MAYOR ANTHONY A. WILLIAMS beamed in agreement this week as President Bush, in a speech in an auditorium at the District's One Judiciary Square, told the audience, "I feel safe living here. And so does my family." Little wonder that the president and the mayor might feel that way. Neither official travels much beyond the White House or the John A. Wilson Building without a retinue of bodyguards, follow cars and, of course, armed officers of the law who advance their every move about town. Given the threats that high officials face, those precautions make a great deal of sense. Unfortunately, the feeling of security the president and mayor share is not widely experienced by many families in the District. The reasons are as obvious as the Metro headline that appeared two days after the president's remarks.
"Slaying Spate Highlights Rise in Homicides: Six Dead, Four Hurt in D.C., Pr. George's in Seven Hours" read the headline on Page B1 on Thursday. From 9:30 p.m. to dawn, from Northwest Washington to Capitol Heights, bullets were flying. It was a bloody night, one of the worst in some time. But there was nothing unusual about the shooting and dying on Washington area streets. The District has had 224 homicides this year, compared with 199 last year at this time. Neighboring Prince George's County has already passed last year's total, racking up 123 killings this year. We hope the president is correct when he says that D.C. police on the front line have made sure "this city is buttoned up" when it comes to dealing with foreign terrorist threats. The same, however, cannot be said of homegrown homicides. Worse still, perpetrators are getting away with murder in the District, as the police department's pitiful 48 percent homicide closure rate attests. The well-protected mayor says that poor police performance is "a cause of concern." We beg to differ. To the unprotected in the nation's capital, it is reason for alarm.
A grateful city appreciates the risks that uniformed police officers run every day. They are on the front lines against a murderous force. But it may be tempting, given the threat from an enemy fighting a new kind of war, to lose sight of the harsh realities that residents face from threats close to their homes. While District law enforcement joins the federal government in working for the sake of the homeland, it's worth recalling that through September, the numbers of burglaries, aggravated assaults, stolen automobiles, arson and, of course, homicides were up in the District over the same period last year.
District and federal authorities have to take violence spawned here at home as seriously as they take threats launched from abroad. Terror on both fronts must be conquered. Until then, a lot of Washington area families will not feel as safe living here as the well-guarded president and mayor do.