- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2003

Hundreds of D.C. residents voiced concerns about youths and crime, ex-convicts returning to communities, and how revamping police service areas could better serve neighborhoods during the Mayor’s Crime Forum II yesterday at Scripture Cathedral in Northwest.

Residents from around the city packed the church’s pews to get a progress report from Mayor Anthony A. Williams and police Chief Charles H. Ramsey on issues raised in January during the mayor’s Forum on Crime & Prevention. A key concern during the mayor’s first forum was the city’s escalating crime rate.

“We have challenges in our city and the chief knows that, and I think we should give him the resources that he needs,” Mr. Williams said. “Public safety and order is necessary in our city.”

Mr. Williams said his fiscal 2004 budget includes funds to support 3,800 police officers by the fall of 2004, up from just more than 3,600. The extra officers would patrol neighborhoods.

The Metropolitan Police Department’s 83 PSAs were in place before he arrived in the District in 1998, Chief Ramsey said in his first public appearance since he agreed to a contract extension that would increase his salary to $175,000 from $150,000.

“We’ve been asked to look at PSAs in order to make them more effective,” he said. “I believe in police service areas, but I think the structure and the manpower needs to be adjusted slightly. There seems to be a lot of frustration over PSA staffing.”

The chief noted that homicides and auto thefts have increased in the past year.

Under a proposed plan, the number of PSAs would be reduced to 40 from 83. They would be aligned more closely with natural neighborhood boundaries as defined by the Office of Planning’s “neighborhood clusters.” They also would establish a minimum number of officers for each PSA to provide more flexibility in assigning officers.

“Crime is not equal,” the chief said. “There is more crime in some areas than others. There would be a minimum of 21 officers in a PSA. The maximum number has not yet been determined. … With more staffing, we can deal with hot spots better.”

After Chief Ramsey presented the PSA plan, residents took part in a panel discussion on public safety with church leaders, community activists, police officers and representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Later Mr. Williams moderated a question-and-answer session on how to create better partnerships between police and communities, what city agencies can do to support ex-offenders, and how to deal with youths and crime.

“I’m from the old school: community, church and schools. I feel that schools aren’t being used fully,” said Joseph Glover, president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations and a 35-year city resident. They close down at the end of the school day, he said, adding, “The churches could be used. I know that churches participate in mentoring programs.”

Chief Ramsey put the responsibility back on parents’ shoulders.

“We’ve got to do something to get to these kids,” he said. “We’re getting 9- and 10-year-olds for robbery and auto theft.” Referring to the video game “Grand Theft Auto,” he said, “The people who are making these games are poisoning our children. The government can’t raise a child. At some point, we’ve got to reach the parents.”

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