Chief Lanier’s timing was surely fortunate: She became top cop as crime rates, especially for homicides, were falling and the city was becoming discernibly safer. But the drop in crime, especially gun-related offenses, has accelerated during her tenure. And although the District’s homicide rate remains too high, and higher than those of other major cities such as New York, last year’s homicide tally, 109, was the lowest in nearly 50 years.
Violent crime and homicides in particular have been dropping nationally, for a variety of reasons. But Chief Lanier deserves some of the credit for the exceptionally fast decrease in the District. She has focused relentlessly on gun violence, introducing new technology and tactics.
That focus has sometimes been overzealous, as when she proposed that D.C. residents submit to “voluntary” house-to-house weapons searches, an idea that didn’t fly, for good reason. Still, the emphasis on guns has brought welcome results. Robberies fell by about 5 percent over the four years ending in 2011, but robberies with guns dropped by about 30 percent.
Other city police chiefs talk about getting officers out of stations and patrol cars and onto the streets, but Chief Lanier has pushed the strategy with extraordinary energy. That has led to some grumbling among the rank and file, but it, too, has delivered results. City residents see more officers in their neighborhoods, building trust.
The chief’s record is not without blemishes. Her explanation of the police escort granted to actor Charlie Sheen last year seemed lacking in clarity and candor. Occasionally, when faced with critics, she has been thin-skinned.
But through her personal warmth, engagement with the community, professionalism and devotion to duty, Chief Lanier has raised the public’s level of confidence in police to what may be approaching an all-time high. In a city where corruption is too common and the competency of government services has waxed and waned, there’s a sense that the police force is, if hardly perfect, well managed and effective. Mr. Gray was wise to give her five more years.