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Throw away the key?
(Published July 24, 2006)

Local leaders are not being truthful when they talk about a sudden surge in violent crime prompting them to take emergency steps aimed at increasing public safety.

They have chosen to act now out of political expediency to protect their own hides, as federal officials and international news media have become alarmed over the recent slaying of a British citizen in Georgetown and several armed robberies on the National Mall.

The truth, as The Common Denominator has dutifully reported while other news organizations largely remained silent, is that the frequency of armed robberies has been rising for more than two and a half years in the District especially in areas that the public generally regards as "safe."

Unfortunately, during that time, Metropolitan Police officials chose to continue trumpeting a decrease in the city's homicide rate and sometimes only marginal drops in overall reported crime, rather than warning the public to be more careful.

The one high-level law enforcement official in the District who tried to sound the alarm, former U.S. Park Police chief Teresa Chambers, was muzzled by her superiors. Chambers continues to fight for reinstatement to her job, from which she was unceremoniously fired after expressing concern to reporters in December 2003 that she was being forced by budgetary restrictions to put guarding monuments for national security reasons ahead of patrolling parks including the National Mall for public safety.

Only D.C. City Councilman Adrian Fenty, who is running for mayor, had the guts July 19 to vote against the mayor's "emergency" request to spend about $16 million of taxpayer funds during the next 90 days on feel-good measures that will do little to sustain a decrease in the city's crime rate.

Among the highly controversial measures, the council approved moving the summer curfew for children 17 and younger from midnight to 10 p.m. making it impossible for law-abiding teenagers to return home from an 8 p.m. movie without violating the law. The council also authorized installation of surveillance cameras in residential neighborhoods, which might videotape crimes but won't stop them, and made it easier for more accused felons to be held without bond in an already overcrowded D.C. Jail while awaiting trial.

Much of the emergency spending that the council approved, about $8 million, will be used to pay overtime to police officers, who are working six-day weeks under suspension of union-negotiated work rules as part of a "crime emergency" declared by Police Chief Charles Ramsey after the Georgetown murder on July 9.

The biggest problem with this newly found "get tough on crime" attitude among local leaders is that it does nothing to strike at the heart of what causes most crime in the nation's capital. Even Chief Ramsey, when speaking to community groups, often notes that more drug treatment options and better training programs that lead to livable-wage jobs for city residents would do more to fight crime than increasing the number of cops on the police force. But Ramsey rightly notes those are "political decisions" to be made by others, not the police chief's responsibility.

Apparently, most of the city's political leaders would prefer to just continue locking people up, rather than helping them to become productive citizens.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator