"Greetings, fellow survivors." When Donald Shannon opened a meeting of the Citizens Association of Georgetown with those words Monday night, some of the nearly 300 persons in attendance nodded knowingly.
Street crime in Georgetown brought the standing-room only crowd to the parish hall of Christ Episcopal Church, in the 3100 block of O Street NW; some said it was a record turnout for the group.
"The basic question," said Shannon, the association's president, "is whether we are going to survive here."
In the wake of two recent murders in the Prospect Street area and a number of holdups and muggings on poorly-lit side streets, residents and merchants in this fashionable corner of the District want increased police protection, including reestablishment of a neighborhood police station, brighter street lighting and revival of a local crime watch program.
"Georgetown is a magnet for crime. The people here feel like sitting ducks," said Louis A. Traxel, a retired lawyer and longtime resident of Cambridge Place NW. Last month, there was a burglary and a robbery attempt on the short street where he lives. In other parts of Georgetown, more serious crimes occurred.
On Oct. 24, John M. Gessler, a 32-year-old restaurateur from New Jersey, was shot in the back of the head by a man who accosted Gessler and two companions in the hallway of a Prospect Street row house. Gessler died the next afternoon. After the shooting, according to police, the robber demanded jewelry from the two other men and escaped with $34, two watches and a wallet.
Police have said there were "similarities" between Gessler's slaying and the shooting death of Hector Ravollo, a waiter at Cafe Maxime's restaurant in Georgetown Park, who was shot May 12 as he walked along N Street near Prospect Street NW.
Ravollo's death spurred a May 25 meeting of 150 Georgetown residents, the mayor and top police officials; Gessler's murder precipitated last Monday's meeting.
But police say the murder rate in Georgetown -- defined by police as the area from the Potomac River on the south to R Street NW, and from Rock Creek Park on the east to, but not including, Georgetown University -- has dropped significantly over the past few years. Statistics for the first eight months of 1982 showed the 2nd Police District, which includes Georgetown and other Northwest neighborhoods, with eight homicides -- the lowest in the department's seven districts, but higher than the six murders in the same period last year.
"The police have responded to us, but we still want to see more patrols, a realignment of neighborhood police protection and better street lighting," said Cornelia Wickens, who owns the Liberty clothing store on Wisconsin Avenue. Wickens, who has lived in Georgetown off and on for 20 years, recalled the time when "kids played out in the street after dinner in their pajamas." But now, after her house and store were burglarized this spring, Wickens takes walks with the family German shepherd at her side.
"I've never been an alarmist about crime," said Ann Satterthwaite, a vice president of the citizens association who has lived on 27th Street NW for 18 years, "but it's been a factor in people leaving Georgetown. Like a lot of places, the livability here has just deteriorated.
"It's not simply a parochial matter," she said, "and it's not a simple question of getting more police, although that would help." Instead, stopping crime in this area, as throughout the city, means ending the "revolving-door justice" that puts offenders back on the streets, Satterthwaite, police officials and others said.
"It sure seems like 10 percent of the people are committing 90 percent of the crime," said Lt. Alan Herbert, the community relations officer for Deputy Chief Roland Perry, who oversees the 2nd Police District. "All we can do is apprehend somebody, and the rest is up to the courts. What are we supposed to do with the guy -- and we just had a case like this -- who was charged with burglary five times and is free on his own recognizance?"
Georgetown's charm -- the shops and bars that cater to well-heeled patrons and the area's warren of narrow streets -- may also be its curse.
The weekend shoppers and late-night revelers are prime targets for thieves, police said; in October, police reported 13 armed robberies, 38 grand larcenies and 21 burglaries.
"A thief is going to know. He's going to wait for the people coming out of bars at 2 a.m. Maybe they've had a little too much to drink, maybe they aren't aware of things around them," Herbert said. "And walking down those dark streets by themselves or trying to start their cars -- they're easy marks."
Herbert, who attended Monday's meeting, said police made 495 arrests in Georgetown between June 1 and Nov. 1. Of those, 165 were for "serious offenses" such as assault, burglary and armed robbery, while the remainder were for crimes such as simple assault and disorderly conduct.
Perry has added six new foot patrols in the past six months, ordered 30 men to each Georgetown shift, increased the "bum squad" of undercover police officers and rescheduled shifts to concentrate on the high-crime hours between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., Herbert said.
"We certainly can't go down there to Georgetown and please everybody, and the police department cannot do it alone," he added. "We need the cooperation of the public and the public trust. Without that, we'd just as soon pack up and go away," Herbert said.
Despite the police efforts, pessimistic Georgetown residents say the tide of crime barely is being stemmed. "I've never heard more talk from the merchants and the people who live here than I am right now," said David Roffman, the editor of a Georgetown weekly newspaper. "Before, you heard about crime through third parties: 'I know somebody who heard about a mugging.' But now, it's 'I was mugged, or my next-door neighbor was mugged.' "
Martin Gold, the night manager of Nathan's, at M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, said some of the club's patrons have been targets of robbers. Two weeks ago, two couples had dined at Nathan's and returned to their car, which had been parked on a side street, Gold said. "They thought they had safely parked it, but somebody smashed a window and broke into it," stealing some briefcases, he said.
Gold said he now offers escorts to patrons, and will not allow any of his staff to walk about the area unescorted. "A night does not go by without your thinking about the crime, or people talking about it, or getting hurt by it," said Gold.
Some merchants in Georgetown, which boasts 115 liquor licenses, say crime has yet to crimp their business, but they warn that it could. "This area is a great source of tax revenue for the city," Gold said. "If we don't get more attention, they'll be killing the goose that laid the golden egg."
The city has replaced some 1920s gas lights with mercury-vapor lamps along Wisconsin Avenue, but city officials say it will be 1984 before the rest of Georgetown -- which opposed the new lamps a few years ago--gets the brighter lights. And police say it could be a long time before Georgetown gets another neighborhood station.
"There are several surplus parcels of city land which could be turned over for a precinct house," said Shannon. Before moving to 2nd Police District headquarters on Idaho Avenue NW during the department's centralization, officers were stationed on Volta Place near M Street NW. Officials said there are tentative plans to decentralize the department to include a local station, but added that it could be years before that happens.
"I'd like to see a greater enforcement of the old, picky laws against public drinking, jaywalking and rowdyism," said Raymond J. Kulkulski, who heads the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission. "The attitude is that Georgetown is a place where people play and anything goes, that it's a carnival town."