- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

Attorney General Janet Reno counseled police and community leaders Thursday to take "immediate steps" to understand the causes behind the recent spate of violence in the District of Columbia, where shootings have claimed 10 lives in the past week.

"What is causing it? What may be the pattern involved? Is it drugs? Is it a drug organization? Is it an armed career criminal returned from prison?" she asked during her weekly press briefing.

"It is that immediate attention to problems as they emerge that I think has been very effective in cities in trying to understand what's causing [a recent increase in violence] and to deal with it," she said. "And this is what we're suggesting across the nation and what we're asking U.S. attorneys to do across the country."

Miss Reno's comments came in response to questions by reporters about a recent rash of homicides in the District, and questions about Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey's decision to assign more officers on the streets in violence-plagued neighborhoods.

She said that despite nationwide trends showing that overall crime rates had dropped in major cities nationwide over the past eight years including in the District she was "not satisfied" with ongoing crime-fighting efforts.

"The conclusion I draw is that we cannot become complacent, we cannot think we've licked the crime problem," she said. "We've got to constantly look at the data for a particular city, a particular region, see the blips, understand what's happening.

"We have a real chance if we keep at it, if we continue to fund policing in America, if we continue to make sure we have appropriate prisons and that people serve the length of time the judges sentence them, if we have re-entry programs that can make a difference, and prevention programs that work," she said. "We can end the culture of violence as we have seen it in this country."

The FBI reported in May that incidents of violent crime fell nationwide in 1999 with reports of murder, rape, robbery and assault down for the eighth consecutive year. Significant decreases were reported in the District, including a decline in the number of murders, robberies and assaults.

D.C. Executive Deputy Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said at the time that several factors led to the drop, not the least of which included a good economy, improved community policing, strong parental involvement and rejuvenated social services.

Thursday, Chief Ramsey said that while more police on the street will help to bring crime under control, the assignments should not be considered an "end-all solution." He told WTOP radio that the District is part of a "very violent society," where social problems and a lack of self-control are the causes of the rush to violence.

He said some residents were going from arguments to gunfire, adding that "they're nuts."

Miss Reno said ongoing efforts by cities to reduce violent-crime rates should be aimed at bringing this country's level of violence down to that of other industrialized nations in the world, adding that she would not be satisfied "until we do that."

"We've got to make sure we address programs that can give people coming back from prison a chance to get off on the right foot so they don't immediately start committing further crime," she said. "We've got to make sure drug courts and other courts work, that they have caseloads and resources sufficient to deal with the problem."

"You can't draw conclusions nationwide. You've got to look at the specifics and say, 'How can we work together to get at this, to understand what's happening, to make a difference?' " she said.

Miss Reno said Chief Ramsey and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams have worked hard to address problems in the city, noting without elaboration that they had faced "numerous challenges." She said other cities that have been "more successful" in bringing about change have been communities with "more infrastructure."

"Each city is different. There is no one answer," she said. "What I think we've got to do is to continue our efforts."

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