NPS Anacostia River Trail Safety

Poor design & no USPP officer positions created to patrol the trail-
Poor planning for emergency service access to trail-

The National Park Service’s Anacostia River Trail along the banks of the Anacostia River is about seven miles long. The trail runs between the South Capitol Street Bridge and the Maryland line. Since the trail opened visitation has been steadily increasing as more portions of the trail are completed. That’s a problem because the National Park Service (NPS) designed and built the trail without carefully considering visitor safety. The design of the trail increases the difficulty of delivering emergency services to trail users. In specific areas of the trail, the design limits or prevents access for automobiles, fire equipment, and ambulances. This complicates responding to critical incidents on the trail. 

In response to this, the District of Columbia Fire Department requested permission to position a golf cart sized rescue vehicle with a stretcher, near the trail at the National Park Service NCP-East Kenilworth Maintenance Yard. This vehicle would expedite the treatment and transport of patients from the trail. NPS NCP-East has not agreed to this arrangement. Some people think they are more concerned about issues related to the Fire Department entering their maintenance yard,  than fixing rescue equipment access issues.

No mile markers

Visitors to the trail would probably expect that there would be mile markers that would assist them in identifying their location if they needed to call 911. Even though it has been open for awhile, there are still no mile/location markers on the NPS portion of the trail. By comparison, the part of the trail on the Anacostia River in Maryland, under the jurisdiction of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), has mile markers. Providing victims with a way to specifically identify their location when calling for assistance is a critical issue that must be fixed immediately.

No call boxes

Even in the mobile phone age, there should be call boxes along the trail to provide people an alternate way to call for help. There aren’t any. What if a person has their phone taken and they need assistance?

No additional United States Park Police staffing

Even though the design and construction of the Anacostia River Trail occurred over a period of years, the NPS didn’t add any USPP officer positions to provide adequate protection for the additional visitors it would attract. The National Park Service’s Anacostia River Trail is in the United States Park Police East District, District 5 Station (D-5). The D-5 Station is located in Anacostia Park just south of the 11th Street Bridge in the United States Park Police, Anacostia Operations Facility.

The NPS Anacostia River Trail is:

  • Seven miles long
  • Not properly marked
  • Lacks call boxes
  • Goes through two DC Metropolitan Police Districts (Districts 6 & 7)
  • Cannot be patrolled in many areas by conventional police cars
  • Attracting increasing numbers of visitors

Despite these operational realities, the NPS has not added a single USPP officer to patrol this area. The trail is in the Car 512 beat area. Only one officer is assigned to that beat each shift. Car 512 is assigned a patrol car because of the large area it covers. Car 512 is responsible for:512beatmap

  • Providing back-up for Car 511, the unit that patrols the Suitland Parkway from the DC line to Joint Base Andrews
  • Patrolling all the National Parks in Washington, DC, east of the Anacostia River
  • Patrolling the National Parks near the west bank of the Anacostia River, north of the railroad bridge, located at the north end of Anacostia Park

During a shift, if the Car 512 officer gets out of their vehicle to patrol the River Trail on foot or a bicycle it could take them 5 – 10 minutes to return to the patrol car before responding to provide back-up or to an emergency call. Often, Car 512 is one of two units patrolling the D-5 Station area.

The 3rd beat in D-5 is Car 513 that is responsible for the NPS areas near and south of the Capital Beltway along the Potomac River. (To include: Oxen Hill Farm, Fort Foote, Fort Washington, Piscataway Park, Marshall Hall, and Colonial Farm).

Unfortunately, the Car 513 beat is not always staffed because of limited personnel. When it isn’t staffed the area isn’t patrolled. When Car 513 is unstaffed, Car 511 or Car 512 must respond to calls in that area. When these units are dispatched to Car 513’s area, there isn’t anyone patrolling the area they left to handle the call. It should be noted, that the current D-5 beats are the same as they were in the 1970’s.

During the day, the River Trail could also be patrolled by several United States Park Police Horse Mounted Unit officers that are assigned to the Fort DuPont Stables, located in Fort Dupont Park. However, if these officers were patrolling the River Trail, who would patrol the Fort Circle Trail that runs through Northeast and Southeast Washington, DC or the many other NPS areas in the East District that need attention.

Further complicating patrol coverage is the practice of pulling these horse mounted officers to patrol on the National Mall and for their vital role in crowd control operations during special events. Unfortunately, the horse mounted unit is also severely understaffed, too. These horse mounted officers aren’t a substitute for specifically designated officers on bikes/scooters patrolling this new area. The United States Park Police simply doesn’t have the staffing and equipment needed to effectively patrol the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail.

Problems on the NPS Riverwalk Trail

In March 2017, the USPP responded to two critical incidents in the Kenilworth Park – Aquatic Gardens area of the trail. One victim was struck in the head during an attempted robbery and was transported to the hospital. In the other incident, the victim died of multiple stab wounds. The lead agency in the homicide investigation is the DC Metropolitan Police, who by law handle all death investigations in the city. Neither of these cases have been closed.

While no amount of patrol coverage could totally eliminate tragic incidents having adequate patrol coverage will go a long way toward providing a safer environment on this trail for visitors. The NPS must abandon their dangerous policy that limits the USPP to 639 officers. The NPS USPP officer limit is not supported by any credible evidence.

Other recent United States Park Police Understaffing Issue articles:

Visitation- ⬆︎41% / Population- ⬆︎43% / Traffic- ⬆︎36% / U.S. Park Police Staffing- No Change

Holding The Line – Increasingly Difficult