnout that year delayed the start of the parade. This year, he said, the parade started on time even though the expected number of police were not on hand.
Sgt. Brett Parson of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit said that it was "absolutely" unsafe for volunteers to be directing traffic.
"When you have an untrained person standing in the middle of traffic...that's not safe," he said.
Cmdr. Cathy Lanier of the MPD Special Operations Division (SOD) said the problem was one of communication. The Capital Pride parade and festival are "reimbursable events," for which the sponsoring organizations -- in the case of Capital Pride, the Whitman-Walker Clinic -- must provide the city with the funds to cover the cost of city services for the event, including police presence. Those arrangements were not finalized until less than 48 hours before the start of the parade, she said.
"The event wasn't staffed properly because we didn't have the time to pull appropriate staffing for it," said Lanier.
Although permits and parade routes had been applied for and announced well in advance, Lanier said it was MPD policy not to make any assignments until the reimbursement is received. She also said that under the MPD's union contract, the department must provide officers with 14 days notice before reassigning them to special events coverage.
A Capital Pride volunteer directs traffic at 15th and P streets NW.
(Photo by Randy Shulman)
"We pulled as many people as we could to staff the event," she said. "It's unfortunate there was a problem."
When told of volunteers directing traffic Lanier said, "That should never have happened."
Capital Pride Director Robert York said that in the weeks leading up to the event Whitman-Walker approached the Office of the Mayor about receiving help from the city to cover the cost of reimbursements. The clinic is in the midst of a financial crisis that has led to layoffs, program cuts and missed payrolls.
York attributed the late receipt of information on the reimbursement to a combination of time-consuming processes and procedures, but stressed that without the assistance of the mayor's office the clinic would have been unable to meet the reimbursement requirements for Capital Pride.
Vincent Morris, spokesman for Mayor Anthony Williams, confirmed that the mayor's office had agreed to support Capital Pride with approximately $40,000 to cover reimbursables for both Saturday's parade and Sunday's street festival. However, he said the process is lengthy because the mayor insists on full accountability of funds.
"We won't go back to the days when money was not as tightly guarded and there was a lot less accountability," Morris said. "That's one of the reasons that [the process] went so long and the police department didn't have a lot of lead time."
Although York acknowledges that there were delays in the reimbursable process, he said the MPD was well aware of the annual pride parade, and would have expected some arrangements to be made to adequately staff the event. Both he and Lanier said they will meet in July to discuss ways to avert similar problems for next year's event.
Some members of the D.C. City Council who participated in the parade said that while financial accountability is an important priority, there should be some flexibility on the part of MPD when it comes to large annual events such as Capital Pride.
"There's a difference between an established event and a one-time event hosted by an out-of-town company," said Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). "That would argue for flexibility."
Mendelson said the system for reimbursing the city for expenses was an attempt to balance the needs of special events with the city's resources. But that's not a policy that precludes appropriate police presence, he said.
"Even if the parade organizers are unable to pay anything, the police are still responsible for public safety," said Mendelson.
Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) agreed that some flexibility was needed.
"When we've got something this large and this significant, you've got to make sure the police are there," he said. "You can't be absent on a technicality."