We asked the candidates:
Chief Lanier and Mayor Gray have made a lot of the drop in homicides, but other crimes — assaults, robberies — remain stubbornly high. How should DC police deal with those challenges, and do you have an opinion on how many officers MPD needs?
Here is how you rated the candidates' responses:
John Settles responded...
MPD must use a comprehensive approach to reducing crime. Assaults with a deadly weapon, sex abuse, theft and hate crimes against LGBT are all up. A sense of security positively impacts growth, retention, tourism, and investment.
Inform Residents: MPD Crime Mapping tool must work. Officers should regularly attend ANC meetings to discuss data, and train the community on responding.
Partnerships: The Mayor needs to assist MPD by bringing together key agencies such as DCPS, Dept. of Employment Services, Health and Human Services, and DCHA/DHCD to create better prevention programs.
Presence: There must be a strong/visible presence during hours of the day with crime "spikes" and along streets with heavy pedestrian traffic.
Prevention: Situational Crime Prevention combined with real time GIS crime mapping can identity hot spots, allowing MPD to react quickly and provide a visible deterrent.
MPD should have 4,000 officers to maintain a city wide presence given the population growth. Given the limited number of cadets that the police academy can graduate annually, this must occur now. Lastly, MPD needs to hire civilians for desk jobs, and get officers on the street patrolling, and talking with citizens to build relationships. We all need to take a greater stake in our public safety and if we can bring the job of keeping our streets and homes safe a little closer to home in a more positive way, maybe we can all feel a lot better about the city we love to call home.
Matthew Frumin responded...
Public safety will always be a top priority, and I applaud Chief Lanier and MPD for the progress they've made. Given its recent record, the Department deserves deference in mapping out its strategy. But the role of the Council remains critical — we must ensure the necessary resources are available, provide active oversight and work vigilantly to address the ways crime relates to the realities of our communities.
Let's grow the force to 4000 officers to increase police presence in the places where data and experience tell us crime has been the highest. There can be diminishing returns from additional officers, and we could one day feel the police presence is too great, but we are not there yet.
Let's continue to use civic education and outreach efforts to confront the rash of robberies of electronic devices that has plagued our city. We should focus on breaking up the fencing rings and working with manufacturers to combat this crime, now seen as a low risk way to turn a profit, and much of the source of the increase in reported robberies.
Similarly, the Council should support MPD's efforts to work with community and activist groups to respond to the spike in sex offenses.
Let's also do what we can to encourage first responders to live in the City. When an officer lives in the neighborhood everyone feels more secure. More vibrant streets, in turn, are safer for everyone.
And, we must recognize that wherever there are great disparities in income and opportunity there will be the risk of crime. Important parts of any crime prevention strategy will fall outside of MPD's purview in the form of strengthening our education system, providing job training and creating jobs. These too will be high priorities for me on the Council.
Elissa Silverman responded...
A visible and trusted police force keeps all of us safe.
When D.C. residents feel unsafe in their homes and neighborhoods, even a positive trend in crime statistics — such as the drop in homicides — doesn't change that. To maximize the effectiveness of our hard-working officers, we must 1) use data to drive deployment, 2) promote visibility of officers with foot or bike patrols in crime hot spots, and 3) ask commanders to maintain communication with residents. When crimes do occur, the focus should remain on solving cases quickly to deter repeat offenses, so victims can feel closure and a sense of justice.
I support Chief Lanier's efforts. From my days as a reporter covering the murders that get two-sentence mentions in the newspaper, I know she works hard for all city residents. D.C. has the highest ratio of police officers to residents of any big city in America, but not enough are serving visibly on our streets where they can deter robberies and assaults. It is politically popular to call for more officers; as a budget analyst and former Washington Post Metro reporter, I know the real solution is to use our current force more strategically.
As a council member, I will drill down into the MPD budget and ask hard questions about deployment. Do we have the right balance between patrol and investigation? I will work with Chief Lanier and the Fraternal Order of Police to put as many sworn officers as possible on patrol. I will push for regular reports that analyze police staffing, and, if the results point to hiring more cops, that will be one of my top priorities. Public safety is too important to hide behind buzz words.
