Dear PoP

DSCN0222, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

Ed. note this is my final Dear Pop on whether or not a particular neighborhood is safe. This is what inspired last Friday’s question of the day. I’m going to give my final opinion on crime in DC. If there are more specific questions, of course I’ll still address them, but no longer neighborhood wide safety questions.

“Can you tell me a bit about your opinion of Columbia Heights? Do women walk around by themselves at night? I know the area is improving but how safe is it really? Finally, have you ever been mugged in DC and where? What about if I went to Adams Morgan on a Saturday, drank too much, and decided to walk home to Columbia Heights at 3AM? Would you just take a cab?”

Moving from KC to DC

Dear KC to DC,

I would guess that crime and safety are the number one issues people are concerned with in certain areas of Washington, DC. However, I believe your question is impossible to answer. It is kind of like asking if the 9:30 club (a great live music venue) hosts good bands? Yes, many of the bands are great but they also host many bands that I don’t like. Similarly, your question requires a much more nuanced answer.

I can easily say that Columbia Heights is by far one of the greatest most vibrant neighborhoods in Washington, DC. It has incredible homes, restaurants, bars, culture and diversity. It also has crime. This is a fact. However, there are certain steps you can take to minimize your potential for becoming a victim. One is most definitely not to walk home drunk at 3am from Adams Morgan. That is an easy one. But it is really common sense. As has been mentioned many times on this site you have to be alert. I.E. after dark it is not advised to walk home with an ipod, talking on a cell phone or drunk. Having said that I have done all three on a few occasions because I am an idiot. Let me repeat that, I am an idiot. And if I did get mugged it would be because I was an idiot not because I was walking through Columbia Heights or living in Petworth.  Maybe I am just supremely lucky. I can tell you I have never been mugged in DC (knock wood, knock wood) but I certainly could have been on multiple occasions. I also mention this because there is luck involved – good luck and bad luck. You can follow all the safety rules and still get mugged. It is obviously less likely but it is still possible and it does happen.

Even if it were to happen I don’t think that it can necessarily be attributed to living in Columbia Heights. You may have a slightly higher possibility of it happening in CH but it can happen anywhere in a city. So remember these common sense rules apply to almost all neighborhoods in Washington, DC – particularly Columbia Heights, Petworth, Shaw, Mt. Pleasant etc. Columbia Heights is a neighborhood that has a bar with a Wanted flier (see photo) on the bulletin board. That is saying something.

Like with all life’s decisions you have to weigh the pros versus the cons. And my conclusion, shared by many others, is that if you act responsibly the risk of being a victim of crime in Columbia Heights is far outweighed by all the wonderful options that Columbia Heights offers. If you can visit, you should and walk around a bit to gauge your comfort level. All I’m saying is that I’m 5’6″, 135 pounds soaking wet and I rarely feel happier and more at peace than when I am spending time in Columbia Heights.

Best of luck to you with your decision.

Be smart,

31 Comment

  • Very well stated PoP!

    Muggings, like most crime, are based on opportunity. If you present yourself as an opportunity by travelling alone and drunk or leaving valuables in plain site in you car or any other foolish behaviour you increase your chances of being a target for crime. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you’re in, be it Adams Morgan, Cathedral Heights or Barry Farms. As PoP said, the key is to be vigilant but not to the point of paranoia. Go out into DC and enjoy yourself but, as the beer ads say, be responsible.

  • Right you are, sir. I’ve lived in the neighborhood for ten years, and in 2001 NEVER would you see young women (or men) jogging solo, let alone at night, let alone with earphones on completely oblivious. Even last year this was uncommon. Now that all the highrise condos and other developments have sprung up like mushrooms, I see women running with iPods all the time, even late at night. I think they’re asking for trouble, but as the neighborhood continues to change who the hell knows.

  • When I hear about people who’ve gotten mugged it’s often the same old story – late at night, walking home from a bar alone. You can probably avoid most crime by just being careful and taking a taxi when you need to.

    I hope now that Columbia Heights’ streets are packed with people that crime will go down. It’s a great part of the city, and an exciting place to live.

