Monday, October 10, 2005

Crime Uptick

Is there something in the water? It seems some of the local community listservs have reporting an upsurge in crime. Over on the Logan listserv one fellow reported his mugging over by 14th & Q in full view of other pedistrians (who did call the police). An attempted robbery and assault with a knife over by Bar Pillar and a whole slew of other crimes up 14th and along U. Eckington and Truxton Circle have been shocked by the story of the Mike Benson adventure where he confronted the guys who stole his Stella then there are the reports of shootings on 1st Street. Crazy.
One poster made a good point of a reason behind the upsurge:
It's not uncommon for things to get worse before they get better. According to a sociologist I know who studies gentifying neighborhoods, poor people who get displaced often come back and hang out in their old communities... but no longer have the stake in them they used to. It's sometimes those former residents who are committing the crimes -- they know the turf, and what vulnerabilities they can exploit.
Plus teenagers will sometimes make new gang alliances in their new neighborhoods and then tensions flare up with their old friends when they come back to visit.

We as residents need to make sure it does get better and not decend into worse. Chris Benson wrote:

This open letter to the community is intended to be a call to action, to motivate all of us to do our parts in keeping the spotlight on this crime issue until we get real RESULTS. We believe that crime needs to be THE pivotal campaign issue in the upcoming Mayoral and Council races. Our jobs as citizens and business people is to keep this issue at the TOP of the media radar as the elections approach. We all have a lot at stake here and cannot afford to be complacent.
For example, we were truly SHOCKED and STUNNED to read in this week's Post Express that the Mayor and Chief Ramsey rejected outright a proposal to add 1600 new officers to the DC police department! WHY?? We understand that Jim Graham has a good record of voting in favor of assigning more officers to PSAs, and adding 500 new officers to the department, but frankly 500 is not enough!
We want to state unequivocally that we strongly back and support the brave officers who place their lives on the line everyday in our city. They are on the front lines patrolling on foot and in police cars and responding to community calls. But they simply cannot do their jobs effectively without more officers and better equipment,
technology, and resources, all of which have failed to keep pace with the unprecedented growth in our neighborhoods.
Think about this: In this election, we the community have resources available that we did not necessarily have in past election years-- well organized blogs, neighborhood email listservs, business organizations, community groups, and active PSA meetings-- all of which give us an effective way to communicate with each other and mobilize a grass roots campaign to make crime and public safety a major hot button campaign issue. This is a problem that severely impacts daily quality of life in our communities, and we need to publicize what it is that that our political and government leaders are and are NOT doing to confront this problem. Perhaps we need to get more organized and start playing politically savvy hardball to get our city leaders to dedicate the resources needed to address these critical public safety issues. So far, simply calling and writing letters doesn’t seem to be making a dent in the problem.
Below is a short sampling of just some of the crime related issues and problems that we think need to be addressed by our city leadership. We are sure all of you can think of other items to add to this list:
1) Public Safety is a Necessary Precondition for Successful Economic Development:
All of the effort the city makes to encourage home renovations, business development, new retail projects, new restaurants, and new housing projects are wasted if the communities in which such development occurs are plagued by crime. As demonstrated in the emails shared by Scott Pomeroy, many buyers of these new homes
and condos and patrons of these new businesses have expressed that they simply do not feel safe, and they are shocked at the lack of official response to their concerns. Public safety and economic development must go hand-in-hand, and the city cannot expect to attract new private investment to underserved areas of the city as
long as such neighborhoods continue to be plagued by armed robberies, muggings, vandalism, auto/bike/scooter thefts, drug activity, gang related shootings, and the like.
2) Our Hard Fought Success in Revitalizing the Image of our Communities Will be Defeated by Crime if We Do Not Stamp it out Now!
DC revitalization generally, and the U Street corridor in particular, have received wonderful positive national media attention in publications ranging from the New York Times to Travel and Leisure magazine. Many hardworking and enthusiastic people have invested time, energy and money into buying property, opening businesses,
and/or promoting the area as a great place to live, work, shop and go out.