I also will push for strategic focus on truancy, literacy, and job training so crime isn't a last resort.
Paul Zukerberg responded...
It's not the number of police officers. It's how they're deployed that matters.
Serious crime in DC has steadily declined, since peaking in the early 90's. But last year, violent crime rose, and crimes against women skyrocketed. Violent sexual assaults were up 51% (Source: MPD Website)
To combat street crime we need cops on the beat. Where are those cops? Too often, they are back at the police station, or sitting around the courthouse, busying themselves with small marijuana cases.
MPD arrests more people each year for simple possession of marijuana than all violent crimes combined. What a waste of trained police officers.
The city councils of most major cities — including New York, Philly, Boston, Detroit and Chicago — have decriminalized the possession of marijuana. That's smart policy, and smart policing.
Young people don't wind up with permanent criminal records. Cops stay out on patrol, where they are needed most.
Where is the DC City Council on decriminalization? Council Chairman Phil Mendelson told the Post that we can't even discuss decriminalization here, because Congress might get mad.
I can deal with an angry Congress. But I am sick to think that our best police officers are wasting their time on small marijuana cases, while women in DC are increasingly victims of sex crimes and violence.
Let's use the police we already have more sensibly. Let's decriminalize pot and focus on fighting real crime.
Diallo Brooks responded...
Lowering crime and senseless acts of violence should be at the top of any elected official's agenda. One of the fundamental rolls of government is to provide for the safety and security of its citizenry.
Our law enforcement professionals should be commended for the hard work they do every day to keep our neighborhoods safe. The record low homicide count, in our city, warrants acknowledgement. That being said, as a native Washingtonian, I have witnessed firsthand the negative impact crime has had on this city. The late 80's and early 90's saw record levels of violent crimes including the highest per capita murder rate in the country. We are a long way from that epidemic level of social destruction, but with the current pervasiveness of assaults and robberies, it is evident that more still needs to be done.
In my opinion, making our streets and neighborhoods safe goes beyond the effectiveness of law enforcement. We need to address the opportunity gaps that continue to create socio-economic disparities. We need to build an educational system that is a pipeline from the cradle to college/productive careers instead of a pipeline to prison. We need to invest in the social construct to help bridge at risk communities and provide pathways to successful social responsibility through economic opportunity.
Hiring more police officers can only be a small part of addressing the real systemic reasons crime exists. We need strong leadership supporting the reintegration of our ex-offender population to ensure that they have the skills to be productive citizens in our community. Additionally, programs must be set in place to provide our youth with the structure needed to become successful community leaders. Marginalized communities also need training programs that enable our young adults to compete in the emerging economy of this great city.
Although I support adding more community based officers to neighborhoods, I also want to see a greater emphasis placed on addressing crime before it happens and healing the social ills that lead to criminal activity.
Jon Gann responded...
Thankfully, the District has not been the "murder capital" of the nation for sometime now. Homicide rates have declined substantially since the 1990's, but there are still far too many murders. Property and violent crimes have also decreased dramatically — more than 50% from 1991. Yet in the past few years, against a national trend, District assault and theft numbers have been on the rise.
Why? Scholars, experts and critics publish theories and plausible explanations across the internet. I believe, at least in part, it's because the ability to report crime has become much easier: most people carry cellphones and are able to dial 911 in an instant. Also, random crimes are difficult to comprehend — and shake the core of new or rebuilding communities — which the District now has many of. As a result, community members often react by becoming more informed and involved, and are more apt to report crimes and suspicious activity to authorities.
This creates a perfect storm: more people, more reporting, more information. It's my belief that the increase in mobile technology and the influx of new residents has helped to reveal the District's true crime rate. Now we have to do something about it.
