News & Politics

Gray May Have to Refigure His Record on Crime

The incumbent is touting a citywide drop in crime, but will the numbers hold?

Gray’s neighborhood of stately houses and quiet streets in Ward 7, east of the Anacostia River, has seen a rise in armed robberies and assaults, according to Metropolitan Police Department data on Police Service Area (PSA) 606, which includes Gray’s home. In the last 12 months, there were 11 assaults that involved a gun, up from two the previous year. Assaults with a dangerous weapon other than a gun fell from 17 to 13, so total assaults with dangerous weapons rose by five.

City officials shrug off the significance of the PSA 606 statistics. “Every crime is important,” Assistant Police Chief Alfred Durham tells Washingtonian. “But you’re only talking a few more crimes.”

Durham said most of the assaults were related to domestic disputes. “If we can reduce domestic violence,” he said, “we can drive that number down.”

The mayor’s spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, calls the focus on the increase in robberies and assaults “selective cherry picking of the numbers.”

“Year to date violent crime citywide is down by one percent,” Ribeiro wrote in an email, “plus we’ve seen a drop in both burglaries and motor-vehicle theft.”

“The city is safer” has become a recurring phrase in Gray’s argument for reelection. It appears on his campaign website and he made the claim when he picked up his petition forms, though he has yet to hold forth on crime as he did last February in his State of the District speech: “We will not rest until every neighborhood is safe. No resident, regardless of ward or neighborhood, should live in fear. Crime, whether it’s petty theft or armed robbery, will not be tolerated in our city, period. No excuses.”

That kind of rhetoric may come as cold comfort for residents of Ward 7 in the MPD’s Sixth District, where the streets are less safe than they were last year by most any measure. Violent crime there is up 25 percent compared to 2012, according to police data. Robberies with guns rose 44 percent, from 270 to 389, and car thefts increased 20 percent, from 687 to 824.

Overall, violent crime in and around Gray’s neighborhood increased two percent even as total crime in the area fell 12 percent.

“We’re certainly aware of it,” says Ed Fisher, chief of staff to Ward 7 Council Member Yvette Alexander. “We are in constant contact with [6th District] Commander Robert Conte.”

Most troubling for Gray may be the reversal of a downward trend in homicides. Citywide, the annual murder rate has fallen from 186 in 2008 to just 88 last year, though the number for 2013 has ticked up. John Thomas Tillman, who was stabbed near Truxton Circle last Sunday night, was the 102nd person murdered in DC this year. (The MPD’s website puts the number of homicides at 103; an unnamed victim’s death has recently been reclassified as a homicide). Last year at this time the city had recorded 80. (The current year’s number includes 12 who died in the Navy Yard shootings. Excluding those deaths, there are still 10 more murders this year than last.)

Homicides are up on Gray’s home turf as well. This year police reported two homicides in PSA 606. The previous year there were none.

“Not to diminish that someone lost a life,” Assistant Chief Durham says, “but you are only talking about adding less than one homicide a month. If there are no more homicides this month—knock on wood—we will be up only three from last year.”

Even at that rate, the numbers and the bloodshed are heading in the wrong direction for a mayor who wants to run on his public safety record.