Washington, DC

A reader sends a note after one of last week’s shootings that I think captures the frustrations felt by many:

“Mayor-elect Bowser-

In light of yet another shooting last night, I would like know the Ward and/or city’s strategy for reducing what can only be described as a serious uptick (as much as I know how your office dislikes this word) in violent crime in the area. As resident of the neighborhood for eight years, the crime has never been so constant, or so violent, despite whatever statistics you like to point to to the contrary. For people actually living 24/7 in the neighborhood, things have gotten objectively worse. That is a fact.

Please outline a concrete strategy for dealing with the situation and show us concrete action. That’s all we ask. As a resident, I’ve seen a few things that don’t work:

1. Vaguely worded press releases claiming that the situation is being monitored or that “best efforts” are being made to add cops to the area.

2. Border line victim blaming at community meetings by your staff telling us to be smart and not walk around alone at night. We understand what you are saying, but it would help to instead understand what you are actually doing to ensure it is safe to walk around at night. Telling us – essentially – to hide doesn’t help.

3. Loud generators with light poles put up after the fact that only serve to keep people awake at night and instill a feeling that we live in a police state. It also makes no sense at the community level. Whatever happened at that spot, isn’t gonna happen there again anytime soon…that’s just common street sense. Trying to literally shed light on an area post-crime in a “wack-a-mole” approach accomplishes nothing except to waste energy and resources that could be spent elsewhere.

I understand situations like this are difficult. I applaud the police for doing the work they are doing – putting themselves in harm’s way everyday. As someone who has personally been the victim of a break-in and witnessed a shooting behind my house – all within the past year I might add – I can say my interaction with the police and the detectives on the case have been positive. Response times have been really impressive. But what can we do “before the fact”?

I won’t pretend I have all the answers or know better than the people who deal with this issue all day, every day, but one thing that is glaringly absent as a resident here is human interaction between city officials, police, and the neighborhood on a constant basis – not just as a response to a crime, event, etc.

No matter how stretched thin the MPD is – an honest effort, no matter how infrequent, to do foot patrols would be a step. Cruisers zipping down the streets with police in sunglasses serve in part to divide not bring together. The cops are obviously
‘on the beat’, but the subliminal message here is one of distance – an almost military patrol. People need to interact. It would benefit both residents and the police to humanize the situation and create understanding. Put names to faces. Understand what people need or see block to block. Proactive, not reactive. It might just create a flow of information upwards that could help with the bigger picture.

We need a plan. We need to know something more than “we are working on it”. That doesn’t help people feel safer in their homes. It doesn’t inspire confidence in the community. It doesn’t inspire people to open businesses. I’ve been to Iraq as a civilian and I can honestly say, I sometimes feel more unsure of my surroundings in Petworth than I did walking the streets there. It’s a psychological reaction to a chronic problem. It’s not a couple of bad guys out there – it’s an unwavering and constant spectre of low-level crime and sometimes deadly violence. It is a gradual wearing down of the neighborhood. You can see and hear it from the people that live here. Rich, poor, black, white, hispanic, everyone – it’s a real thing that should not be a truth for anyone in their community. We should aspire to more.”


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