Economy Triggers Security Concerns

Christina Griffith prepares to fire her 9mm handgun during a
Christina Griffith prepares to fire her 9mm handgun during a "Personal Protection in the Home" class at Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
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By Jonathan Mummolo and Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, December 28, 2008

Stacy Jack, a suburban mom of two, is buying a gun.

It seems to Jack, who lives in Prince William County, that crime has gotten worse lately, and with the economic situation deteriorating, she is scared.

"My husband and I just talked about it and ran through some worst-case scenarios if we're headed down a bad road economically-wise," Jack said of her decision to buy a gun. "What if somebody wants to break in and take our possessions or our cans of food? A fear of the unknown is a terrible thing."

Police say the most recent data available show a marked increase in property crime this year in much of the Washington region, including burglaries, incidents of shoplifting and thefts from cars and foreclosed homes.

Whether the economic downturn will have a far-reaching impact on crime is unknown -- and some officials are not convinced that there is a strong correlation -- but the surge in property crimes is apparent.

Violent crime, however, is down in the District and many of its suburbs, according to preliminary data. Law enforcement officials said that crime statistics are still being tabulated for the last few months of the year -- the period following September's global economic collapse.

But many people say they aren't waiting for the final stats before taking security measures into their own hands: buying guns, checking out home security systems and avoiding shopping malls after dark. A District woman said she was so fearful when her husband brought home a new flat-screen TV that she made him chop the box into little pieces on trash day, so no passersby would be tempted into her home.

In more than three dozen interviews, local residents said they are worried that layoffs and financial strains will push some people to the breaking point, endangering the public safety. They said they had been spooked by a number of recent high-profile crimes around the Capital Beltway, each with a perpetrator more brazen than the last.

A Potomac woman was injured when a man slashed the strap of her purse outside the Neiman Marcus in Tysons Corner. A woman was abducted at gunpoint from a T.J. Maxx parking lot, also in Tysons, by a robber who forced her to withdraw cash from a bank. Another assailant stabbed a postal worker on rounds in Rockville. In the District, a thief made off with two bags of church collection money, although a priest pursued him and recovered one bag.

"It's inevitable," said Regina Watts, 40, an Oxon Hill resident. "People are getting desperate."

Watts recently decided to do all of her holiday shopping online after she saw GameStop employees at the Pentagon City mall offering to escort customers who bought electronics to their cars.

"I just felt to carry an amount of cash that big and to carry a lot of bags would make you a target for people who are robbing and things like that," Watts said. "I just didn't want to put myself in that situation."

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