Community Policing in the Nation’s Capital: The Pilot District Project, 1968-1973

Categories: Articles, Press

New exhibition examines short-lived Pilot District Project, 50 years later

PDP Civilian Employment in Police Stations flyer, c.1971.WASHINGTON, D.C.—On March 31, the National Building Museum and the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. present Community Policing in the Nation’s Capital: The Pilot District Project, 1968-1973. Through original documents, maps, posters, and other materials—all on display for the first time—the exhibition tells the story of an innovative experiment in community policing. It discusses the climate of the city in 1968, tracing the successes and failures of the project, and questioning its legacy in citizen police reform 50 years later. Community Policing in the Nation’s Capital is open through January 15, 2019.

In response to the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., anger that had mounted over decades of racism, discrimination, and inequality erupted into destruction in several D.C. neighborhoods. The “riot corridors,” as they were later known, included portions of 14th St. NW, H St. NE, and 7th St. NW—at the time, all predominantly African American neighborhoods. President Johnson’s administration funded a pilot program to ease tensions between predominantly white police and a low-income African American community.

The Pilot District Project (PDP) launched in the summer of 1968 with broad goals for police reform and citizen participation. The city’s Third District (now most of Ward 1) was chosen as the pilot location. Although the PDP faced criticism from some District residents—resentful of attempts by white government officials to exert control over black neighborhoods—they were active in public meetings and campaigned for positions on the advisory board. The exhibition features posters and materials from these campaigns, including those for Marion Barry and his People’s Party, who took 16 of the 28 possible board seats in the first election.

The project enacted several important innovations during its five-year run, including 24-hour police stations, citizen ride-alongs, and a series of bulletin boards to share information about police work. The program also introduced police sensitivity training. Materials from all of these projects will be on display. Further connections between the PDP and other community projects will illuminate the context of activism in the capital city, then and now. The exhibition introduces visitors to this compelling and timely story of urban policing, community participation and resilience, federal intervention, and a program with good intentions that perhaps was never up to its herculean task.

A press event will be held on Tuesday, April 3 at 10 am. Sarah A. Leavitt, Ph.D., National Building Museum curator, Anne McDonough, library and collections director for the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., and Amber N. Wiley, Ph.D., assistant professor of American Studies at Skidmore College, will be available for questions.

Hi-res scans of selected documents are available at

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The Historical Society of Washington, D.C., is a community supported educational and research organization that collects, interprets, and shares the history of our nation’s capital. Founded in 1894, the Historical Society serves a diverse audience through its collections, public programs, exhibitions, and publications. The Historical Society’s research library is temporarily located at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, while its home, the historic Carnegie Library at Mt. Vernon Square, is undergoing restoration. To support exhibitions and related programming at the Historical Society and to learn more visit