[from January 2002 issue]


Mayor Williams is off to an ambitious start with his announcement of a goal to lure 10,000 new residents into the city during each of the next 10 years. Is that pie in the sky? Maybe not, but only if the potential "lurees" (new word coined by us today) are convinced they will derive real benefit.

The city, of course, will derive new benefit with its receipt of hefty tax receipts, especially if--and this is a reasonable assumption--most these new people purchase property.

But will they feel they will be getting their money's worth, enough to make them decide that moving into the city will be worth it to them in terms of enhanced quality of life?

As things stand now, this may be an iffy planning assumption. In her remarks following her swearing in to another term on the city council, Ward 3's Kathy Patterson cautioned, ". . . before we seek to attract new residents, we will do no harm to those we have."

She made a telling point, probably to be ignored by the Administration, but one that will resonate among those who are residents now as well as those who might be considering coming in. Particularly that latter group. Those will be persons who will worry that if the city cannot adequately care for and service its citizens now, how will the city be able to add more "customers" and yet be able to even hope to maintain an already dubious level of basic services.

It's not just potholes or DMV or snow removal--and these things have improved--that count. It's even more fundamental concerns where the real worry is to be found. If one believes, as we do, that the most important role of government is to ensure the safety of its citizens, then one has to question whether potential new citizens will want to locate into a jurisdiction where those very basic protections seemingly cannot be guaranteed and where there does not appear to be sufficient initiative by officials of the government to turn things around.

As we were preparing these comments, our attention was directed to an announcement in The Washington Post's Metro section of January 9, which read, "City Priorities? Give Your View." Below that header was the question, "[w]hat should be [the mayor's and city council's] top priorities for the city?"

We will answer that question with three simple words: real police protection. A safe citizenry will ensure that there will be truly a firm footing for the kind of quality of life to which citizens are entitled.

But as matters stand today, this core governmental responsibility is not effectively carried out and therefore undependable, thus causing citizens to have little or no faith in being assured of reliable police protection.

For example, police department resources are either so inadequate or so poorly allocated (as a consequence of skewed priorities?) that citizens are often left in the lurch at best or at the mercy of criminals at worst. Recent examples range from the rash of daytime burglaries in Shepherd Park that have gone unsolved because there are not police resources allocated to put officers out into the neighborhood to watch for this activity and thus be able to capture the persons responsible. It's been going on for a couple of months, and about the only thing the police seem able to do is tell people to stay at home during the day and watch their basement windows for themselves.

Or, what about the matter of lack of the most basic--and low-cost-- equipment for officers to carry with them? We can't help but wonder about the recent incident involving the police officer who was called upon to enter a Columbia Road apartment to look for an elderly and infirm lady who was known to almost never leave yet whose telephone had been off the hook for more than 24 hours. The officer came away saying there was no sign of her, yet the next day, another officer spotted her foot sticking out from under her bed. Oh yes, she was dead. The excuse for not being spotted the night before was that the room was only dimly lit! The first question that went through our head was why don't officers carry flashlights? Does MPD assume that crimes are investigated only during daylight hours? Are MPD officers expected to scour pitch-black alleys or other places where a suspect might be hiding and not have a flashlight?

The answer seems to be a resounding "yes"--especially when we have learned that PSA beat officers are being stripped of their cell phones as a money-saving move, notwithstanding that they have proven to be a highly effective way for residents to maintain close contact with those pledged to "protect and to serve." Cell phones aren't the only inexpensive items of equipment being denied officers who are out in the streets trying to protect us from the bad people.

We were astounded to learn of a plea from a PSA lieutenant to neighbors in his area seeking volunteers with camcorders who could (from a safe distance) record car thieves in action. His officer complement has been reduced and it is now even more difficult to follow through on nipping these crimes in the bud. Theft from (and of) auto has reached such an incredible rate city-wide that one has to wonder why anyone would want to move here knowing that they are highly likely to be victimized by auto thieves--to say nothing of the hordes of ticketing harpies that lie in wait to swoop down on any and all motorists!

Well, we've only scratched the surface, and haven't yet addressed the health crisis created by the cockamamie decision of last year to close DC General. That disaster is affecting everyone, not just low income folk. We will save this issue for another day.