Crime Time

Do these numbers mean anything to you? 1-87, 2-49, 3-96, 4-91, 5-83, 6-117, 7-131. Probably not. But if you live, work or play in D.C., they're significant because they represent crimes committed in each district from Jan. 1 to Feb. 19, 2012. And only one type of crime: robbery.

For example, in District 3, where I live, there were 96 robberies in less than seven weeks, which seems like a helluva lot. Of course, no district is crime-free, which includes the ubiquitous purse and cell phone snatches, as well as being surprised and terrified by someone in a ski mask pointing a gun at you and demanding your stuff.

This also means robberies are not just about losing that new iPad. So just hand it over. If you're confronted by a robber, don't resist, just give them your phone or purse or backpack or whatever they're demanding, no matter how angry you are about some horrid stranger assaulting you while you are simply walking down the street -- from work, to run an errand, to meet friends. Their guns have more power than your smartphone.

This is some of the information delivered by the DC MPD at a community meeting convened by Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3, District 2), where police officers matter-of-factly presented crime figures and discussed how the MPD is tackling robberies. The guidance wasn't new; your life is worth more than your things. And another message was repeated loud and clear: If you see anyone, anywhere, anytime who looks suspicious, call 911. Diane Groomes, assistant chief of foot patrol, said calling 911 about a "suspicious person" is now a "Level 1" call. This means there are "troops on the ground who get the information immediately."

Well, maybe. One woman at the meeting said she had called 911 repeatedly with no response, which officials promised to discuss with her. Others warned about profiling, in this case African-American teenagers.

But apparently crime has decreased after hitting a high last October, undermined by a recent spike. Officials stressed the city's commitment to combating it, which includes adding 300 police officers to the force detailed to robberies. MPD's tactics include: using decoy and bait strategies; targeting fencing operations; targeting repeat offenders; honing in on locations of frequent occurrences; using new technology; and putting pressure on smart phone service providers to help them track stolen phones.

Cheh asked about foot-patrols, which MPD has increased in areas, along with bicycle and car patrols as appropriate to the neighborhood. But the deterrent to nighttime crime craved by residents at the meeting was better lighting: repairing street lights that aren't working and installing new street lights where there aren't any. Apparently, there's no way to monitor street light outages. In response to an inquiry about checking street lights by working with the Department of Public Works, MPD deflected that responsibility to citizens. Fine, but not sufficient. Maybe PEPCO could do some kind of outreach in this regard; they obviously have the technical know-how.

In District 2, even main thoroughfares like Wisconsin Avenue have dark stretches that are unavoidable if you're walking to or from the Metro at night. A pregnant, 29-year-old woman was heading home on Western Avenue after work when two men stopped her as they donned ski masks. One hit her in the head with a gun, knocking her to the ground, just so they could steal her purse.

A middle-aged woman said when she was abruptly confronted by a man while she was walking home on Military Road one evening, she impulsively cried, "I have a gun!" He took off.

She was lucky her bluff worked. Now, she waits for the bus to get home, which is time-consuming and deprives her of her walk. The police made it clear it is not legal to carry a concealed a weapon in D.C., to protect yourself or otherwise. In fact, if you want to carry mace, it has to be an approved size and registered with the police.

Meanwhile, thieves hide in bushes or lurk near Metro stations so they can rob and ride. And many bus stops are not illuminated. Metro, care to shed a little light on this situation?

DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier, who arrived at the meeting late "because of a shooting," echoed her colleagues' messages. "We still have to get people [criminals] off the street," stressing that MPD was working with "under-covers and canvassing neighborhoods." There's also a new online reporting system and if you text 50411 with a tip, you may just get a $10,000 reward.

Somehow, I don't feel reassured.