The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Ward 7’s crime cannot be ignored

Police personnel outside the Deanwood Metro station on April 12 after a fatal stabbing. (Matt McClain/ The Washington Post)

In 2015, the District saw an alarming increase in homicides. The trend has continued into 2016. In Ward 7, where I live, homicides have tripled so far this year.


We must all join together to address this crisis now.

Local media, too, must fulfill its responsibilities. Ignoring a problem will not make it go away. Our newspapers and broadcast media were silent when homicides doubled in Ward 7. On a day when multiple people were shot and two killed, the homicide rate in Ward 7 officially tripled. That is when local media took notice: when homicides tripled. We all should find that unacceptable.

There is no single remedy for reducing violence in our communities, but there are important actions government and elected officials must undertake.

First, we need more police in our neighborhoods. After homicides tripled in Ward 7, the mayor and police chief promised to increase deployment where the shootings took place. Neither I nor anyone with whom I have spoken has noticed an increased police presence anywhere in Ward 7. While there may have been an adjustment to assignments, if the residents don’t notice more police, then potential offenders aren’t noticing either.

Over the past 18 months, the number of sworn Metropolitan Police Department officers has declined to the lowest level in a decade, below 3,800, the minimum threshold the police chief has emphasized as essential for public safety.

The immediate solution required to halt our shrinking police ranks is to implement financial incentives that persuade veteran officers to delay retirement until force levels stabilize. This does not solve the problem over the long term, but it will reduce attrition until recruiting and other programs can fix the staffing crisis. To keep pace with the District’s growing population, the number of police officers should rise to 4,200 over the next five years.

Other incentives that keep police on the force can be offered, too. For example, expanding the “officer next door” program would help police officers purchase homes in the District.

Providing more take-home cruisers to officers who live in the District and getting more cops on bicycles or Segways leads to a greater sense of security in our neighborhoods, as well.

Second, the mayor and the D.C. Council need to set aside their political battles and cooperate on an approach to crime prevention. In 2015 and again this year, the mayor and council put forth a variety of proposals to address violence. Political posturing commenced before thoughtful discussions could take place. Confronting a deadly crisis is preeminent. Our leaders must rise above their political beefs.

Third, elected officials must be more visible in our neighborhoods. Faith and community leaders, as well as police, are strengthened when elected officials regularly join them at events and in organized walks along our streets, through our parks and elsewhere. The symbolism of a community united against violence is powerful.

Finally, gun control. We must relentlessly confront Republicans, the National Rifle Association and others who seek to undermine our local gun-control laws. We must also demand that fellow Democrats do the same. When District leaders stand in front of cameras at the scene of a shooting, they should name the NRA and anyone else whose agenda it is to weaken gun laws.

We are in crisis. Our shared responsibility is to act decisively and without delay.
Vincent C. Gray, a Democrat, was mayor of the District from 2011 to 2015 and is a candidate for the D.C. Council for Ward 7.