How people feel about crime matters as much as the numbers, defining that all-important and difficult-to-quantify threshold — when unsafe becomes safe. With resurging neighborhoods such as Logan Circle and Bloomingdale, city leaders are carefully paying attention both to the numbers and residents’ peace of mind.
“One crime in a neighborhood can really shake people up,” D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said after telling skeptical and frightened residents of Logan Circle earlier this month that robberies there have dropped faster than in any other place in the District this year, despite two recent shootings and armed holdups with stun guns.
In Logan Circle, a roughly 30-square-block neighborhood that includes a historic district between Dupont Circle and Shaw, 40 new bars and restaurants excite residents and draw visitors. Lanier said tearing down partitions in Bloomingdale is another positive signal. The ominous barriers, she said, cried out, “Be fearful, be afraid.”
The challenge for police is to ensure that the neighborhoods don’t tip back. Not every shopkeeper in Bloomingdale is taking down bullet-resistant glass, and a recent armed robbery of a corner store added some uncertainty. Residents at the meeting that Lanier attended in Logan Circle complained about drug dealers, prostitutes and what they think prompted two shootings last month — a street war between opposing crews on opposite sides of 14th Street.
The first shooting occurred Sept. 12 at Riggs and 14th streets about 9 p.m., when restaurant patios were full. Three bullets flew over four lanes of 14th Street — one struck the facade of Batch 13, a second hit a parked car and the third crashed through the window above the store’s transom. Police said a fourth bullet ended up in the hip of the man whom the shooter was aiming at on Riggs. Lanier said that person isn’t cooperating with detectives. Five days later, police said, gunmen exchanged shots between cars near Riggs, though nobody was struck.
Lanier told residents that police are not certain whether the shootings are related or are connected to drugs, as some suspect. She told the group that violent crime in and around Logan Circle has dropped 25 percent this year, and robberies plunged 4 percent. “This is an area that is doing really well,” the chief said. “We want to keep it that way.”
But Peter Lallas, a member of the Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, told Lanier that “only since the shootings have I really seen MPD [Metropolitan Police Department] attention.” Since then, he said, “the officers have vanished, and do you know who came back? The drug dealers are back, and they’re dealing with impunity.”
Lallas, an assistant U.S. attorney who prosecutes violent crime in the District, demanded of Lanier: “What are we doing from here? What is the game plan?”
Residents worried about Logan Circle returning to a time not too long ago when it was known for drugs and prostitutes, not bistros and wine. Chris Perroult, who has lived in Logan Circle for seven years, said residents are frustrated. He added, “It’s clear where the problem is. We see them.” Of police, he said, “Things aren’t happening.”
Bohnett, the Batch 13 manager, said he was talking with a customer about how to make limoncello when they heard the first gunshot about 9 p.m. He said he and his customer ducked behind the counter as a bullet crashed through the window and whizzed by. It was found five days later amid a stack of beer cases.
“Crime is down?” he asked, noting the rent for his new Logan Circle apartment is $4,000 a month. “I pay that and I need to deal with this? I do not feel safe.”
It’s a different story in Bloomingdale. On First Street NW, just south of Rhode Island Avenue, several shop owners have taken down their bullet-
resistant partitions, an acknowledgment not only that people feel safer, but that such walls now seem out of place next to yoga studios and a new restaurant that sells $9 pints of craft ale boasting a smoky, chocolate finish.
“It creates a good relationship with the customer,” said Singh, who has owned Bloomingdale Wine and Spirits for a dozen years. He said the partition was there when he bought the shop. He took most of it down a few months ago. As the neighborhood changes, so do his customers. He has fewer bottles of $7 red rose wine — suited more for paper bags than tabletops — and more single malt liquors. “We have a different kind of customer,” he said. “They want high quality and no walls.”
But the feeling that crime is down is not supported by the statistics, at least for this year. Armed robberies are up 38 percent — from 13 last year at this time to 18 so far this year. Other categories of crime, such as unarmed robberies, are down.
Not every shop is taking down the barriers that protect clerks. Samuel Ashine, the owner of D.C. Mini Mart, a few doors away from Singh’s wine shop, said he’s considering it but that it would change the complexion of his shop. He knows his gritty-looking convenience store seems out of place between the restaurant serving premium beer and a yoga studio, and he’s made a small concession to the marketplace — an organic section. It’s a few small boxes of potatoes, onions and trail mix, with tomatoes and peppers in a mini-fridge.A few blocks away at the Sun Beam Market on North Capitol Street, large cigarette and liquor ads conflict with the flower boxes and neatly kept rowhouses next door. Dan Early, a 44-year-old Defense Department contractor, lives across the street and said he prefers driving 1½ miles south to Harris Teeter, even for a quick snack, than walking across the street to the store.
He praises the owner for sweeping up every morning but notes it’s a local hangout at night, a source of noise and trash. The Sun Beam Market still has bullet-resistant glass, and the owner said he has no plans to take it down. “Taking down the glass says a lot,” Early said. “It shows the neighborhood is changing.”
But even with some of the holdouts, several years of declining violence appears to now be embedded in the community consciousness. John Salatti, who has lived in Bloomingdale for nine years and is a former advisory neighborhood commission member, said disappearing partitions are just one sign of progress. He said young women feel it’s safe to walk at night to the nearby U Street corridor.
“Some crime will happen, and all of a sudden it’s happening all the time,” Salatti said. “Yes it’s a problem, and we will get a handle on it. But we understand that, by and large, year after year, things are getting better.”