Nearly 500 Arrests In First 2 Days of Blitz

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 11, 2007

The District's stepped-up campaign to fight crime brought 492 arrests in its first two days, including 51 for felonies, a 70 percent increase over the previous weekend that has left city leaders hopeful about the new strategy.

The unofficial tally from Friday and Saturday included 30 juveniles, Sgt. Joe Gentile, a D.C. police spokesman, said yesterday afternoon. On June 1 and 2, police made 290 arrests, Gentile added.

Chief Cathy L. Lanier announced last week that all of the force's 3,300 sworn officers would work longer hours this weekend to give the summer crime-fighting program a jump-start. The plan, which cost $1.3 million in overtime pay, was intended to help prevent an increase in homicides, robberies, car thefts and gang activity that typically comes in the summer.

Police are also expanding their network of neighborhood surveillance cameras, adding five last week and 24 by the end of June, for a total of 72 across the city.

The news of increased arrests was met with cautious optimism by city leaders.

"I'm assuming all are valid arrests," said D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. "Some neighborhoods are enormously frustrated with ongoing criminal activity. If police are cracking down, I'm sure residents are pleased to be feeling a bit safer."

Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) agreed that the more aggressive tactics could be a good start to tamping down crime. "If these arrests are warranted, I'm happy it happened and they're getting people off the streets," he said.

Police could not provide a breakdown yesterday of the sorts of crimes that led to the arrests. Some police departments, including Baltimore's, have increased arrest numbers and drawn criticism by arresting hundreds of residents for loitering and other so-called "quality of life" violations that seldom lead to prosecution. Officers argue that such arrests can break up an active drug trade, even if no charges are filed.

Lanier, who was named by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to take over the department in January, said she devised the police blitz to head off the spike in summer crime that often vexed her predecessor, Charles H. Ramsey. In three of the past four summers, Ramsey declared "crime emergencies" when crime reached a peak, which gave him more flexibility in changing officers' schedules and ordering overtime.

Last summer, Fenty, then a council member, cast the lone vote against legislation offered by then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) that added the surveillance cameras and declared a curfew for juveniles, a move intended to augment Ramsey's crime emergency powers.

Lanier has said she hopes to crack down on crime without declaring an emergency, which she hopes will save money and boost morale. The extra police coverage that Ramsey ordered last year cost the department about $14 million in overtime.

Even so, robberies and violent crimes increased last year, police acknowledged two weeks ago after questions from The Washington Post. Police had initially reported a drop in violent crime.

"Chief Lanier is working on smarter deployment, and that's smart," Mendelson said.

Brown said the increased police presence is only the start, adding that District leaders must attack the crime problem in other ways, including through education and social programs.

"The questions become, 'How do you take those arrests and deal with them on the front end and back end?' " Brown said. "People arrested -- fine. But at the same time, we need to focus why they are out there getting arrested in the first place."

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