Taking a nibble out of crime

August 24, 2006

In the light, bright middle of last Sunday afternoon, on upscale Wisconsin Avenue, a man robbed Georgetown Fine Jewelry and Art, shooting and critically wounding an employee in the process. This display of criminal chutzpah came just one month and nine days after D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey declared the need for a “crime emergency” task force, the goal of which, said Mayor Anthony A. Williams, was to decrease crime by 50 percent in 30 days. This most recent Georgetown shooting was simply a high-profile example of what the latest statistics bear out: the “crime emergency” measures have been but a flashy Day-Glo band-aid pasted over a gushing wound that requires major surgery. Much more must be done citywide to decrease crime on a long-term basis.

The emergency crime measure, initially passed by City Council on July 19, stipulates that District police officers are required to work six days a week and team with various federal law enforcement agencies. Additionally, it provides for the installation of security cameras in some neighborhoods and imposes a 10 p.m. curfew on minors. But are these increased patrols really effective?

A Sunday Washington Post piece detailed an incident in which police on the scene of a Dupont Circle beating didn’t apprehend the criminal because they had been dispatched to a dispute at a restaurant. Commentators on the popular blog The DCist complained that patrolmen are being used inefficiently, with multiple squad cars serving merely to clog up busy areas that have been deemed criminal hotspots. Though overall crime is down 5.5 percent from last year, violent crimes are down just one percent, and for the week of August 7-13 were up 5.6 percent from the same week in 2005. In fact, there were 21 homicides in July, compared with 20 in June.

The crime bill will expire 90 days after the initial signing, smack in the midst of the mayoral election season. Crime has become a campaign pressure point, with the two front runners, Linda Cropp and Adrian Fenty, using the situation to highlight the differences in their governmental styles. Cropp has taken Fenty to task for being the lone councilmember to vote against the bill, which he called a “feel-good measure.”

Though Fenty was right to point out the shortcomings of the bill, the city was also right to take action rather than passively sit by. Still, it was telling that it took a spike in crime in wealthier, traditionally white areas to prompt that surge in efforts. Areas of Southeast D.C. witness violent crimes at an astonishing rate on a regular basis, but it was the murder of a man in Georgetown, coupled with a stabbing at the Takoma Metro Station, which provoked the declaration of emergency. Fixing the crime problem shouldn’t be a showy campaign gambit, nor just a month-long preoccupation. It needs to be a long-term, deeply researched and prioritized goal.

Violent crime is merely symptomatic of underlying social problems in D.C.—unemployment, wide access to illegal guns, underperforming schools, and shocking economic inequality not least among them. The increased crime in Georgetown should serve as a wake-up call to its residents. We need to get involved proactively in bettering our community—not just our campus community, not the community west of Rock Creek Parkway, but the greater community of the District. Until that happens, no emergency crime bill, however stringent, can be truly effective.

Editorial Board
The Editorial Board is the official opinion of the Georgetown Voice. Its current composition can be found on the masthead. The Board strives to publish critical analyses of events at both Georgetown and in the wider D.C. community. We welcome everyone from all backgrounds and experience levels to join us!

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