Every night at sundown, two blindingly bright sodium-vapor lamps illuminate a corner near the intersection of Vermont Avenue and U Street NW.
In the hot summer air, crowds of laughing bar-hoppers and restaurant-goers in shorts and flip-flops shuffle past. The corner is bright and vibrant.
But just a few months ago, that corner of the intersection was much darker — in the literal sense.
“For a long time, this was kind of seen as a forsaken corner,” says Andre Esser.
Esser, along with Sheryar Durrani, owns and manages local business U Scoot, a scooter rental shop and dealership that opened at the intersection in June.
“This corner always looked sort of sketchy,” says Esser. “You had people panhandling that I had to chase off, people out here loitering all the time. I don’t know the crime statistics on this corner, but I’m sure there have been crimes here over the years.”
Esser, who also owns Redline Motorsports in Takoma Park, had a plan to change all that. Before opening his scooter business, he mounted two powerful lights on the building.
“Turning on the lights makes it a brighter corner,” Esser says. “Thieves don’t usually tend to hang out on bright corners.”
Esser also hired two plainclothes security guards and installed over $10,000 worth of state-of-the-art surveillance equipment.
“The cameras and lights aren’t just for our own personal protection, especially the lights,” says Esser. “I feel like if I’m going to have a business, then it needs to be a safe corner.”
Esser says D.C. Police were glad when he installed the cameras.
“They came up to me right away and said, hey, are those good cameras? Can we have access to them?” Esser recalls “And we said absolutely. It’s for everybody’s safety. We want to assist the police department with making this a safer corner.”
In his two months of running the business, Esser says he’s helped to aid police by recording and turning over footage of three crime incidents. Just last week, U Scoot’s cameras caught a hit-and-run as it happened.
“Hopefully we’ve detracted from some of the crime,” says Esser. “That’s the goal. It’s not to just catch it. It’s to deter it from happening.”
Even when he’s at home, Esser says he sometimes uses an app on his phone to watch the cameras late at night. But he’s not only only watching out for scooter thefts.
“I’ll be having dinner or playing with my kids and I’ll peek in and make sure everything is okay,” Esser says “I’m kind of like Big Brother, but looking out for this corner at nighttime.”
“If there’s a car accident, if someone’s assaulted, if someone’s car is broken into, we’ll see it,” says Esser.
“[A] person might steal a bicycle,” he adds. “Or that person might shoot someone. That person might mug someone. That person should probably be off the streets.”
Photo of U Scoot at night courtesy of U Scoot