  • Oh dear, I don’t think this question is hard to answer at all. If you’ve been out drinking all night in Adams Morgan or elsewhere, take a cab home rather than walk alone. Isn’t this plain common sense no matter where you live???

  • I think the notion that “If you’ve been out drinking all night in Adams Morgan or elsewhere, take a cab home rather than walk alone. Isn’t this plain common sense no matter where you live” is not entirely true. I used to live in Glover Park and always walked home very drunk very late. I did this for years and never ever has anything happened to me or have I heard something like that happened to anyone. Now, living in Petworth, I hear every week how someone got mugged or beaten, etc.

    So where you live matters a lot.

  • Thor, I see your point, but just because you did it, doesn’t mean you should have, from a safety point of view. Seems a lot like saying “It’s okay to drive drunk, I do it all the time and nothing has ever happened to me.”

    Heck, I’ve DONE a lot of those things, but now that my frontal cortex has developed, I realize how stupid it was and thank my lucky stars that I’m still alive and generally well.

    I guess my point is- a risky behavior is a risky behavior anywhere. And if someone asked me “is it safe to walk alone drunk at night in _____ neighborhood?” I wouldn’t hesitate before saying “no.”

  • I know three different guys who were all mugged on their way from Adam’s Morgan to the general direction of Columbia Heights. Each one of them were walking home alone late at night, and each one of them had their jaws wired shut for weeks as a result. Moral of the story: take a cab, or walk in pairs.

  • That same guy emailed me, I said basically about that. He seems pretty scared though.

  • I’ve walked home from Adams Morgan after midnight a couple of times (I’m a 20-something woman), but only if I’m broke – and stone cold sober. 99% of the time, I take a cab. However, when I do walk around AM or CH at night, I wear comfortable shoes (ones that I can run in) and I never, ever pull any electronics out of my purse. Leave the iPod at home.

    That being said, I’ve never had any problems – I just try my best to keep my head up, walk briskly, and not do anything to “ask for it.”

  • The suggestion that “you can get mugged anywhere in the city, it doesn’t matter which neighborhood you’re in” is a terrible disservice to a person who is sincerely looking for advice on the safety of different neighborhoods.

    Spend some time with and see the facts. Columbia Heights is PSA 302, Adams-Morgan is PSA 303, Mt. Pleasant is 301. Compare, say, PSA 302 to any PSA west of the Park (201-206) or even Mt. Pleasant and see if it doesn’t make any difference where you live. Even after adjusting for population differences, it’s like night and day.

  • PoP,

    I’m glad you are ending these posts about crime. I think this discussion takes away from the purpose of your blog.

    Look at how crime in Shaw drove “Off 7th” blogger crazy, to the point that he/she pulled the plug.

  • I totally agree with the common sense arguement. Let’s remember people get mugged in Dupont Circle and Georgetown (or worse!). DC is not a big area, crime is not limited to specific neighborhoods. Invest in pepper spray and avoid walking alone/drunk! I love Mt. Pleasant and have lived there for 4 years without incident but I do try not to tempt fate.

  • @Anon: I don’t think it’s a terrible disservice to someone to say that you can get mugged anywhere in the city, not entirely. Sure, you should check out crime maps. But I also know people who have been mugged in just about every neighborhood, at pretty much every time of day. It’s less likely if you live above the chinatown metro, but if she had that king of money, she wouldn’t be asking the questions she asked, I’m guessing.

    DC is just generally not a very safe city. And if she’s asking basic questions like “is it ok to walk home drunk at 3am” then she needs to know that there is no place in this city where that is really a good idea. You take on a significant amount of risk when you do that, and need to know what you’re getting into.

  • I can almost tolerate getting mugged. But getting my head knocked off or blown off or my jaw wired shut is a bit much. It takes a special species of animal to do that to another human being for a trivial sum of money.

