By all accounts, the Metropolitan Police Department's gun exchange program was a great success ["Extending Gun Project Considered," Metro, Aug. 26]. Nearly 3,000 guns were taken out of circulation over a period of roughly two weeks.

Although the program did some good, the question is how much good. Few of the guns exchanged were "criminal" guns -- the types associated with crimes or returned by people likely to be involved in crimes.

On the other hand, the phenomenal success of the exchange shows how people are sick of gun violence. Thousands of District residents sought to do their part to help sweep the violence off the streets. Sure, they received $100 in cash, but their enthusiasm suggests that more than financial enticement was at work. They wanted to help.

Unfortunately, the police department, apparently caught by surprise at the success of the program, missed an opportunity to put the gun swap to work. The essence of community policing is the devotion to helping communities organize themselves against crime and disorder. Police do far more than simply remove bad actors from the streets. At their best, police help residents maintain control of their own streets, enabling them to fix the metaphoric "broken windows."

Any successful gun swap should include such organizing efforts. The swap location could post sign-up sheets for volunteer activities: Sign here to help clean a playground on Saturday, wash graffiti on Sunday or attend a neighborhood event next Tuesday evening. Sign here to become a Big Brother or Big Sister, here to tutor in adult literacy, here to counsel drug addicts or join a support group of ex-offenders. The city's capacities for goodwill and good works just might exceed its problems. With creative thinking and community collaboration, the police department could help match those capacities with those problems.

Don't just give people $100 and wave goodbye to them. Use the gun swap to put the goodwill to work. Then the swap really would merit national simulation.


Executive Director

D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project