- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 11, 2002

On Tuesday, Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey joined residents and other D.C. officials to celebrate the 19th annual National Night Out, which is designed to bring together law-enforcement officers and the ordinary people they protect. The timing couldn't have been better, because these two groups of people appear to be strangers to one another.
Moments before the celebration, the chief spoke with us about his plans, some of which are already being implemented, to curb the city's burgeoning homicide rate. "As of today," the chief said late Tuesday afternoon, "we have 143 compared to 108 [homicides]," a 32 percent increase. Violent crime is down, he said, but "homicide is really holding us up." He then explained that the usual suspects drugs and gang-related violence were involved in 30 percent of this year's homicides. That, however, covers less than one-third of the killings. What about the majority of the homicides? What is the chief doing to make sure the city loses the moniker, murder capital?
In short, not enough. The chief is quickly back-pedalling, redeploying about 100 non-patrol officers to the streets and even ginning up a sort of summer vice squad, hoping to reduce prostitution, homicide and robbery. He and his commanders are also holding "daily crime briefings" to review gun-related and other violent crimes, and to try to determine several things, including whether any new crime patterns have emerged or old crimes might be solved. The value of these efforts remain in doubt.
Chief Ramsey volunteered that one of the highest hurdles facing his officers is solving violent crimes in general and homicides in particular. Potential witnesses are tight-lipped. The chief cited three specific cases the Chandra Levy killing, a dispute between a Southeast gang and a Northwest gang, and a shooting that left five wounded in Southeast. In each instance, he said, witnesses have said they saw no evil, heard no evil and, therefore, will speak no evil of the possible perpetrators. Officers "can't get witnesses to come forward," Chief Ramsey said. "Somebody's got to know something."
Those "somebody's" do know "something." However, the rule of law on the streets dictates and community policing 101 surely has proven that it's not always what you know before you 'fess up, but who you know.
Along those lines, Chief Ramsey must ask his officers to come forward and answer some tough questions: Do they know the ins and outs of their districts? Do they know the people who live there, and the businesses that set up shop there? Do they have the rapport crucial to crime prevention? Or, do they roll the streets in their cruisers and, after the fact, try to piece together who shot John and why?
Today, unlike the 1990s, the vast majority of the city's homicides is not related to drugs and turf wars. They are retaliatory or domestic in nature. Tough, but not impossible, cases to solve. The chief knows that. And, while the chief made a smart move by identifying and beefing-up patrols in so-called hot spots, where drugs are openly sold and nefarious creatures routinely congregate, that will not solve the two highly publicized problems that have marred his three-year tenure: unsolved murders and the rise in homicides.
Interestingly, the chief said he has enough officers (3,610) and enough detectives (11 percent of the force vs. the national rate of 10 percent). He didn't complain about being underfunded, poor work environs for his officers, or about poor training programs. Nor did he say his officers had inadequate equipment or shortage of toilet paper (a huge problem two chiefs ago). Yet, his department has trouble preventing crime and solving crime.
Indeed, a suspicious eye is cast the chief's way because his plan is wholly reactionary. Where have he and his commanders been all summer? Don't they read The Washington Times or The Washington Post, both of which have been reporting, albeit often in briefs, about a body found over here, a triple shooting over there? These shootings and fatalities are not mere statistics to be catalogued for monthly reports or daily briefings. These are human lives, and they deserve more attention from Chief Ramsey's Metropolitan Police Department not just after the 911 call is made.

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