- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2003

It’s the type of violent intimidation usually associated with the underworld, and it’s happening on the streets of Washington — hardly good signs for a city recently redubbed Murder Capital U.S.A.

Three law-enforcement families have had their homes and cars shot at. Fortunately, none of the victims have been physically injured. All of the shootings have been in Northeast. Still terrified by an April 6 triple murder in a popular Northeast tavern, residents in Northeast Washington are arming themselves to do battle with City Hall. “If [officers families] can’t get the help they need, how is an average citizen going to get it?” ANC Commissioner Regina James told The Washington Times. A police official offered a lame answer. “The 5th District is just as safe for a police officer to live in as any other part of the city,” Cmdr. Jennifer Greene said. Not so.

Perhaps the commander needs to attend roll call more often and look at her own district’s stat sheets. Violent crime in the 5th District rose 21 percent over last year, and that increase is the largest of all seven police districts. Last year this time, there were 18 homicides, compared to 23 as of Wednesday. Robberies rose as well —302 so far in 2003 compared to 219 last year.

The Northeast residents’ justifiable fear and frustration come as City Hall debates whether Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey should receive a $25,000 raise, lifting his salary to $175,000. That issue is certainly worthy of considerable debate, because of the city’s overall rise in violent crime and the department’s longstanding high unsolved crime rates.

To help curb crime, residents, clergy and businesses want more patrol boots hitting the ground in residential neighborhoods, while lawmakers want to dictate how and where officers are deployed. The intimidation tactics taking place in Northeast underscore why lawmakers are not the proper authorities to develop deployment strategies. Their proposal piggybacks on Chief Ramsey’s plan, called Police Service Areas (PSA), which call for the chief to deploy the same number of officers to each PSA. That shortchanges many neighborhoods, particularly high-crime areas.

At a candlelight vigil Tuesday evening in Northeast, residents also discussed another problem in the 5th Police District. They said police are lowballing crime statistics, downgrading cases and ignoring reported crimes altogether. No matter how you perceive such allegations, they must be addressed.

Interestingly, police had a warrant for a suspect in the family shootings. The suspected gunman, a 19-year-old who lives in Northeast, turned himself in on Wednesday — so police can’t even claim that small victory.

Deputy Mayor Margret Nedelkoff Kellems and Chief Ramsey have clearly dropped the ball. The D.C. Council needs to hold oversight hearings and some very tough questions must be asked — and not just about the chief’s salary. Also, Ms. Kellems and the chief and Fifth District commanders need to get from behind their desks and talk face-to-face with their constituents. In other words, all residents want Ms. Kellems and Chief Ramsey to do is their jobs: prevent and solve crime.

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