  • I would like to point out a positive experience that happened to me recently. I live in Columbia Heights on 13th and Irving, and a month ago, I was going for a bikeride and needed to get something out of my car. Neglectfully, I left my keys on the roof of my car and rode off. A passer by saw this and put my keys in my car and locked the door…….then left a note on my windshield explaining what had happened. I was soo grateful for this act of kindness. I wish he would have left his number so I could send my gratitude!

  • “E”, by truncating my quote, you’ve changed the context and meaning of it. It’s the second half that’s the main point of it (i.e., the idea that there is no difference across neighborhoods in their relative safeness).

    Yes, we all know that people have been mugged in Dupont and in Georgetown. We also know that people have been killed crossing residential streets with 25 mph speed limits. Does this mean that it’s just as dangerous to cross a multi-lane interstate where the cars go 80+ mph? No, we would say that this is an absurb abuse of logic.

    But for some reason, when it comes to neighborhoods, this logic is often used (by 3 or 4 people in this thread so far).

  • The advice about exercising common sense and looking to local crime statistics as a quantitative measure of crime is helpful, I agree, but the underlying issue for the questioner, I’d guess, is not just how safe you ARE (i.e., what the odds are that one actually will be a vicitim of crime and, beyond that, whether the crime statistics reflect crimes likely to happen to your demographic) but also how safe you FEEL. You may never be a statistic, but you might walk through a threatening area on a regular basis and feel unsafe. On this point, I’d argue that Columbia Heights probably FEELS less safe to people than other places because it has more pockets like that than other neighborhoods. Just look at the number of people who recite as mantra “don’t walk around with your ipod.” That’s probably recited a lot less often in Tenleytown and Glover Park. As a result, I think Columbia Heights as a whole probably FEELS less safe than it actually is, which nonetheless impacts quality of life issues.

    That said, there’s no escaping that this is a question with limitless responses: it’s block-by-block, your own personal level of comfort, common sense, etc. that will determine whether you should move here. I’ve lived here nearly 5 years, think nothing of it when I (or my wife) go out alone at midnight to walk the dog, and have even made the occasional stumble home from Adams Morgan late at night by myself. Avoiding stupidity and appreciating the diversity without fearing it will go a long way to getting a greater enjoyment out of the neighborhood.

  • I walked home from Adams Morgan to Petworth on New Year’s Eve (well, early morning) because no taxi would take me home. Even when I got a white guy friend to stop one for me, when I told him where I wanted to go, he wouldn’t move and eventually I just got out (and my white guy friend had already left, thinking that he had done his duty.)

    That was a long cold walk, though my white-hot rage kept me a little warm.

    Uh, I guess I have nothing useful to add, other than I’m glad that these questions are coming to an end. Columbia Heights is a big neighborhood in a big city, and it’s just too hard to give a cut and dried answer. Generally, my thought is that you shouldn’t live someplace where you feel unsafe, no matter what statistics tell you. I don’t feel unsafe here at all, but other people might and I respect that.

    I have to admit that at the moment I am glad I live where I do, instead of the shooting gallery that is Northeast and Southeast (at least this past weekend.)

  • Anon 2:32: It’s not just that Columbia Heights FEELS less safe than Glover Park, it actually IS less safe than Glover Park.

    I’d also argue that Columbia Heights feels MORE safe than it actually IS, which is why people will walk home through it drunk at 3am, walk at night with iPods, etc.

  • Anon 4:10 – make no mistake, I agree with you as an empirical matter. My point is simply that people asking about whether the neighborhood is safe really may be asking whether they’ll feel comfortable here, so crime stats alone don’t really answer their questions. Moreover, I think crime stats are loaded down with all sorts of crimes that certainly impact the feel of the neighborhood but, as a practical matter, probably don’t increase your odds of being a victim. A 25 year-old grad student who basically walks to and from the Metro every day, for instance, may be a mugging victim, but he is unlikely to be the victim of a targeted shooting that arises from the local crews beefing. But those gang beefs are most of the murders that show up in the CH crime stats.

