Dear PoPville – Have You Noticed an Increase in Petty Crime?


Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

Dear PoPville,

Just a quick email about small crime in Columbia Heights: It may be recent warm weather, but it seems like there an increase in thuggery. Last Saturday, I parked my car on Columbia Rd right at 14th (on the east side of 14th) to run into 7-11. I was gone for literally 4-5 minutes and in that time someone had broken through my car window and stole a lot of my stuff, including my laptop, a hard drive, and even my clothes. This was at 12:30PM, in the middle of the day! The police told me that since I live in Columbia Heights I should have known better than to park there since I have out-of-state tags.

And just last night at 8:30, a friend of mine, who happens to be a martial arts instructor, had walked through a group of young guys who were just hanging outside of the CVS on 14th and Irving harassing people. These guys were getting up in everyone’s faces, even striking women and old people. Well, they made a mistake when they hit my friend because he immediately dropped the thug with a kick to the chest. My friend then proceeded to go into the CVS, but the rest of the group of hooligans followed him in there, looking to settle the score for their fallen comrade. He was able to diffuse the situation enough that he walked out of there without any more altercations, and then, luckily enough, a couple cops were patrolling by and dispersed the group.

I know I probably sound like a curmudgeonly old man, but I mention these because it seems like there’s been a recent uptick in this type of activity in Columbia Heights.

118 Comment

  • I can predict this comment thread…

    • In sum:

      “I’m not blaming the victim, but . . .”

      “Yeah, things are getting worse – insert anecdote”

      “I really wish it had been my foot that crashed into that thug’s chest. But why didn’t he just sweep the leg?”

      “Hey, things are getting better. At least they didn’t pull guns.”

      “Too much public housing.”

      “Too little gentrification.”

      “Other than Spring, Summer, and Fall, Winter is really the worst time of the year for crime in DC.”

  • I don’t want to blame the victim, but why on earth would you ever street park a car with a laptop and hard drive in it? Where they in plain view? I don’t leave anything, not even spare change, in my car. It’s just not worth it. Why not take the laptop in with you?

    • I won’t even leave a LIGHTER in my cup holder.

      • Me either. My girlfriend’s been using my car lately and it drives me crazy to see how often she leaves stuff in there. Last night she left the change holder open with a wad of dollars bills and loose change inside; I’m lucky no enterprising thief took the opportunity to troll our block on such a beautiful night.

    • Just to clarify, these items were not in plainview. The cop seemed to think I was targeted specifically because I had out-of-state license plates.

      • I can see why he’d think that, considering cops are also known for targeting people with out-of-state plates.

      • But they weren’t in the trunk, correct? (The post says that someone broke your car window.)

        So where were they?

        • You can easily get access to the trunk by breaking the window.

          • Right, but is that the case here — absolutely nothing visible in the main part of the car, and thieves broke a window on the off chance that something of interest might be in the trunk?

          • If we are to believe the cops’ explanation, the thugs saw out-of-state tags and assumed the car was owned by a country bumpkin who would keep expensive items in the trunk.

        • No, they weren’t in the trunk. They were on the floor under a pile of clothes. They got the clothes, too. . .

    • “I don’t want to blame the victim,”

      You must be the only one, because there seems to be a whole lot of victim blame going on here.

      Let’s try this on for size: ” I don’t want to blame the victim, but what were you thinking wearing such a sexy outfit?”

  • I’ll get this out of the way too: you cannot leave visible items in a car, even if you’re only going to be gone for 2-3 minutes. It takes all of 20 seconds to break a window and make off with whatever’s in the car.

  • ledroittiger

    Sounds like your friend was trying to start something and get a little action outside of the sparring gym. Which I guess there is nothing wrong with.

    • How does walking down the street and getting hit constitute trying to start something? Looks like clear-cut self defense. I live in this area, and these kids are always around causing trouble. I wish I could kick them in the chest, too.

    • Or maybe he was defending elderly people and females who were being harassed/assaulted by these shit-stain kids? We need more people who will stand up for others/intervene when they see something that’s wrong.

    • I agree with ledroittiger, if you are a trained fighter you should 100% know that the best thing to do is avoid a conflict. He could have crossed the street. That’s what I would have done.

      Sadly avoidance is not emphasized enough in those classes because it really isn’t sexy… Had a Judo teacher who would start every self defense segment with, “never do X outside of class. This one time in a bar i did X to a guy.” Whatever…

      And as for defending old ladies, this isn’t the 1950s, you aren’t superman, and those guys probably had knives. Call the cops buddy.

