Many people in the District are frustrated by the quantity and quality of police work.
The District is divided into 83 police service areas, which in theory sounds like an effective approach to community policing. But some areas do not have enough officers -- whether on foot, on bike or in slow-moving squad cars.
In other areas, officers don't really know the people who live on their beats. Too often, just as residents become familiar with an officer, the officer is promoted or reassigned.
The homicide rate is up, and the case closure rate is down to 55 percent (from 70 percent only a few years ago).
Although superb police work is occurring in the District every hour of every day, trust is lacking between the people and the police. Residents complain about poor treatment from officers and dispatchers and of being discouraged from filing reports on crimes such as car break-ins, muggings and assaults. Too many people tell stories about being unable to reach dispatchers at either emergency or non-emergency numbers. In some homicide cases, police don't even contact the victim's immediate family.
To help address these concerns, this week we introduced, and the D.C. Council passed on an emergency basis, the Public Safety Crisis Emergency Act of 2003. The mayor and police chief now have 90 days to say how they will fix the police service area system to make community policing work or to suggest a new police deployment plan. The mayor's analysis must consider staffing levels and the continuity of officers.
We need police on the beat in crime-ravaged neighborhoods, and the Public Safety Crisis Emergency Act is progress toward that objective.
Member (D-Ward 4)
Member (D-Ward 1)
Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey's goals of increasing officer visibility and strengthening community ties are excellent. But having officers drive around with their emergency lights flashing seems counterproductive [Metro, Jan. 25].
Some officers, in obedience to the chief's directive, have been cruising my neighborhood with lights flashing. I live near a hospital, so drivers are accustomed to pulling over to allow emergency vehicles with flashing lights to pass. I've seen how puzzled these drivers look when the police cars go sedately by, obviously not on an emergency call. If this flashing-light policy continues, the number of drivers who ignore the prerogative of emergency vehicles is sure to grow.
I now look at all police cars, and I have noticed something else, too: Many police officers seem to be talking on cell phones instead of paying attention to the neighborhoods they are patrolling.
No amount of flash can disguise the communication problem between the police and those they protect and serve. If police really want to build trust, they need to switch off the flashing lights, put down the cell phones and get out of their cars and onto the streets.