City Desk

Reported Assaults Raise Questions of Security at DPR Facilities

In the wake of reported sexual assaults at the Wilson Aquatic Center in Tenleytown, a D.C. council oversight hearing today focused on what security and managerial lapses allowed the alleged attacks to occur and why it took so long for the Department of Parks and Recreation to communicate with the public about the attacks.

Police are currently investigating allegations from women who say they were sexually assaulted by employees who had access to the indoor swimming facility after-hours. The reported assaults occurred on Nov. 9 and 26. No arrests have been made yet, though police say they have identified all parties involved, and the case is still under investigation. One employee has since been fired and another suspended.

Councilmember Mary Cheh, chair of Transportation and the Environment committee, led the two-hour hearing and grilled DPR's newly tapped interim director Sharia Shanklin for much of it.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the hearing—and the line of questioning in which Shanklin stumbled the most—was why no one noticed, or reported noticing, these employees entering the facilities after hours. While there are no security guards on site, Shanklin testified there are video cameras that are checked "intermittently." (Upon further questioning, she could not clarify what intermittently meant.)

Shanklin also said there are alarms and security features in place that track after-hour entrances into the facilities. These security logs are supposed to be reviewed everyday.

Shanklin would not reveal why nothing was reported after the nights of the after-hour assaults. When Cheh asked if the fact that the reported assaults in November didn't seem to raise any red flags meant that someone knew about the errant entrances into the facilities and didn't say anything, or that no one checked the logs, Shanklin said: "I know how this sounds, but I would say not necessarily."

She did, however, say the reports showed "inconsistencies" that are being investigated.  Some of these department-wide inconsistencies included facilities' alarms not being armed every day and instances of employees re-entering the facilities shortly after they are closed. Shanklin said entering a DPR facility after the hours of operation is not grounds for firing.

"Who's going to lose their jobs over this?" David Grosso, the other council member in attendance said.

Cheh also questioned why DPR only started posting fliers about the investigation at the Wilson Pool on Dec. 9. When Cheh visited the pool this weekend, she said any fliers mentioning the investigation were small and not effectively visible. Shanklin, who throughout the hearing noted that in the aftermath of the alleged assaults the public was never in danger, answered that she always runs everything she releases to the public by the mayor's office. It was the mayor's office, along with the police, she said, that told her to hold off on posting anything about the attacks, even after media reports surfaced. She also said she didn't want to unnecessarily scare the public.

Shanklin, who only took charge of the department in October, ultimately defended DPR's work, saying if the overall management at the facilities were truly cause for concern, the number of incidents would be "alarming." DPR is planning on releasing a report next week reviewing its current security procedures.

Correction: Due to an editing error, the headline on this post originally appeared with the wrong agency acronym.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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