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Short-Term Crime Fixes Not the Answer

As everyone who reads the Washington Post, the neighborhood listservs, and watches the local TV news is very aware, we have for months now been inundated with reports of what seems to be an upsurge in street crime — not just in areas where it has been a major problem for years, but now even seeping far into neighborhoods always thought by visitors and residents alike to be safe. And – even more alarming to many – has been the seeming uptick in daytime incidents, even on sidewalks where passersby can be seen (and, presumably) can witness others being attacked. And, adding to the increasing anxiety, more and more even when the robbers get what they want, the victim gets beat up & left bloody on the pavement – or worse, shot, sometimes fatally.

And, although as Shaw neighborhood ANC 6E Commissioner Alexander M. Padro was quoted by a Post reporter in an article last month,<> headlined Shaw neighborhood in Northwest Washington on edge after shootings, “the situation today is a far cry from the violence years ago. . . .”

Nevertheless, as reported, “he remains worried about what he calls an uptick of lawlessness that includes the smoking of marijuana outdoors and drinking alcohol and urinating in public. It’s a slippery slope from that to the shootings. . . . I’m trying to convince [D.C. police] that they need to return to their past practices and put an officer on foot here on a daily basis.” [Emphasis ours.]

We agree 100% with Commissioner Padro about his call for reinstating foot patrols — and, for that matter as he emphasized in conversation with this commentator, bike patrols and equally important, to get officers out of their patrol cars when they have them parked outside a 7-Eleven or some such place as they commonly do and are seen just sitting and keeping warm or cool depending on the season. In other words, MPD should focus more on initiating and enhancing the idea of community policing as a true priority to be operational throughout the year on a permanent basis. Residents all over the city want this.

As we reported in a lead story three years ago, headlined The Unlimited Promise of Community Policing Has Yet to be Fulfilled in DC, Residents Claim, “[f]or the past 30 years, DC residents have dreamed of community policing. They desire for police to exit their patrol cars and walk the beat. They desire ongoing communication with the local officers for crime prevention as well as crime solving.”

We cannot say that the mayor and the public safety agencies are ignoring this spike in crime; far from it. Just last month, on October 11th, the following a mayoral press release announced that she “launched the inaugural 2019 Safer Stronger DC Fall Crime Prevention Initiative (FCPI) — a coordinated effort to reduce violent crime in specific areas in the District through strategic prevention and coordinated enforcement. Patterned after the Summer Crime Prevention Initiative, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) will focus on deploying available resources, crime-fighting technology, and coordinated programming with government agencies to targeted neighborhoods in the District.”

Continuing, the announcement stated that for the three-month period ending on December 15th, “MPD will lead an effort to reduce violent crime in specific areas — including some recent upticks in gun-related activity. The goal . . . is to reduce violent crime through strategic prevention and focused enforcement.” Mentioned is that “various policing strategies” will be implemented, including focusing on “repeat violent offenders through intelligence, tactical operations, gun recovery, technology, and patrol enforcement” – though not clear if this means getting the officers to walk the streets instead of sitting in their parked cruisers.

The announcement helpfully did list the specific neighborhoods selected for this temporary attention: Columbia Heights, U Street Corridor, Shaw, Southwest, Saratoga, Greenway, Washington Highlands, and Congress

But the major flaw with this is that it’s just a short-term partial solution and avoids the challenge of coming up with a year-round plan. And, again, where are the needed officers actually on the streets, getting to know their neighborhoods and those who live and work there and so be able to be alert to potential problems that come with outsiders drifting in and hanging about.

The mayor, to her credit, has not been oblivious to the need for foot patrols as an effective community policing tools. In her 2020 budget proposal she sought funding for an additional 200 officers specifically to be earmarked for foot and bike patrol duty. Unfortunately, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, who chairs the council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, nixed that line item. It seems that his solution is, rather than expending funds to hire 200 new officers for this purpose, MPD’s headquarters should re-assign those uniformed officers who perform administrative duties there and reassign them to patrol duty, replacing them with civilians instead. All well and good, but will that actually result in meaningful cost savings? Those civilian employees will need to be paid with yet to be appropriated funds (plus the added expenses of recruiting and training). Also, it isn’t clear to us that the chairman’s reassignment idea would include a requirement that those officers be assigned foot and bike patrol duties.

Finally, we don’t want to hear from an council member who seems to have gone along with this penny-wise and pound foolish decision that things are really not as bad as residents fear, citing as evidence the August 30th Post news story about DC ranking as seventh on a list of the “world’s safest large cities” — down from 23rd just two years ago and “the only U.S. city to crack the top 10 . . . one of two in North America, along with Toronto.

The problem with this study is that the rankings are based on many factors having nothing to do with crime, including approaches to dealing with climate change, environmental protection, infrastructure, disaster preparation, to name a few. So, let’s just keep our focus on the crime reduction challenges and tune out all this other kind of Pollyanna distraction.