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Make policing effective

(Published April 21, 2003)

Mayor Anthony A. Williams should be ashamed of himself for characterizing recent action on the police department's fiscal 2004 budget by a D.C. City Council committee as an "outrageous" reduction in funding.

Like the mayor, Councilwoman Kathy Patterson's Judiciary Committee has recommended increasing the Metropolitan Police Department's budget.

But Patterson, along with fellow committee members Jack Evans and Kevin P. Chavous, disagrees with the mayor on how much to increase MPD's budget. All have criticized the way Police Chief Charles Ramsey has managed police personnel.

Patterson, Evans and Chavous voted last week to slice $3 million out of the mayor's proposed $379 million fiscal 2004 budget for MPD. The $376 million they want to give MPD increases police spending by more than $50 million.

The council members propose using the $3 million to increase the D.C. Public Library's budget by $1 million and to fund step pay raises for city workers, whose salaries would have been frozen at current levels under the mayor's plan. D.C. Public Library trustees say they will be forced to close two branch libraries at the funding level proposed by the mayor.

Mayor Williams need look only at a 24 percent increase in the city's homicide rate this year to see that more money, which MPD has been given in successive budget years, does not alone produce effective community policing. Even residents of tony Foxhall, where violent crime is nearly nonexistent, recently began expressing concern about an armed robbery at a bus stop near Hardy Recreation Center.

While the council has provided funding since 1998 to increase MPD's sworn force to 3,800 officers, the money has consistently been spent without significantly increasing the number of officers beyond 3,600. The council committee has recommended that money be spent elsewhere in fiscal 2004.

Patterson, while stopping short of calling for Chief Ramsey's replacement, wants to see dramatic changes in the way police are deployed. She and many of her council colleagues have long been seeking greater police presence in residential neighborhoods and have been especially critical of excessive numbers of officers being pulled away from residential areas to police downtown protests.

Chavous last week referred to the council, himself included, as "unwitting fools" for continuing to accept excuses for lack of proper policing throughout the city. Patterson, Evans and Chavous despite being attacked by the mayor should be applauded for taking action that seems to indicate they finally understand what D.C. residents have been saying for years.

Council Chairman Linda Cropp has voiced her support for the action taken by Patterson's committee. The two council members who voted against paring the mayor's budget request for MPD, Sharon Ambrose and Harold Brazil, apparently have bought into the mayor's illogical argument that a $50 million increase in police spending constitutes a budget cut. Ambrose and Brazil both were quoted in The Washington Post last week fretting about how voting to cut less than 1 percent from the mayor's proposed police budget would make them look to the community.

When the full council votes on the fiscal 2004 budget, members should not allow their fear of the mayor's misleading political rhetoric to guide their decision.

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator