IN THE SPACE of 41/2 hours last weekend, four unrelated shootings took place in the District, each resulting in a homicide. And early Monday morning at the start of the workweek, police at Suitland Parkway and Alabama Avenue SE found two additional victims dying from multiple gunshot wounds to the head and body. That the carnage occurred over a weekend in which the Mall was filled with people celebrating reconciliation and unity, especially in urban America, is not lost on most observers. At this pace and with 156 murders on the books so far, the nation's capital is on schedule to match or exceed last year's homicide total of 198.
The unrelenting murders have set off predictable calls for the deployment of more police officers on neighborhood streets. The complaint, voiced often by community leaders and D.C. Council members, is that downtown and the federal enclave where tourists and non-residents are usually found are a higher priority for police protection. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey disputes that charge. He also opposes legislation that would boost the current complement of 3,800 officers by an additional 1,600 new hires. The chief believes that he has sufficient officers to get the job done. The question, however, is whether enough of the officers on board are actually on duty. If, as has been reported, 9 percent of officers aren't available for full-time duty and even more officers assigned to community beats aren't around to do their jobs, then there may be room for legitimate concern about police department readiness.
And city leaders and residents must confront another reality: Police patrols by bike, foot and scooter will not by themselves prevent murders. The police can make arrests -- although the homicide closure rate, while improving, is still far from where it once was. But the job of intervening before an argument, rivalry or vengeful act reaches a lethal stage falls to a much larger audience. And that, of course, is the problem plaguing this and other violence-plagued cities. Weekends such as the one the District has just experienced will recur, absent a much broader participation by all civic actors: families, community leaders, religious institutions and law enforcement agencies. Nothing new here, but it still needs saying.