SUDDENLY Marion Barry, the D.C. Council candidate who still happens to be mayor, says that the city's crime problems require "drastically different" solutions. He then trots out two thoroughly discredited ideas -- a curfew for high-crime areas and calling out the National Guard.
In 1988 D.C. Council member H. R. Crawford raised the Guard idea, and the mayor rejected it as a hysterical proposal that would damage home rule. "The city is not out of control," Mr. Barry said. "I believe there are sufficient police to combat the crime problem in this city. Apparently, Mr. Crawford wants the streets of Washington to look like they did 20 years ago, when the National Guard and the U.S. Army walked our streets." Washington had 3,880 police officers then, nearly 1,000 fewer than today.
The mayor can't just call out the Guard. He would have to declare a state of emergency and request a Guard presence from President Bush. Notwithstanding the questionable value of putting "weekend warriors" with no civilian law-enforcement training on the streets, how can Mr. Barry seriously consider making the city's next mayor no longer the guiding force in D.C. law enforcement, even if temporarily?
In 1989 when the D.C. Council passed a curfew law for youths under the age of 18, the mayor refused to sign the legislation, and his aides said the measure was unconstitutional. The role of local law enforcement is to make streets safe for law-abiding citizens, not to declare them war zones where no one is allowed outside at certain hours. Police Chief Isaac Fulwood, bolstered by the largest single swearing-in of new officers in recent memory, has launched new efforts, including a special 100-officer force to target high-crime areas.
What has changed since Mr. Barry spurned the ideas he now embraces? Perhaps the biggest single difference is that Mr. Barry is a lame-duck mayor engaged in a council bid that has encountered much opposition. Let him leave the crime problem to his successor. A new mayor takes over in January. That day cannot come swiftly enough.