The District of Columbia Housing Authority is always thinking of ways to enhance its public safety efforts across its portfolio. One of those programs has several officers as customers, as well as employees, living within several of its traditional public housing communities.
The Office of Public Safety’s Resident Officer Program allows its police officers, as well as officers of the Metropolitan Police Department, to live at designated DCHA properties throughout the portfolio rent-free. In return, the officers become active members of the community, by mentoring, participating in neighborhood events, and being exemplary neighbors, all the while adding an extra layer of security to the area.
“I love the job. I actually like what I do. I wanted to be a cop since I was in the third grade. Housing police is better than a typical police department, in my opinion, because we get to interact with a lot of the community more,” said Officer Destiny Phillips, who has been with OPS since October of 2019. “It is more personal. I get to know people by their names and how to calm them down…Sometimes people are quick to judge, but I know the person and can assist the situation.”
Also getting to know her neighbors and some of their health conditions has given her a new perspective and education she takes with her into the field, she said.
Phillips was experiencing a challenging living arrangement until she was accepted into the Resident Officer Program. She was able to apply to a student loan reduction program since she became an OPS officer, has been paying down debt, and is making other personal improvements while living in an affordable home.
For starting police officers, “There aren’t places for people to live in D.C. and afford a high market rent. This way, we can work freely without stressing” Philllips said. “In my opinion, it helps recruit people to the force. People aren’t aware of what DCHA offers.”
Sometimes resident officers have to deal with problem situations on their property while they are on-duty or can assist responding officers to their property when they are off-duty. Officers reported helping with parking arrangements, health emergencies, disputes between neighbors, and stolen vehicles, among other issues at their sites, in addition to being a visual presence that keeps criminal activity at bay.
“I am able to build one-on-one relationships,” said Officer Ronald Tarpley, who has been on the force for more than five and a half years. “I also think that with my residency, kids see me walking the dog or picking up trash blowing out of cans. I’m taking ownership and caring for the neighborhood. Hopefully they follow suit. It makes you look at an officer in a different way, especially when you haven’t seen them in that type of capacity.”
Tarpley said he is using his position to help him save money, but that he finds more residents recognize him while he is on patrol and feel more comfortable talking to him. He also believes that his squad car parked outside of his unit helps deter crime not only from his property but also in the surrounding community. He said his neighbors know he is vested in his property and the community.
“I enjoy being part of the community,” said Officer Elizabeth Jones, who has been with MPD for 22 years. “One thing I’ve always thrived on was community…This program was a way for me to move back in and not just give back, but to just be a part of it in whatever capacity.”
Jones grew up in East Capitol Dwellings and is no stranger to DCHA properties, she said. Now she most enjoys giving back by mentoring a family. She said she is with them through their ups and downs and encourages them to do their best to reach their own personal successes.
She said this is her way to help bring a more favorable light and personal level of understanding with her neighbors of what being a police officer is.
“I say hi when I’m outside and walking to the family around the corner,” Jones said. “I feel like I’m bringing to the community a sense of diversity.”
Properties interested in having a resident officer should ask through their property management staff and area managers. There will be a review to see if the program will fit with the property before an officer is assigned.