Taking a hard-nosed approach to law and order in the District isn’t always acceptable to politically correct politicians and commentators. The American Civil Liberties Union, The Washington Post and a lawmaker who wants to be mayor are either shaking their heads or rubbing their chins over the get-tough-on-crime legislation that was approved this week by the D.C. Council.
The emergency legislation includes an earlier curfew for youths, overtime funds for additional street patrols and cameras in certain crime hot spots. Not surprisingly, the ACLU took issue with the cameras. The Post, for its part, editorialized that the emergency measures taken by City Hall are not enough. While the editorial encouraged residents to be vigilant with their own eyes and ears, it said police can’t go it alone and that decreasing crime “requires a fundamental change in the District’s priorities.”
We beg to differ: This week’s 12-1 approval of the anti-crime package is substantial evidence of a shift to “fundamental change.” Have the editorial writers at The Post forgotten that when crack cocaine and its related violence gripped the District in the 1980s, City Hall was reluctant to grant the Metropolitan Police Department the necessary tools — beefed-up street patrols, overtime funds and a curfew law — to grapple with the epidemic? Have they forgotten that instead of the city being publicized as the nation’s capital it was mocked as the “murder capital”? And the fact that then, as now, the ACLU opposed a curfew?
While we don’t agree with all of Police Chief Chuck Ramsey’s policies (including his red-light cameras), his strategies have led to consistent declines in homicides in recent years. Moreover, with crimes by and against youths moving at a fast clip, the chief had been urging City Hall to grant his officers another crucial crime-fighting tool — access to the records of juvenile offenders. As Chief Ramsey has said, “If they’ve been arrested seven, eight times for armed robbery, why wouldn’t we take a look to see if they’re responsible?”
This is a pivotal election year for seats in City Hall, on Capitol Hill and at school headquarters. And in that light it was disappointing to see lawmaker Adrian Fenty, a Democratic mayoral contender, vote against crime prevention legislation. While Mr. Fenty will have to mount his own defense, the other 12 lawmakers deserve a pat on the back for being on the same page as the chief, who long ago requested access to the records of juvenile offenders — especially since many of them are repeat criminals.
The sense of urgency guided City Hall toward its shift on law and order. It was a big step toward fundamental policy change, and we’re confident the momentum will shift yet again with the elections. Nonetheless, as we have editorialized before, Chief Ramsey and the Metropolitan Police Department need every available tool at their disposal to prevent and combat crime — regardless of where it occurs.