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Shape Up Or Ship Out

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Police have acknowledged that prostitution has also increased on Colfax, even if the number of prostitution arrests in the Unsinkables' community has actually decreased, peaking in 1994 at 41 arrests and dropping to just 15 in 2001 ("Tricks of the Trade," May 2). This issue has taken on new urgency, however, and Mayor Wellington Webb recently announced that he would like to run in local newspapers pictures of "johns" who are arrested; in addition, two recent prostitution stings in Capitol Hill resulted in dozens of arrests and filled the city jail to overflowing.

Rather than giving credit to the Unsinkables for the reduction of certain types of crime, critics in the neighborhood doubt that the group has had much of an impact. In fact, some people contend that instead of deterring criminals, the Unsinkables have simply forced them to get smarter.

"The crack dealers know when their walks are," says Tom Oberbroeckling, owner of the Snake Pit, a 13th Avenue dance club. He considers the Unsinkables "completely ineffective."

Oberbroeckling also takes issue with the group's demographics. "They're a bunch of upper-middle-class white people in a neighborhood of diversity. There's not one black member. They call themselves a neighborhood group, but if you think they're representative of Capitol Hill, you're insane," says Oberbroeckling, who is white. "This section of Capitol Hill has several buffet apartments, and I bet no one from their group lives in one. They're a bunch of bored, lonely people trying to cause trouble by attacking businesses that cater to people they don't like."

At one time, one of those businesses was his. When Oberbroeckling applied for a cabaret license seven years ago, the Unsinkables spoke out against it at a public hearing. Although the neighbors were unsuccessful, and Oberbroeckling hasn't had any run-ins with them since, he still resents them. He admits that he donates money to the organization, though, in an effort to keep the peace.

Anderson, who manages several apartment buildings in Capitol Hill but actually lives in Congress Park, insists that the group is representative of the neighborhood. "We try to invite everyone in. We hand out fliers on all of our walks," she says. "Racially, we do what we can. We don't collect dues; anyone who's on our e-mail list or comes to our meetings is considered a member."

And she says the Unsinkables do appreciate Capitol Hill's unusual blend of citizens: "The people who rent from me want that diversity, but they also want to feel like they can walk places safely. And they should be able to get out of their doorways without stepping over or removing people who are passed out. As one neighbor told me, 'I shouldn't have to see someone urinating in front of me.' I don't think that's a lot to ask. Colfax is Colfax and people love it, but that's not to say that people should settle for drug dealing and public drunkenness."

8:20 p.m.,
13th Avenue and Pearl Street

"There's Charles. Quick, hide me," officer Goss says, stepping behind several of the neighbors and nodding across the street at a man in a purple hooded sweatshirt. Charles is walking south with two other men, and Goss is pretty sure he's looking to score.

The men pass without seeing Goss -- but she and her friend, Lisa Calcamuggio, an emergency medical technician who recently graduated from the police academy and often accompanies the Unsinkables, keep their eyes on them. When they reach the south end of Pearl, Charles and his companions turn around, notice Goss and start running. The two women take off after them. Goss radios for backup, and by the time they reach 13th, four other police officers have already caught and cuffed Charles and one of his buddies. Squinting against the bright lights of the two patrol cars, Charles tries to focus on Goss as she asks him some questions.

"Have you been smoking crack?" she inquires.

"No," he answers.

"You ever smoke crack?" Goss asks.

"Yes," he says.

"So you've stopped? You don't smoke it anymore?"

"Yes," he affirms.

"When's the last time you smoked crack?" she continues.

"Last week," he confesses.

"But you've stopped; you're not smoking crack anymore?" she asks, as another officer frisks him.

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon