The good news is that murders dropped to a historic low last year in the nation's capital; the 131 people killed matched the number in 1963. Still too many. The bad news is we are becoming the robbery capital. Stuff is getting swiped all over town. Bicycles are endangered species in my old neighborhood of Chevy Chase, D.C., if they are visible and not double-locked. Thieves will grab them from porches, garages, basements. If you're lucky, robbers won't break into your place and go for more than bikes.
It's open season on valuables here in the city's far Northwest neighborhoods, what I call Upper Caucasia. Robbers busted into one guy's house, and when he confronted them they locked him in a closet and cut the phone lines.
Scary stuff. But the epidemic of robberies is hardly confined to wealthy wards west of Rock Creek Park. It's citywide. Ward 4 city council member Muriel Bowser noted a shooting during an armed robbery last Sunday afternoon on New Hampshire Avenue in Petworth.
"Ward 4 is in the midst of a robbery emergency that needs swift attention from our public safety officials," she said. "The violence in our neighborhoods can no longer be seen as isolated tragedies." She sees a "pattern of violence" and called for "more cops walking our streets, more investigators" and such.
Problem is, Bowser and her city council colleagues and former Mayor Adrian Fenty declined to add cops to the force. To the contrary, they have let the force fall to under 3,850, rather that the 4,200 target set in 2008.
"She shouldn't have voted to cut 400 officers," says Kristopher Baumann, head of the police union. "These are the consequences."
The consequences are more harsh on the city's eastern wards, across the Anacostia River. Robberies were up 12 percent in well-off upper Northwest neighborhoods in 2010, but they rose almost 30 percent in the 6th and 7th Police Districts.
Police Chief Cathy Lanier has responded to the rash of robberies in affluent areas by sending in the troops. She has flooded the streets with cops and deployed a rapid-response unit to try and dissuade the thieves.
But sending more cops into wealthy precincts troubles Baumann. In a letter to city council Chairman Kwame Brown, he says: "I find it inexplicable that Chief Lanier and Mayor Gray have flooded Upper Northwest neighborhoods with officers while the rate and actual number of burglaries in Wards 7 and 8 have skyrocketed.
"What is it going to take to make this police department and its leadership responsive to the needs of the citizens of the Sixth and Seventh Wards?" he asks
Good question, since Brown and Mayor Vince Gray reside in those neighborhoods. Perhaps it's time to pump up policing east of the Anacostia River.
Meanwhile, with or without a flood of cops in your neighborhood, it's time to lock up, look out, and keep your bikes out of sight.
Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.