  • Proof that you can get mugged at any time of day in CH. Someone was held up at gunpoint at 4:15 pm on a Sunday on the corner of 11th and Columbia Rd several weeks ago (may be well over a month by now). Kinda freaked me out since I live less than a block away. Who would think twice about walking down the street on a sunny Sunday afternoon? As a matter of course, I leave my watch, jewelery, and wallet at home and take only what I will need (ID, credit card, and some cash) just in case – anytime of day. If the muggings and crime were limited to between 2am and 4am, I’d be happy with that! Did I mention the shooting at 6:15pm on 11th a few weeks ago? I could go on and on…

  • Anon 4:58: I disagree that the important thing is how safe a person FEELS, with objective facts being of only secondary importance. If someone asked you if they should drink arsenic-laced water, would you tell them to go ahead as long as they FELT safe doing it? Pretty useless advice, in my opinion. Actually, worse than useless.

    Regarding the crime stats, if you go to the site and spend some time, you can find the answers you want by tailoring your search appropriately. As you point out, homicide rates are not very relevant for the average citizen. But armed robbery rates ARE. You can find out all this info and more by working with the site.

  • I have to agree with “living where you’re comfortable.” For me it’s been a gradual thing. I moved into the region to the outside-the-beltway burbs, then quickly to Cleveland Park, then after a few years to U street, and now I live near Georgia Ave in CH. Would I have moved straight from my safe midwestern college town to GA Ave? Hell no.

    But I’ve lived in the city long enough to know what I’m doing — people have mentioned them above (no ipod/cell phone talking, leave valuables at home, wear sensible shoes, carry pepperspray, take taxis when it’s really late or I’m drunk). I’ve also just lived here long enough not to be scared away because I hear a scary mugging story on my block. (And, I’ve had some good luck.)

    If you’re new to the area and haven’t lived in a big city, by all means, live where you feel comfortable. Don’t move to CH and live your life in fear. And I don’t mean that condescendingly — that was me 6 years ago, and I’m glad I got to know the city before I transitioned. Now I can enjoy my hood and feel as safe as I can be while I’m in it.

  • I know 3 people who have been victims of violent crime in the DC area in the 14 yrs I’ve lived here — all in places that would be surprising. One mugged at gunpoint on Conn Ave in Dupont Circle, one held up at gunpoint near the Glenmont metro in Silver Spring, one mugged in front of a well-lit office during daylight near Union Station. That’s it – I have worked in an office of 150 people for about 10 years, and Columbia Heights is one of the most popular neighborhoods where people live.

    I hear about crime a lot in the news and on listserves, but the fact is that the vast majority of people I know haven’t had anything happen to them, and those that have, it’s minor crimes like a car break-in or stolen bike. I take precautions to stay safe (never walk alone late at night, don’t leave anything of value visible in my car, have an alarm system installed in my house). But otherwise I don’t obsess over crime…

  • I lived in Adams Morgan from 98-2007; in 1999, i was mugged a half block off Columbia Road near the Safeway as i walked the 3 blocks to my apartment with 3 bags of groceries at dusk. attacked by a group of about 6 late teens/early twenties young black men who made no attempt to steal anything from me, just arbitrarily decided to beat up a lone white guy. fortunately, some people in a nearby building heard the commotion and yelled out the window “leave that man alone, we’ve called the police” and the cowards fled. when the police came, they (a) refused to get out of their patrol car, and (b) spent 30 minutes trying to talk me out of filing a report because i said i was too busy being hit in the face to get a detailed description of the perps.

    i’ve been in petworth for 9 months, and i’ve yet to feel the least uncomfortable walking in my neighborhood, even at night. obviously, i wouldn’t wander around Kennedy St. at 3 am with cash hanging from my pockets, but i think the area where i live is as safe as anywhere in the city.

  • I don’t know if I ever answered this person’s questions directly.

    “Do women walk around by themselves at night?”
    That’s kind of a broad question, but if you’re just talking about random strolling, no, I would not.

    “Finally, have you ever been mugged in DC and where?”
    I haven’t, knock on wood.

    “What about if I went to Adams Morgan on a Saturday, drank too much, and decided to walk home to Columbia Heights at 3AM? Would you just take a cab?”
    I’d take a cab.