This hard won effort to revitalize the image of the area will suffer a potentially irreversible setback if people do not feel safe patronizing the area. The homeowners, business owners, developers, and organizations that have invested so much in promoting the positive image of this community need to get involved in mounting an unprecedented effort to combat this crime wave. If we wait until the
reputation sets in that this is a dangerous place to walk and go out, then we will have to work ten times harder to try to turnaround that perception.
3) Our Police Have Insufficient Manpower and Resources
The number of officers and amount of resources dedicated to our police department and local PSAs has simply failed to keep up with the unprecedented pace of growth in our area over the last 5-10 years. Given the number of new residents, new businesses, new condo projects, etc., there needs to be a commensurate increase in the resources provided for public safety. At every PSA meeting, we hear from officers on the front lines that they simply do not have the manpower to respond promptly to every call, and that bureaucratic procedures often prevent them from responding rapidly and pursuing suspects immediately.
The data on the number of active duty officers available in DC also is fundamentally misleading, because it does not account for the fact that a large number of officers still listed as “active duty” have actually been on disability leave for months or even more than a year at a time. They may still be on the payroll, but they are unable to actually patrol our neighborhoods and thus should not be listed as “active duty”. We need more officers actually on the streets, whether on foot patrol, bicycles, or in police cruisers.
Officers also repeatedly tell us they need better equipment and more resources. Apparently most of the computers placed several years ago in police cruisers to download data in the field and communicate with central command are not even working anymore, and yet have not been replaced with anything that does work. Communications
are hampered such that police do not even know what is happening in the city. For instance, residents alarmed by the apparent explosions occurring last Saturday night around 10pm asked police officers “what is going on?”, and the police did not even know it was a fireworks display at the Kennedy Center and had difficulty finding this out.
4) Inefficiency and Bureaucracy Plague the System
Finally, inefficiency and bureaucracy also plague the system, eroding the community’s faith in police and consequently lowering police morale. For example, several neighbors on our block have tried to call 911 in recent weeks to get a civil protective order (i.e., restraining order) enforced against a man who has assaulted neighbors and continues to hang out on the block. Callers to 911 were told there was no record of the restraining order in the system. On further investigation, we discovered that it often takes weeks or even months for the data entry department to input restraining orders into the central computer system, and 911 cannot dispatch police to apprehend the violator until the order is officially logged into the
system. This means that potential victims who go through significant effort and red tape to secure the restraining order from a judge are left completely unprotected for weeks on end from their would-be attackers. There is simply no excuse why it should take so long to enter civil protective orders into the computer system used by 911 dispatchers and police officers in the field. Similarly, the controversy of slow 911 response times due to bureaucracy or inefficient communication systems has made headlines in recent years.
4) Increased Taxation Without Commensurate Improvement in Public Safety
Perhaps the most fundamental question in all of this is WHERE ARE OUR TAX DOLLARS GOING??? The city had imposed unprecedented increases in real property tax assessments on all DC property owners.
In addition, as restauranteurs, we pay a whopping TEN PERCENT of all of our gross revenues over to the city every month, as compared to only 4%-6% paid by restaurants in surrounding jurisdictions. What are we getting in return, when the city is blatantly unwilling in spite of a budget surplus to dedicate more officers and resources to fighting crime?

Does anyone recall the scene in the movie “Network” where fed-up TV
anchorman Howard Beale delivers the following call to action:
All I know is that first, you've got to get mad.
You've gotta say, "I'm a human being, g-da#^mit!
My life has value!"

So, I want you to get up now.
I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, "I'm as mad as hell,
and I'm not going to take this anymore!!"
We think it is high time that we all get up out of our chairs and take action to do something about the crime wave in our neighborhoods. Maybe we should start by saying "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take this anymore!" We invite all of you to make further suggestions on what to do next . . .

I was alerted to the fact that some coward (if you don't put a name behind your comments, you are a coward) made a dumb comment. But I was stuck in the basement of the Library of Congress on an LC computer and the best I could do was remove all comments.

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