Mayor Marion Barry's plan to put 242 more police officers on the streets to fight crime got a political mugging yesterday, coming under attack by Barry's mayoral opponents as an election-year gimmick designed more to protect him at the polls than citizens on the street.
"It's nothing but an election year shuffle . . . to produce an election-year miracle," council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) said yesterday. "Things he called for could have been done a year and a half ago."
"Nothing but rhetoric designed to fool the voters," agreed council member John Ray (D-At Large).
"He's just so late in doing it," said council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2). "I mean, where has he been? He's had almost four years to do something."
Wilson said the city should hire 500 new officers and should have begun doing so long ago.
"The fact that the mayor identifies crime as the number one issue in the city means he has not been successful in addressing it," council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) said.
Barry, who kicked off his campaign for reelection Saturday, last week announced new crime-fighting proposals that included increased use of police stakeout squads to reduce armed robberies, a special 88-person career criminal squad to go after repeat offenders and plans to hire 150 additional persons to bring the force up to 3,880 uniformed officers.
Although the rise in the crime rate slowed last year, it was 7 percent higher than the year before, according to police statistics.
Yesterday, Ray, Kane and Wilson criticized Barry for allowing the police department to underspend its budget by $3 million over the past two years, and then announce politically popular crime measures now.
"The mayor's announcement is a stunning reversal of his position of less than a year ago," Ray said when Barry initially resisted congressional recommendations to hire 200 more officers. Barry eventually added 168 new officers to the force on that occasion.
"Putting a policeman on every street corner is not the solution," Wilson said. "I know that. But we ought to give a little security to the people who have used those street corners."
Wilson, in a rare conciliatory remark about Barry's programs, said he was glad the mayor had done something dramatic. "I will support anything that reduces crime, not that his program is better," Wilson said. "But he's the one who can do something."
"There is a criminal element on the streets that I have never encountered before," Wilson said. "Any person who would hit a 65-year-old woman for a few pennies, I don't want to meet. We have some people who are just mean."
Two Republican challengers to Barry joined in the criticism yesterday.
"He's spent three and a half years doing nothing," said E. Brooke Lee Jr., campaigning in Northeast Washington. "Barry is talking about foot patrols. What they need are foot patrols now. Tonight. Not talk. They feel like clay pigeons out here." Lee said the mayor should visit the scenes of crime "where people are getting their heads blown away."
Republican James E. Champagne said Barry has "come full circle," opposing new police officers last year, but supporting them now. "He has a piecemeal approach," Champagne said. "When the pressure is on, he does something. When the pressure is down, his programs die down."
Democratic candidate and physician Morris Harper said Barry spends too much time thinking up plans "for a quick fix" to the problem of crime. "Last February, he had his 13-point crime plan," Harper said. "A year later, crime is not better. Crime is worse. The incumbent's answer is another plan."
Harper said the plan to use more police stakeout squads would endanger "the lives of more people, not only the store owner, but the customers." He said police should be out patrolling the streets as a deterrent to robbers, not "hiding in back rooms."
Former Carter administration official Patricia Harris, who is scheduled to begin her mayoral campaign on Saturday, was out of town yesterday and not available for comment.