    What makes Columbia Heights “feel” unsafe to me at times (aside from the statistics) is that there are too few people around late at night, and too many dark pockets. It’s different in, say, parts of Manhattan, where there are people around all the time and it’s well lit and you can see taxis and cars. I do think it’s inaccurate to say “you can get mugged anywhere,” because while that’s true, certain crimes do happen more often in some neighborhoods than others. That’s a fact. Saying you can get mugged anywhere is like saying anyone can get struck by lightning – true, but some people, because of location, are more likely to get struck than others.

    But I feel it’s also easy to avoid activities that put yourself in harm’s way. I’m not too worried about being a random crime victim. I feel as if my exposure to crime is somewhat within my control (again, knock on wood) with some common-sense precautions. And that makes me feel safer than if I was worried about walking outside for my paper and inadvertantly stepping into a drive-by.

  • To Thor:
    When I lived near Glover Park a few years back there was a rash of armed muggings in the area from Wisconsin and Idaho over to the Beecher Street/Tunlaw Road area. One mugging was in the parking lot of the Giant at Newcomb St. right across the street from the #2 Police station on Idaho Ave. While you may not think there are many muggings there are quite a few burglaries and car thefts in the Glover Park area.

    Once I had a conversation with a woman on a bus about crime. Her theory was that the reason crime was higher in poorer ‘hoods was that beginner criminals hone their skills in and around their own environs and, once they feel confident enough, they they move on to the more well-to-do areas for the bigger wallets.

    Thinking you’re safer just because you’re in Glover Park and having a “it can’t happen here” attitude can, eventually, catch up to you.

  • I found this post a bit late but I have been checking out DC crime stats lately. I currently live in Vienna, Va. and want to live in DC. I lived in downtown Richmond for 5 years during the time it was the nation’s murder capitol and had no troubles. I was in a good, “safe” hood there. I also “followed the rules”. I was harassed once by 3 large, black men which upset me greatly but no physical violence.

    With DC, not only are the crime stats much higher then Richmond’s (and NYC, Philly and LA), I cannot afford to live in a “safe” area. I work at home so home invasion crime stats are very important to me. Being able to walk to the grocery store in the afternoon without fearing for my life is important to me.

    Saying that it can happen anywhere is no help at all. The fact is that you are more likely to be a victim of crime if you are in DC. I am left with the decision of risking my life and livelihood vs. the great stuff that goes on “in town”, not to mention the feel of the city (which I miss). If I do move “in town”, I plan on having iron bars (living in jail), having an alarm system, carrying a fake wallet, and getting at least one German Shepard.

  • SG, don’t be so worried. I think you can definitely walk to the grocery store here in the afternoon without fear. Just because there is more crime on the map doesn’t mean it will happen to you – I’d guess that most of the crime is between people who know each other, “crews” (aka little gangs), drug-related, and such. As for the iron bars on windows, that’s pretty much anywhere in DC.

  • SG, if you are that worried, then you should probably just forgo the “city feel” that you miss so much. why not just stay in the suburbs, but choose somewhere Metro-accessible. Try living near the Glenmont, Wheaton, or Silver Spring Metro station in MD or maybe somewhere near the orange or blue line in VA.

  • Thanks for the feedback.

    I am directly across the street from a metro now. Frankly it’s boring. 35+ min to get to Smithsonian stop. Not so bad but we miss out on the good stuff that happens at 6pm-8pm-ish. (You know, get home, change clothes, hop on metro, blah blah…). I sound like that girl in Willy Wonka…”I want more and want it now!”.

    I do read the write ups on the crime and most of it “seems” to be either drug/gambling related or fights beginning with arguments. But there is that random stuff. Being a petite woman, I worry about the “gangs” that harass women. Also gun muggings. But I do realize it is fear making me hesitate on this decision. Oh DC, damn you and your cool restaurants, great kite flying Mall area, fun events and interesting people, you taunt me so! 😛

    I’ll most likely move in next year bit I’ll still have a fake wallet and 2 big dogs though. 🙂

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