THE MISSING INGREDIENT FROM PUBLIC SAFETY: SAFETY
[from December 2001 issue]

PRIOR EDITORIALS ARCHIVED HERE


It appears that the District may be climbing its way upwards toward the high honor of once again being known as the "Murder Capital" of the country! What's going on?

It's not just the slaughter that seems to have returned to our streets--we're referring to the random killings out in the streets themselves, like the three very recent ones up in Columbia Heights. But it's also all the other stuff, the increasingly violent muggings, often by small gangs of thugs who seem to be cruising the streets in cars, spotting an easy target, jumping out, and violently robbing and then speeding away.

We agree wholeheartedly with Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, community leaders, and just plain folk that there appears to have developed a perception among the nasty crowd that we are all easy pickings now that the streets are fairly devoid of police officers. And, it's no figment of the imagination of the bad people: Patrol Service Areas that used to have a compliment of 20 or so officers are now lucky to have half-a-dozen.

Where have they all gone? Apparently to do federal service, presumably because this is the "Federal City" and so they have special responsibilities. Well, we're not going to beat that dead horse again at this time about how wrong-headed successive Administrations and the Congressional overseers have been for the past zillion years about using police personpower paid for by us unimportant taxpayers to protect foreign potentates and federal interests without meaningful cost reimbursements. For the most part, our city's officials and their few friends in the Congress--notably our incredibly dedicated and effective Congressional Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, without whom we'd have long ago drowned--have worked diligently to turn things around on the cost for services front.

Now, we recognize that our country has had war declared against it and we are at war--some commentators, with whom we agree by the way, are telling us we are in the early stages of what will become recognized as World War III. Thus, we do not for one minute minimize the extreme national interest in making sacrifices to protect our national capital from destruction. If that means we have to do without some things, we need to adjust; after all, our city will not be worth living in if it should become a target for more efforts at destruction.

Having stated all this, we wonder, however, whether it makes sense to shift so much of the local DC police force away from neighborhood policing for the purpose of beefing up federal security? There are other resources available to the federal government, such as the National Guard or even the Army itself.

We have wondered why it was that the National Guard was called up in New York City to lend assistance there, but not here? The only DC National Guard unit that was called into service was a military police unit, which was dispatched overseas. Was that the only military police unit available out of all the National Guard forces in the U.S.? Would it not have been appropriate that the DC Guard's military police unit be assigned right here in the nation's capital to help protect the seat of government?

One "expert" on these matters of authority for activating the National Guard pointed out to us that the governors of each state have the authority to do that very thing within their respective states. However, when it comes to DC, because we are not a state and don't even have a governor, there is no local official with that kind of authority. Amazingly, over all these years it appears that nobody in high places ever raised this as a policy issue for solution. Of course, the solution would be to confer that authority on the mayor; maybe that will require an amendment to the Home Rule Charter, but let's get on it.

In the meantime, we wonder if Mayor Williams brought this anomaly to George Bush's attention when he and the missus were having that pleasant restaurant meal with George and spouse awhile back? (Did they actually talk substance or was it just a social chit-chat?) But, notwithstanding that the issue might not have been affirmatively brought up at dinner, or even thought about later, one would have thought that the moment our mayor got wind of that DC National Guard call-up by the feds--and it was reported extensively in the local news--he should have gotten on the horn to his new friend George and said, "Hey, that's our city's National Guard. We need 'em real bad here!" But he didn't (or, if he did, his people are keeping it a secret).

Bottom line: We've got to get all our police officers reassigned back to local city duties pronto. We must insist that the federal government use its vast resources to take on the extra security required for federal installations and federal officials. The Army (or is it also the National Guard?) has already been assigned to relieve the U.S. Capitol Police of the extra duty assigned to them following September 11; why not similarly assist our police force also--or is it policy that the Army give assistance only to federal police forces and not those financed by non-voting taxpayers?