How many officers should the MPDC employ? There is no magic number. How are they being trained? Where are they being deployed? What is their mission? Those are the questions to ask. While I support Jack Evan's (Ward 2) proposal to hire more police officers, I would argue that an increase in foot and bike patrol officers is more pressing than back-office staff. If the council or Mayor Gray cannot approve increased funding for officers, then I urge Chief Lanier to consider privatizing back office duties and get officers out from behind desks and onto the street.
And perhaps above all else, MPDC must find new ways to strengthen it's relationship and increase the trust with the people of the District's neighborhoods besieged by crime. And active, cooperative citizenry is the police force's best ally.
AJ Cooper responded...
Clearly the homicide rate has dropped in DC and that is a wonderful thing, except for the 92 murder victims who did not live to see the cheery press releases touting the decline. I believe that closer inspection is required to get the real picture about what is happening in our city and who it is happening to.
Most of the homicide victims were young and from the lower income areas of our city. They were born, raised and died amidst violence, poverty and lack of proper guidance. These realities have not changed. What has changed is that thousands of DC residents in these areas have been forced to move out of the city due to increased housing costs. This exodus, more than any magic policing is the root of the drop in homicides.
The fact that assaults and robberies have remained high speaks to the income disparities in our city as well as the failure of city leaders to address what is really going on in the lives of young people.
DC has plenty of police. What we lack are politicians with the guts to speak to the root of the problems instead of playing statistical games for political points. What we lack are community leaders with courage to take a look in the mirror and accept responsibility for their part in the continued destruction of the African American community in DC. When a 15-year-old values a pair of sneakers more than a human life we must look to the adults in the community and ask "What are you doing?"
Preventing crime is not a policing problem it is a community problem. As long as we have generational poverty, a broken educational system and large income disparities we will continue to have persistent crime in Washington, DC.
Patrick Mara responded...
"How many police officers should patrol our streets" can best be answered with a question: "how much do you want to spend"? The answer to "how many murders, assaults, robberies and rapes are acceptable" is "none."
Reality, however, does not allow for such easy answers.
The Metropolitan Police Department should never be asked to act alone in promoting public safety. Fighting crime begins with education. Show me a city with a first-rate school system, and I'll show you a city with a low crime rate. That city will also have low unemployment.
Unfortunately, our schools were left to crumble for more than a generation and economic development in the District has not been a rising tide that lifts all boats.
Chief Lanier should be commended for focusing on gang violence and recidivists. This is one reason why murders are down.
Councilmember Catania recently announced his intention to curb chronic truancy. He said we need to do a better job with enforcement and, possibly, should prosecute the parents of students who are consistently truant.
As a Board of Education member I am well versed in the devastating effects that truancy has on young people as well as the community. Catania's plan must be given serious consideration.
Over time, education will ease the burden on law enforcement. In the interim, MPD and related programs must have the resources needed to lock up hardened criminals and steer youth away from crime, drugs and violence. A blank check? No. But we should not shortchange our youth or residents who live in neighborhoods plagued by crime.
Pedro Rubio responded...
First, I would like to thank our men and women who serve our police force.
To deal with these challenges we should focus on removing guns from our neighborhoods and having more of our police officers patrolling our schools, nightlife areas, metro and neighborhoods by foot. DC police should encourage community involvement. They should have community meetings and visit houses to gather information that will help them prevent crime and keep them inform of any criminal activities in the neighborhood.
It would be great to have an officer on every corner, but can the city afford it? I think we should hire as we grow in population, we should use the policemen who are sitting behind the desk or behind a speeding camera vehicle and place them in needed areas. Currently, DC has a surplus of money on hand and the Mayor is planning to use it to hire more cops. I would rather use that money to cut down our debt, add resources to our schools, or give the Metropolitan Police Department a pay raise. I will fight for our officers to receive a pay raise because it's the right thing to do when someone puts their life on the line for you and your family. We should show our policemen that the city is behind them and compensate them accordingly. There were 88 homicides in 2012, Chief Cathy and Mayor Gray have received most of the credit for their work in making DC safer, but we should not overlook the police officers who are out there on the street making a difference.