- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday extended his crime initiative into early January, moments after telling the Guardian Angels that he welcomes their presence in the District’s Hispanic neighborhoods plagued by gang violence.

“We’ve got more than our share of issues involving youth crime,” said Chief Ramsey, who met at police headquarters with John Ayala, director of the Guardian Angels’ D.C. chapter, and Arnaldo Salinas, the group’s East Coast regional director.

“Some of our communities are under siege, and there will be casualties, but we’re going to do our best to try to eliminate that,” Mr. Ayala said.

After his meeting, Chief Ramsey announced that the crime initiative, originally scheduled to end Sept. 30 and extended to run through yesterday, would be extended again.

The initiative, also called crime emergency and crime crisis, was started in August, prompted by escalating levels of gang violence in the Northwest neighborhoods of Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant. The arrangement allows Chief Ramsey to change officers’ schedules without the usual 14-day advance notice required under the police union’s contract.

The initiative has been criticized roundly by the police union, which says it affects officers’ quality of life.

But Chief Ramsey has credited the initiative with helping reduce violent crime in the District, which the FBI recently ranked first in murders per capita for cities with populations over 500,000. There were 262 homicides in 2002, the highest total since 1997, when 301 murders were reported.

Homicides in the District were down 7 percent to 225 yesterday compared with 242 one year ago. From 1993 to 1997, the District averaged 382 homicides a year.

Based on the FBI statistics, the District was dubbed the murder capital of the country for several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In 1991, when the number of homicides in the District peaked at 482, the rate was 79.42 killings per 100,000 residents.

The Guardian Angels’ involvement is primarily in response to violence by Hispanic gangs in Northwest. Mr. Salinas said the Guardian Angels, founded in 1979, is looking to recruit Hispanic volunteers and wants to persuade Hispanic youths not to join gangs.

But Mr. Ayala, 34, did not have precise numbers of how many volunteers would be on the streets or what they would do, other than help educate youths about gangs and encourage them to pick up trash. He estimated that from 12 to 100 Guardian Angels volunteers, who usually work full-time jobs, could be involved.

But Mr. Salinas said there are now between 25 and 50 Guardian Angels on the streets, including four or five who are Hispanic.

The Angels have set up two headquarters in the District: one at 1470 Irving St. NW and the other at 1448 Park Rd. NW, which Mr. Ayala said will be staffed 24 hours a day.

Both Chief Ramsey and Mr. Ayala said the Angels’ focus will not be on making citizens arrests, an issue that thrust them into the public spotlight in the 1980s when the group’s founders patrolled New York City subways without weapons and apprehended would-be muggers until police arrived.

“That’s not our goal. Our goal is to uplift the community,” Mr. Ayala said. “We’re not going to get ourselves injured.”

Chief Ramsey agreed.

“We don’t want people putting themselves in harm’s way,” he said. “But at the same time, they’re willing to take on the responsibility to make the streets safer, and that’s something more citizens should do.”

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