[from July 2006 issue]


We sure hope so, although we have witnessed similar periods of beating of chests and pulling of hair over the years when crime clearly goes ballistic. But, just possibly, this time might be different.

When Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham earlier this spring pushed for a commitment to increase the police force by 500 officers, we considered it quite a victory when his City Council colleagues agreed to the more modest number of 100 -- we wanted a higher number, yet it was a step in the right direction.

But what really impressed us was when, near the end of the Council’s marathon final session before its summer recess on July 11th, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans steered the members into a serious discussion of the clearly out-of-control violent crime plaguing the entire city and they quickly authorized a further increase in police recruiting by an additional 350 positions. And, what was particularly noteworthy is that the Council made clear that these are to be street officers on the beat, not desk jockeys or escorts for foreign potentates or other VIPs who come here because this is the national capital -- let the feds do more.

We were also astounded, yet gratified, when we heard Ward 8 Councilmember (and former multi-term mayor) Marion Barry announce that he was no longer willing to oppose mandatory sentencing for serious criminal behavior, whereupon he called for mandatory 10 year sentences for the illegal possession of firearms. He correctly noted that they are readily and cheaply available despite the city’s own gun control laws (as we all know, thanks to Maryland and Virginia) and because the penalties that are handed down appear not to have any discernable deterrent affect on those inclined to use guns, especially juveniles who account for a major percentage of the gun crimes; and, more often than not they end up in the revolving door of in and out juvenile detention.

As Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy accurately pointed out in a recent column, the viciousness of street crimes has clearly been escalating to the point where the “motivation seems to be less about getting money than inflicting pain.” He further observed that “even if [one does] comply with demands to hand over [their] belongings, [one is] still likely assaulted, raped, kidnapped, or killed.”

But, from where we sit each month as we edit the street crime reports for inclusion in our regular crime summary feature, none of this is surprising. We have noticed an alarming trend that started well over a year ago in which the sorts of muggings and garden variety street holdups of yore have most definitely morphed into vicious crimes of major violence. The evidence is found in the “Selected Street Crimes” reports that we publish in every issue.

And no neighborhood is safe, of which we have very recently been reminded, although clearly it is in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods where the disparity between the well-off and the down-and-outs is so strikingly obvious.

And yet, notwithstanding the constant pleas from citizens, the police department has simply not been up to figuring out how to effectively get officers out on the actual walking street beats where they will be visible and where they will be able to see and hear and even sense trouble brewing. This is such an old-fashion concept that has been proven to work long before the days of high-tech cameras, air-conditioned squad cars and other “innovations.” Why is it such a struggle in this city to go back to the future? If it’s a matter of money then this is the time to put a stop to glorified and costly schemes like baseball stadiums and instead start diverting funds to basic things like real public safety.

When the chips are down, taxpaying citizens really have very few demands on their governments. What they want most is to know that government is giving priority to police and fire protection; health services, including reliable ambulance service; education; sanitation; efficient mass transit and infrastructure that won’t collapse, including school buildings. Forget all the other stuff and the politicians will easily get themselves re-elected.

Copyright (c) 2006 InTowner Publishing Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.