Will Increased Crime Become an Issue in City Council Campaigns?

Violent crime is up in certain districts—and council members are starting to talk about it.

By: Harry Jaffe

A guy in a gray sweatshirt and a red baseball cap robbed the Bank of America branch on Bladensburg Road Thursday morning, the police department tweeted.

The sound of gunfire often rings out from upper Georgia Avenue after midnight, according to residents of Shepherd’s Park, who also report rampant robberies from their cars.

In Southwest DC, walking home from the Metro can be a perilous path by muggers who take cell phones, at times by violent means.

Borderstan, the blog that covers Logan and Dupont Circles, reports a steady stream of robberies, some with knives, along with the occasional shooting.

Homicides are down to historic lows in DC, but many neighborhoods in the nation’s capital are suffering from increased crime, even as immediate suburbs like Maryland’s Montgomery County and Fairfax in Virginia report decreases in crime.


But it’s become hard to track crime numbers in DC. For the past week the Metropolitan Police Department’s crime statistics have been absent from its website. Police spokespeople blame computer systems.

“It’s frustrating that crime data has been down for so long,” says Cody Telep, who covers crime for Borderstan.

According to sources with access to the latest crime numbers—comparing year-to-date statistics from 2011 to 2012 up to early October—violent crime is up 14 percent in police districts 6 and 7, covering neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River and parts of Capitol Hill. But violent crime is also up 8 percent in 4D, which handles gentrifying neighborhoods along Georgia Avenue and Shepherd Park. Robbery with a gun is up 15 percent, according to these sources.

The police have been successful in tamping down the spate of robberies that plagued upper Northwest neighborhoods earlier this year. “The spike has pretty much been attended to,” says Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh.

Still, property crime is up in her ward, compared with last year.

Crime has not been much of an issue in the current campaigns for city council, but at-large candidate David Grosso is beginning to speak out.

“Just because we have seen a reduction in the murder rate does not mean people feel safe in their neighborhoods,” Grosso tells The Washingtonian. The city council has passed budgets that reduced the number of cops. Grosso says morale is down in part because police have not had a new contract or a raise in seven years. Grosso says he would work to reverse these trends.

“People are simply not seeing enough police on the street,” he says.

And they are not seeing crime data on the police website, either.

UPDATE 10/19, 3:45 PM: Gwendolyn Crump, public information officer for the Metropolitan Police Department, responded to questions about the department's reaction to the increase in crime: 

The majority of the violent crime in the District can be attributed to robberies. In the last six months of 2011: Nearly 40 percent of all robberies reported to MPD involved the theft of cell phones and other personal electronics. That trend has continued through 2012. These snatch-type robberies of personal electronics have been a nationwide problem. We are working tirelessly to address ALL types of robberies throughout the city through comprehensive strategies. And we are seeing our efforts pay off. 

At the end of February we stood at a 49 percent increase in robberies, and as of October 18, we are at a 6 percent increase citywide. All patrol officers are on high alert. In addition, we have several teams of officers conducting a variety of patrol strategies and tactics to prevent robberies and to also arrest offenders. 

There has been an increase in sexual assault reporting that has also contributed to the overall uptick in violent crime. Much of this increase is due to significant outreach efforts by both us and our agency partners and community advocates. An iPhone app called UASK was introduced this year and has become popular on all eight college campuses in DC. The app provides confidential, safe, and free information to victims of sexual assault. We have also conducted outreach activities for colleges, nightlife establishments, and other groups throughout DC to provide information and resources on sexual assault. Ultimately, our community partners have indicated that by providing more information on available resources, victims feel more comfortable coming forward to report their assault; especially in those situations in which the offender is known to them. The current numbers seem to support that belief. Although the numbers show an increase in reported cases, there has not been a significant increase in the number of “stranger” cases. 

It should also be noted that we have changed the way we take reports. Where in the past we may have documented an allegation of sexual assault based on the specific circumstances, we are now classifying many of those cases as offenses. 

The increase in reporting coincided with our implementation of a new General Order, 304.06, in August 2011, which is available on our website.