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On the Mall, Image of Safety Is Shattered

Jennifer Boyler of Raleigh, N.C., strolling on the Mall on Monday night with her husband, Sean, said the area did not feel dangerous.
Jennifer Boyler of Raleigh, N.C., strolling on the Mall on Monday night with her husband, Sean, said the area did not feel dangerous. "I love it here. I really do," she said. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

Park Police Chief Dwight E. Pettiford acknowledged that the response should have been stronger.

"We will be making more adjustments" to the patrols along the Mall, he said yesterday. "We realize that what we did the first time was not sufficient."

Since the sexual assault Sunday, a low-key police force, ordinarily dispatched to guard the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and patrol the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, has been reassembled along the Mall.

"We have detectives working 24 hours a day and patrols everywhere," said Sgt. Scott Fear, a Park Police spokesman. "The force is trying to prevent another attack, but we also want to try and catch the people who committed these heinous crimes."

The detectives are working with other departments to determine whether a similar group of young men has attacked elsewhere in the city. They have checked with neighborhood beat officers to learn whether anyone has bragged of robbing and assaulting tourists.

They also have scoured the Mall and ordered that burned-out light bulbs near the crime scenes be replaced.

"We want to make sure every bulb on the Mall is lit," Fear said.

This is an unusual mission for the Park Police. Pettiford said it has been a decade or more since a similar attack was reported on the Mall.

During the National Cherry Blossom Festival, when more than 1 million people came to view the blooms, fly kites and watch the parade, not a single pocket was reported picked, Fear said.

Even the biggest problem that Park Police warn tourists about -- thefts from parked cars -- has eased dramatically in the past few years, Fear said.

In the dark, the Mall is a mix of elegantly lighted buildings, flags and monuments, with dim stretches illuminated by old-fashioned-looking street lamps. Figures can loom abruptly out of the shadows and vanish just as fast.

On Monday night, under a sliver of moon, several Mall visitors stopped to talk about safety.

Sean Boyler, 25, and his wife, Jennifer, 24, of Raleigh, N.C., were strolling near 14th Street. Sean Boyler, an Army helicopter pilot scheduled to deploy to Iraq in July, said they, too, had come out in the evening seeking cooler weather and the nighttime vistas.

Jennifer Boyler said the area did not feel dangerous. "Honestly . . . I wouldn't have given it a second thought," she said. "I love it here. I really do."

Her husband noted that the area along the Reflecting Pool gave them pause. "It's not lighted there," he said.

John Skikas, a Los Angeles narcotics detective, was in town vacationing with his wife, Robin, and daughter, Hannah. It was their first visit. They were walking near 12th Street. He had read about the attacks in the paper. "So I was real nervous," he said, especially walking along the Tidal Basin.

"It's dark," he said. "I think [it] could be a little bit more well lit. I'm a cop, and I'm really kind of observant and try to pick the most traveled pathways and things like that. The other thing is, we knew, being Memorial weekend, there'd be a lot of people out, and safety in numbers."

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