D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, faced with sharp congressional criticism of his failure to hire more police officers, has authorized Police Chief Maurice T. Turner to immediately begin hiring 180 new police officers, Turner said yesterday.
Barry's decision to go along with the wishes of the House appropriations subcommittee for the District of Columbia that the strength of the D.C. police force be raised to at least 3,800 officers apparently ends a longstanding dispute between the mayor and the committee that had become increasingly bitter in recent weeks.
Despite a congressional directive last December that the additional officers be hired and the expressed wishes of some subcommittee members thatthe number be increased to even more than the 3,800 officers, Barry had until this week taken no action to increase the size of the force.
The subcommittee members, led by their chairman, Rep, Julian Dixon (D-Calif.) and senior member Rep. William H. Natcher (D-Ky.), questioned city officials repeatedly about their failure to follow the mandate, saying they were concerned about a rising District of Columbia crime rate and a shrinking police force. The current size of the force is 3,621 officers.
Turner announced yesterday that the city's crime rate for the first six months of this year was 13 percent higher than for the first six months of 1980, with a sharp 33 percent rise in the number of robberies.
Dixon said he met with Barry Monday afternoon and the mayor assured him he would "move agressively" to bring the level of the force to 3,800.
"I told him that I thought that would go a long way toward satisfying the committee," Dixon said yesterday. "I am very pleased to see that the mayor is moving forward."
Because of the dispute with Barry, the subcommittee two weeks ago held up a routine transfer of funds between two city departments, and members made threatening noises about the fate of the city's budget for the 1982 fiscal year, which the subcommittee will soon be asked to approve.
Turner said the officers would be hired from the list resulting from the March 28 exam that officials previously said they thought was biased. He said as many as 180 officers would be hired, beginning immediately, and added that they would be an aid in fighting the rising crime rate.
Turner blamed the soaring crime rate on an increase in the quantity and purity of hard drugs on the city's streets. He said the 33 percent increase in robberies that paced the general rise in crime reflected the desperation of addicts to support their habits.
Turner said he was encouraged by the fact that the crime rate for the month of June was only 4 percent higher than that for June 1980, indicating that the upward trend may be leveling off.
The first months of 1981 also saw a 19 percent increase in the number of aggravated assaults, an 18 percent increase in homicides, a 16 percent increase in burglaries and a 13 percent increase in autom thefts.
There was, however, a 7 percent decrease in the number of rapes.