D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday emerged from a one-hour emergency meeting with the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council saying that a comprehensive, coordinated effort by some 15 District and federal agencies is critical to fighting crime and reducing violence in neighborhoods across the District.
Williams said the emergency meeting, following a rash of shootings, was the first of many sessions planned throughout the summer on short-term and long-term proposals to combat crime in the District.
"When we have a spate of violence like this, it's important to bring everyone together to brief them on what our crime-fighting strategy is," Williams said.
"It's important to support our chief's effort out in the community and the partnerships that he is forming out in the community and tailoring the crime-fighting strategies for the needs of the community."
The meeting came one day after Williams attended a funeral for Helen Foster-El, a 55-year-old grandmother who was shot and killed while she was trying to usher children to safety as bullets flew near her house. Over the weekend, several other people were shot, including a 5-month-old child and mother sitting outside a Southeast Washington apartment building. The infant remains on life support at Children's Hospital.
"Every act of violence is too much, and every victim is one too many," Williams said.
The mayor said he will work more closely with D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey to develop a more fundamental, cohesive approach to fighting crime.
Ramsey Johnson, special counsel to the U.S. attorney, said he believes the coordinating council is necessary. "You can't really accomplish things in today's environment if you're acting alone. You need to act in partnership," Johnson said. "Each of us has an important contribution to make, whether you're talking about parole, probation, the court, prosecutor, police or public defender."
However, Chief Ramsey said residents should realize that progress has been made and that for the past three years, the District has seen double-digit decreases in crime.
"I don't think that anybody realistically thought that overnight we were going to solve the issue of crime in the District. . . . It's a far more complex thing than that. . . . It's going to take collective efforts of a lot of people," Ramsey said.
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council was established in 1996 to focus on police reform and has been expanded to include representatives of the city's financial control board, the Youth Services Administration, the U.S. attorney's office, the D.C. Department of Corrections, the U.S. Parole Commission and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
Williams was scolded at Foster-El's funeral on Monday by the Rev. Bernard Taylor, pastor of Open Door Baptist Church, for failing to spend more time in low-income communities--where crime is high--to understand the residents' concerns. Williams's remarks at the funeral and later at a news conference left some people unmoved.
Leroy Thorpe Jr., an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member in Ward 2 since 1988, said meetings won't solve the crime problem. He said he believes the mayor's staff is "fearful" of the community that Williams has vowed to protect.
"The mayor has to stop blowing smoke. The mayor has not made any attempt to contact any of the citizen groups who are volunteering their time to patrol their neighborhoods," Thorpe said.
Staff writer Peter Slevin contributed to this report.