      • Allison

        Lost my big toenail to a Kenpo fight… I don’t fight no more.

      • gotryit

        I’m not sure where you get that “avoidance is not emphasized enough in those classes because it really isn’t sexy”. Sometimes it’s not black and white – this is reality. And at BETA, I’ve only heard avoidance preached.

      • He tried to avoid them. But he couldn’t cross the street. He was actually trying to go into CVS. They were just hanging out in front.

      • ” best thing to do is avoid a conflict”

        What you’re describing is appeasement, surrender. It’s that permissive attitude that is partly responsible for a lot of our problems.

        • That’s just part of the flawed “tough guy” argument — if I run away or avoid the situation, then I surrender. But really by avoiding or running away from a potential conflict you are not giving people permission to hurt you or surrendering to them. Quite the opposite. By avoiding or running away, you are expressly not permitting them to hurt you. I personally would rather run away from a potential conflict than deal with being beaten, stabbed or shot.

      • i hope your friend at least shouted “this is sparta” before drop-kicking the kid and walking into the CVS.

  • I’m wondering why a presumably long term resident has out-of-state tags.
    Nevertheless, that doesn’t excuse the response from the police.
    Unfortunately, they do love that blame-the-victim banter.

  • Yeah, you can’t even leave CDs in plain sight. Stick it in your trunk and save yourself a headache.

  • I witnessed some Petty crime a couple of days ago. I was in a 7-11 and a skinny blonde guy carriying a guitar started stealing candy bars while singing, “You don’t have to live like a refugee…”

  • Crime is the Achilles heal of DC. Until people feel safe, it will hold back this city. Need more cops on foot beat.

    • Crime is the PAIN in DC’s achilles damaged heel. Question is; what is the source(s) of this pain and what is DC, (i.e. it’s responsible citizens and leaders ) committed to do to rehab itself and guard against the injury causing the pain going forward? Merely throwing more police at “DC’s pain” is like telling someone with a real achilles problems to take two aspirin, take these crutches and have a nice day.

    • Achilles heal thyself . . .

  • If you are active duty military or a student, you do not have to get your plates changed. I still have PA plates on my car, even though I live in DC and have lived here for 2 years. I have a reciprocity parking pass, so I can park on the street and such.

  • I agree with you. There has absolutely been an uptick in crime. I live off of U St. Just last year all the neighbors were discussing taking the bars off our windows. This week, we’ve had three break-ins on 10th St alone…in broad daylight. Anything that isn’t bolted down in front of my house has been stolen/vandalized. I heard the CVS employees at 10th and U talking about the same thing yesterday…worst crime in 10 years. At the community meeting at the police station at 16/V, we were old that much of the activity could be attributed to a meth ring in Columbia Heights that utilizes minors to commit crimes. But there has been a lot of petty activity, too. I’m sorry to hear about your theft and your friend’s incident. Our little street is doing our best to look out for each other/each other’s homes: make eye contact with suspicious looking individuals in the event we need to provide an ID (the police recommend noting the shoe type because criminals rarely ditch their shoes), acknowledge people on the sidewalk to establish a neighborhood presence, and call police when necessary. The officers we have worked with have been amazing. Hopefully 2013 will prove to be a safer year.

    • There’s a guy on the Hill East listserv who was wondering why there’s been so much petty crime in Capitol Hill and if we’re being specifically targeted.

      I think petty crime is up everywhere in the DC region. I know two people in Fairfax County who have had parts harvested from their cars. Packages are getting stolen everywhere. I’ve only had my front gate and a chair cushion stolen since I moved to DC, so I think I’m making out relatively well (although the damn gate cost a small fortune to replace).

    • I’m not doubting that these kids are using drugs, but that isn’t the reason they are harassing people and mugging people. These kids are just pieces of shit and they are not afraid of consequences because they rarely got locked up unless they do something high profile like stab someone in a rich part of town. We all know where these kids are causing problems in columbia heights. The police just need to pay more attention and take care of shit.

    • I really have a hard time believing that this could be the worst crime in 10 years. Those bars are on your windows for a reason. It’s possible that petty crimes like car break-ins and random assaults were uncommon because hardly anyone with any valuables ever went there, for fear of being killed.

  • kicking a thug in the chest must have been extremely satisfying to do and watch.

