On Friday, Mayor Gray held a joint press conference with Chief Cathy Lanier to address the dramatic increase of street theft, particularly of mobile devices. Five hundred robberies have been reported since the beginning of the year either on the Metro or on the street. The new epidemic of "snatch-and-grab" theft must be addressed head-on by MPD through increased enforcement and by making it tougher for criminal gangs to make a profit selling stolen electronics.
The mayor and police chief should be applauded for two new initiatives announced at their media briefing. Offering rewards of up to $10,000 to those who turn in suspects attempting to sell stolen devices will provide a needed deterrent. Criminals may think twice knowing that the "buyers" could be "selling them out." Additionally, pushing for regulations allowing victims to remotely lock their stolen devices will render their electronics useless, greatly reducing their value on the black market. By attacking the profit potential, the cost/benefit of stealing may make the crime unattractive.
While reducing the incentive for profit is a good step, enforcement of this type of theft needs to be tougher. Mayor Gray can call for more effective policing, but Chief Lanier must take his advice. She enjoys sky-high approval ratings, giving her a level of autonomy that is difficult to breach. As I wrote in a previous post, MPD and the entire justice system need to be more proactive in punishing those who choose to cause mayhem on our streets. This means zero tolerance from police, and a determination from prosecutors to "throw the book" at those who do not respect our right to live in safety from criminal predatory behavior.
Chief Lanier should lead from the top to instill a culture of proactivity within our police force. While her well-known "All Hands on Deck" initiative may make for good headlines, it does not work if policies do not change and officers are not effectively deployed. Instead of putting all officers on duty during a given weekend, it could be more effective to "surge" officers to neighborhoods where robberies are an issue, on Capitol Hill for example, and work the streets to identify those who may be involved in illegal behavior. Officer presence will deter criminals from committing similar offenses.
I applaud Mayor Gray for bringing attention to this serious and increasing problem, but I urge Chief Lanier to look for new policing strategies to bring this crime wave under control. Ultimately, she is responsible for fighting crime and should be held accountable when criminal behavior is on the rise.
Adam Clampitt was appointed to the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors by Mayor Vincent Gray last year.