VANESSA RUFFIN of Wylie Street NE is a longtime homeowner, a responsible neighbor, an active participant in community affairs and a stalwart member of her neighborhood Orange Hat patrol. With TV cameras running Friday a week ago, Ms. Ruffin and several Orange Hat members held a sidewalk meeting with the commander of the D.C. police drug enforcement unit to demand action against open-air drug markets operating in their 5th Police District community. Early last Sunday morning, and apparently in response to her activism, Vanessa Ruffin's automobile was fire-bombed.

In a press conference that afternoon at the 4th Police District, Chief Charles Ramsey announced that major crimes, including homicides and assaults with deadly weapons, have declined in the first six months of the year. His announcement is cold comfort to crime victims such as Ms. Ruffin. Little wonder, too, if residents of the 6th Police District, which covers sections of Northeast and Southeast, and citizens in the 1st, 2nd and 7th police districts don't share the chief's satisfaction about the city's war against crime. Homicides in their districts didn't decline in the first six months. They increased, reaching 31 in the 6th District alone.

Ms. Ruffin may have one additional reason to question the extent to which a drop in crime can be attributed to better policing. She says she reported the fire-bombing of her car to the police at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday. She followed up with another call to the police at 8:30 a.m. when no officer responded. Police didn't arrive at her home until 12:26 Sunday afternoon, she said. According to the D.C. police, the reporting officer filed his report at 2:07 p.m. Sunday, describing the incident as a "destruction of property."

On Sunday, Chief Ramsey said that in many parts of the city, "the fear level is just as high as it's ever been." That should come as no surprise. Any time a resident responding to a police call for citizen help against violence has her car fire-bombed by avenging criminals, it's time to worry. The chief says a great deal of work still must be done to make the nation's capital safe. Vanessa Ruffin's experience is a good example.