  • Don’t necessarily know if there’s a crime wave happening, but to add to the list, I got jumped walking home a couple weekends ago. It was Saturday (Nov 24th) at 2am, after leaving a bar. To get all of the blame the victim stuff out of the way. 1) I know I shouldn’t walk home at that hour 2) I wasn’t overly intoxicated 3) it was just one guy, and he got my phone, no wallet or watch; and happily, no injuries (except for pride).

    It was at 11th and Clifton. I didn’t file a police report because I couldnt call anyone without my phone, and I didn’t think there was much to be done. I wiped the phone remotely using iCloud and chalked up the loss.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    Another reader adds on the PoP facebook page:

    “Police cadets were out last night passing out cards warning people of street crime.”

  • “These guys were getting up in everyone’s faces, even striking women and old people.”

    Each person who witnessed or experienced this and didn’t call the cops is an idiot. I’m not blaming victims; I’m blaming the stupid.

    • Seriously. Call the cops, don’t let this stuff go by. Also, don’t play the hero. Look at that poor guy in NYC who got thrown in front of a train for trying to calm down a disturbed man who was harassing people.

    • People did call the cops. That’s why they eventually came (I say eventually, but to their credit, the cops were there within minutes).

    • I was thinking the same. Also, either call CVS corporate or to go their website and write a complaint. I did that once about a situation downtown where homeless guys were camping out in the doorway of the CVS and the manager wouldn’t do anything about it. Two days later, that manager was gone and so were the panhandlers.

      • CVS should take responsibility for what goes on in front of their store, and should be more diligent in protecting its customers.

  • I’ll take DC thug harrassment and thievery any day over their once rampant use of hand guns! What has DC done so effectively to cut down so much on homicides this year?

  • Crime is way up this month. Wish they were afraid of the law. But wait… the law in DC is to slap there wrist and tell them not to do it again… 2, 3, maybe 4 times. And when somebody is dead then put them in prison.

  • I do agree that crime’s going up in Columbia Heights–I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 3 1/2 years, and had no trouble the first 2 1/2 years. Within the past year, 1 roommate was mugged at gunpoint sitting on our stoop, one had her car broken into, and the basement apartment was broken into.

    It seems like everyone has accepted that street crime like muggings and car break ins are totally normal, to the point where we should be budgeting for them every year. That blows my mind….

  • Speaking of crime, I’m angry as hell that DC’s crime map has been down for months. What a piece of shit system.

  • My car has been broken into twice in the past 3 weeks near U Street. Same window was broken both times and there was absolutely nothing visible in the car to entice thieves. They didn’t make off with much, just the faceplate to my radio which was tucked into the glovebox and some little things from the trunk. Several other cars in the area have trashbag windows, so it looks like they got hit too.

    • I noticed lots of little piles of broken glass all over the area on Sunday evening. Lots of cars got hit this last weekend. This is in the vicinity around W, V, and U Streets between 9th and 14th.

    • I now have been leaving my glove box open everytime I park in DC after getting a my window smashed. I also had NOTHING visible; no bags, no pennies, no t-shirts, nothing. The person busted my window to open my glove box, and after finding nothing of value left without taking anything. So this isn’t always an easy “well the person shouldn’t have left anything in their car!” situation.

      My civic also has the option to lock the trunk release, which I am sure could be foiled if someone was determined, but I don’t worry as much about stuff in my trunk.

  • Seriously, the city moves all that retail into CH and pushes it as an upscale location and yet when do you ever see a single police officer anywhere in the whole vicinity? What a joke.

    • I saw a police officer staking out the entrance of Best Buy once. He was rocking his earbuds and engrossed in a mobile device.

      • Yeah, who cares about 300 extra cops if they never get out of their cars/off their phones?

        Last Saturday at 14th & Irving a cop was just standing around looking at nothing in particular, when 2 or 3 cars were double-parked in the bike lanes going north on 14th–blocking traffic and the bike lanes. Why didn’t he walk over there and go write a few tickets?

        • Or those 300 cops will be patroling NoMa or Capital Waterfront, or whatever new made-up “neighborhood” the developers come up with. I’m sure that with whatever tax breaks the city handed them, these same developers are contributing nothing to providing police protection for the fools who buy into their schemes. Meanwhile, police protection gets further diluted in established neighborhoods thanks to their avarice.

