Check this out: A 25-year-old woman was fatally stabbed in her Southeast Washington house on Monday during an argument over food preparation. Police say the fight started when the woman served "too many potatoes" on her sister's plate, so her sister got mad and allegedly stabbed her to death.

Or how about this one: A 17-year-old student was hit on the head and killed during a fight in a schoolyard, the second student to be killed in a schoolyard in Prince George's County since September.

Now this: Two seventh grade girls at a school in Silver Spring were injured recently when one of them pulled a knife and started a brawl.

Add them up and you can conclude that either verbal communication is not what it used to be or, quite bluntly, that life has become cheaper than dirt.

The intent here is not to frighten people any more than they are, but to point out the fact that, after years of talking about ways to reduce crime, crime is not only rising but spilling at an increased rate into areas of lives once reserved for friends and family members.

According to a 1985 study by the Eisenhower Foundation, the United States has the highest rates of violence in the industrialized world, the fear of crime is as high today as it was in the late 1960s and we have the highest rates of incarceration of any place except South Africa and the Soviet Union.

On May 2, the Eisenhower Foundation will hold a forum, "American Violence and Public Policy," that will explore what has gone wrong -- and what has worked -- in our efforts to reduce crime. The session will begin at 9 a.m. in Room 325 of the Senate Russell Office Building.

The foundation started out as a commission on violence appointed by President Lyndon Johnson after the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. At that time, many local governments were seeking more hardware as a means of reducing crime. In San Diego, the police department received funding for submarines, and in Mobile, Ala., police received funds for vehicles that resembled tanks.

Needless to say, this did not work.

But what has proven more successful than the use of hardware is the use of common sense, especially when used in conjunction with neighborhood-based mediation panels and police support.

It comes as no surprise that most violent crimes are crimes of passion, friend against friend, family member against family member. As the saying goes: You always hurt the one you love.

This is not to discount the rise in drug-related crimes and crimes by strangers. The latter apparently was the case in the stabbing death of the Capitol Hill press secretary last week.

But the nature of crime patterns in America today suggests that you are as likely to be hurt by someone you know as by a stranger. This is where the mediation panels come in.

Don't laugh, but in San Francisco, children wearing orange T-shirts that read "Dispute Resolver" walk the schoolyards with an eye out for arguments and fights.

By all accounts, they have reduced schoolyard brawls and have helped to make their neighborhoods into "extended families."

"The successes have been in terms of grass-roots, street-level organizations," said Lynn Curtis, president of the Eisenhower Foundation. "We've found that community-based mediation panels work, that we don't need to get more people involved with the criminal justice system to resolve disputes which can and should be handled at the neighborhood level."

Such programs, which have been under way at the House of Umoja in Philadelphia and in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for years, are being implemented in the Washington area with some success.

But not enough people know about them, especially school officials and neighborhood organizers. It is hoped they will find next week's forum enlightening, and begin leading us away from a pattern of conflict where an unresolved dispute over a plate of potatoes becomes a young woman's last supper.