  • So funny how a couple months ago people on PoP said all the uprise in crime had to do with summer time. Now what’s the excuse?

    • It’s a pretty simple and commonsense reasoning. The worst times of year for crime are summer and winter. Summer is bad because the kids are out of school and they have nothing to do. Winter is bad because the nights are long and cold, which means less people on the street to act as witnesses.

      Fall and spring are better because kids are busy and people tend to be out of their homes more frequently and on the street. If you’re going to commit a crime, the last thing you want is a bunch of witnesses.

  • columbia heights village has got to go and dont tell me its not part of the problem, there’s a reason the cops have flood lights on columbia at the playground for at least 8 years.

    • +1000 and Garfield Terrace at 11th and Florida. Projects in Columbia Heights are cesspools for violence and DC lets violent offenders stay in their homes to terrorize their neighbors. Make these communities mix-use. Get other people into them, address affordable housing issues at varying income brackets and create communities where people are committed to prospering together rather than sinking together into dysfunction and criminality. It’s time DC addressed these projects by keeping the deserving people in and evicting criminal elements!

      • There is a lot of evidence that suggests your solution won’t work. I don’t know what the answer is (and if there was a conventional wisdom that worked everywhere, every city would be enacting it), but simply talking about “mixed use” and whatnot isn’t the answer.

        • What is this evidence that suggests mixed-income and mixed-use communities don’t work? I’m not trying to attack or sound snarky; I’ve seen a number of studies over the years that have shown positive effects from mixed-income and mixed-use communities, so I’m honestly curious about the opposing evidence on this. I will say, though, that mixed-income/mixed-use isn’t easy to create, and it’s not a magic solution that will fix everything…but I don’t think any of the proponents would claim it is.

    • Grammar and punctuation are also part of the problem. I blame the school system.

  • There has been an uptick in crime in all of DC’s gentrifying neighborhoods, not just in Columbia Heights. Shame that walking home from a bar in a city has to be a scary prospect. Even bigger shame that we blame people who are going about life in the most city-aware ways for getting mugged. I won’t even begin comparing DC to New York where you CAN leave your laptop in your car for 4 mins (in gentrifying neighborhoods) without worrying about it being stolen. Where are the Police? This isn’t a big city, doesn’t take long to get from Columbia Heights, to Bloomingdale, to U Street, to LeDroit Park, Shaw, Brookland, Petworth. These neighborhoods are within relatively close proximity compared to LES, to Harlem, to Brooklyn, etc etc etc… Not to mention, the locations where this stuff is happening are all VERY predictable. Why don’t we have 24 hour patrolling in these areas until it stops, and even then, nighttime patrols?

    • +1,000. I lived in Washington Heights (pre-gentrification) and Prospect Heights for many years, and there was nowhere near this level of street crime. I walked home from the train, from bars, etc. at night all the time, and thought nothing of it; same with everyone else I knew. Not to minimize the fact that there are still high-crime areas in New York, and that stop-and-frisk has its own problems. But this idea that the crime in DC is just an inevitable byproduct of city life and nothing can be done about it…no.

    • ” I won’t even begin comparing DC to New York ”

      Don’t look now, but you just did. Twice. Why do people always announce that they aren’t going to do something just before they do it?

  • +1 this thread. My girlfriend’s passenger window was smashed in last night on Gresham Pl just west of Georgia Ave. The officer this morning concurred, don’t leave ANYTHING visible in your car. We knew this, but didn’t think a bag with some clothes in it/banana peels would look all that enticing. Now we know better.

    • I live right around there and have cameras that can see the street up at the top of the block. If you ask PoP, he can connect us – I might have it recorded.

  • The last round of this about ten years ago is the reason I no longer own a car. I live off of U street, and we awoke to find every window in every car on several streets smashed. They didn’t take anything, it was just for fun.

  • Is there an increase in crime? Or is there just an increase in alarmist fear mongers?

    There are two possibilities about people who lived here. You moved here when crime was actually much worse, or you moved here when the reputation of DC was that its crime was much worse than it currently is. Either way, when you came here, you couldnt possibly avoid knowing that you were moving into a city with a high crime rate.

    If the rate is higher in 2012, which I have no reason to believe it is, its still lower than the average of the last 10 years and next year will be better. its possible that any current uptick (if there is one) is the start of a new trend upward, but since the entire country has seen a decline in crime, I’m going to go out on a limb and say its not the crime rate thats going up its your awareness of the crime that is increasing. Which leads me to my next question, why all of the hysteria? Crime really sucks, it really shouldnt happen, but all of this shock that crime is happening is a bit baffling to me. Did you move to Columbia Heights thinking that because there was a target and a best buy there would be no crime? Did you think you were moving into an area isolated from the crimes that have made urban living complicated for decades?

    Geez. Get a grip.

    And as for the the main question at the top of the post, no I havent noticed an increase in petty crime. If anything, I’ve noticed a decrease.

    • +1. Hysteria seems to always win out over facts. Even if we’re in an uptick in violent crime (And what constitutes an “uptick?” – higher violent crime for a day, a week, 2 weeks?), does that say anything about the larger trend, which has been a decrease in overall violent crime? People seem amazed that criminals didn’t get the memo that putting a suburban shopping mall in the middle of a historically high-crime neighborhood should solve the problem.

      • People didn’t seem to get the memo that putting thousands of people with iPhones into high crime neighborhoods might lead to some of those iPhones being stolen.

        That said…. the MPD has not done enough to curb crime in this city. A major reason why crime in New York is lower than most large American cities is because of the effectiveness of its policing tactics. There should really be a “zero tolerance” policy toward petty crimes. And the people who live in these communities have not done enough to encourage social cohesion. But the city is currently riding a wave of gentrification and economic prosperity, and even if the MPD does nothing, crime will naturally fall even more.

        • No, the reason that New York has lower crime is that wealthy people dont commit street crimes. Nearly all of Manhattan is occupied by extremely wealthy people, much of Brooklyn, and a lot of Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx.

          Manhattan as Gotham is a myth largely born out of similar hysteria as we see on this blog fueled by the fear of suburbanites in North Jersey, West Chester, and Long Island.

          Sure crime rates used to be much higher in NY (and every other American city) but you used to be able to live in Manhattan and the boroughs on less than (inflation adjusted) 100k/year.

          This has happened in San Fran, too.

          As DC gets wealthier and this inversion continues, crime will continue to shift to the suburbs where the poor will increasingly migrate.

          Sorry if it seems insensitive to blame the poor for crime, but unless we’re talking about shoplifting, graffiti, drunk driving, and drug use – I dont think there are a lot of upper middle class folks robbing liquor stores and randomly assaulting people.

          • New York has a reputation of being a city full of wealthy people but the reality is that outside of small sectors of Manhattan, most of New York is made up of working class neighborhoods roughly on par with Columbia Heights.

            30% of the Bronx is below the poverty line – the median household income there is 34k.

            22% of Brooklyn is below the poverty line (higher than Columbia Heights)

            In Harlem (where 20% of Manhattan’s residents live), crime is still a major problem.

          • To clarify, when I said “live on less than 100K/yr” I meant those who arent receiving public assistance. Other than some areas of Bronx/Queens/Brooklyn, the vast majority of the non-wealthy in New York City are on multiple forms of public assistance.

            So, you have the folks living in public housing, section 8, etc and then you have the the wealthy and then the people who are left in the middle are very few and getting smaller.

            Anyway, the plight of the middle class in New York City wasnt my point. my point was there’s a lower per capita crime rate in NYC than many/most other american cities. It seems reasonable to think that the low crime rate is due to the vast numbers of wealthy people (and how the wealth is distributed geographically compared to other cities) and not to some mythical super duper police tactics

          • No idea why you bifurcate “crime” and “street crime”. First of all, the only evidence we have tracking how crime occurs is based on reporting (calling 911) or police happening onto a crime in progress, so crimes like drug use and insider trading (which are disproportionately committed by wealthy people) don’t get recorded. For my money, the crimes (allegedly) committed during the financial “meltdown” (i.e. organized banking crime) are far more heinous than an iPhone robbery and impacts far more people.

      • I’d wager that most of these guys probably got the memo, but were unable to read it.

  • Columbia Heights’ demographic is rapidly changing. Lots of people with material goods (laptops, iPhones, GPS devices etc) are moving into the neighborhood, making crimes of opportunity relatively easy.

    There are a lot of things contributing to crime, but the sidewalks on 14th where thousands walk daily used to be open air drug and prostitution markets patrolled not by police but by gangs. Stabbings and shootings were regular occurrences. So things have gotten tremendously better over the last 10-15 years, despite this recent “uptick”.

  • it’s christmas… people get desperate #materialism

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