An Anti-Crime Plan: Well-Intentioned But Could End Badly

Consider this a case of genuinely good intentions that could–and probably will–go wrong. Also, I’ve never understood why an anti-crime plan is referred to as a ‘crime plan’, but the ANC commissioner for Logan Circle has a ten-point crime plan. Since I live a few blocks away, I do have a vested interest in this. Let’s go point-by-point through the plan (boldface mine):

1. Use the bully pulpit of the mayor’s position to discuss with communities the importance of coming forward with information that could lead to the closure of open cases of violent crime. We must overcome the culture of a hero being labeled a snitch.

Politicians have been trying this for years. If Bowser, who doesn’t exactly have a lot of street cred, gets this to work, I’ll be amazed.

2. Increase the reward from $25,000 to $100,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for homicides. Year to date the city has seen 93 homicides and more than half remain unsolved.

Not sure that the bump would have a huge (‘uuge!) effect, but, what the hell, it might work.

3. Re-introduce district-based plain clothes vice units. The Third District vice unit was responsible for 1,400 arrests and 100 gun seizures alone in 2014. Crime suppression teams, fully uniformed and in marked, and very visible, police cruisers, are unable to be as effective as the vice units were.

This works, until an innocent yet somehow suspicious young black man is shot while minding his own business. This might lower crime, but it also can lead to some real abuses. When you tell the police to look for trouble, they usually find it, sometimes even if it’s not really there. I have doubts to say the least.

4. Increase enforcement of public housing and Section 8 rules. With 70,000 residents on the waiting list for housing assistance, we cannot tolerate any public housing or Section 8 residents who harbor criminals or break rules – or allow their guests to. When a public housing or Section 8 resident is convicted of a felony that news needs to be shared amongst agencies and result in an eviction per the public housing rules.

I think we need to differentiate between harboring criminals–and real criminals, not someone who owes some fines–and breaking minor rules. Losing your housing can change someone’s life for the worse. That said, convicted felons should be evicted.

5. Set up zero tolerance policing zones where arrests will occur, without warning, to anyone committing any crime – including quality of life crimes such as drinking in public, prostitution, public urination, marijuana use, illegal gambling and the like.

As with point #3, there is the potential for real abuse here. If we do this, there needs to be a very specific list of what is on the zero tolerance list–and that needs to be made clear. Moreover, it’s not clear what the zero-tolerance zones would be. Which neighborhoods and streets? Do the neighborhoods want them?

6. Unrestricted police overtime. The police department needs as many officers on the street as possible to get us through the summer.

Agreed, as long as they’re actually on the street. Compared to Boston, I never see police on foot. It’s bizarre, and doesn’t strike me as effective.

7. Curfew enforcement. The law says juveniles under the age of 17 shall be inside by midnight in the summer and that law needs to be strictly enforced.

Most of the murders and violence–when the cops manage to close a case–seem to be committed by people older than seventeen. Not sure what this does.

8. The city needs to greatly increase the use of high definition surveillance and recording cameras and give grants to businesses willing to install exterior cameras and share the live feed with the police department.

Um, no? Unless we turn D.C. into a panopticon, all this does is move crime somewhere else, while infringing on our civil liberties. It doesn’t seem to have been especially effective in the UK where these cameras is common.

9. The same people are getting arrested over and over again and it becomes a “badge of honor”, as one officer told me. We need to look closely at how many arrests are not prosecuted and what comes of those cases that are. The reality is a tiny portion of people commit the violent crime and we need to get them locked up for a long time.

Agreed. Partially. Cases need to be closed and punishments need to happen so there are consequences to (bad) actions. However, these don’t need to be severe, especially for minor crimes. Justice needs to be swift and constant, but it doesn’t need to be too harsh.

10. All District agencies must work together to combat crime and the agency directors need to be held accountable. It should not have taken three months after a homicide across from Kennedy Rec Center in Shaw for DPR and DGS to get a contract for cameras executed.

Is there a D.C. agency about which this can’t be said?

The list above is only made up of short-term solutions to get us through the summer without more tragedies. The city must continue to work on long term solutions including increased and better programming at recreation centers, improvement of schools, job training and job growth.

Agreed.

This plan, especially points 3, 5, and 7, will lead to confrontations between police and citizens (that’s the point). Unless the D.C. police department is unlike any other department, some of these stops and arrests will escalate over something trivial. I could easily see someone losing his cool after being stopped for public urination or some other minor infraction (not that I approve), and things then spiraling out of control.

Meanwhile Mayor Bowser wants to install more cameras and offer bounties for tips that lead to seizures of illegal guns. The latter is what should be done–removing firearms that kill people. This is a targeted approach, but the proposed zero tolerance approach tends to lead to confrontation, which inevitably will lead to improper arrests (at best). It also might delegitimze the police, since these stops will often be discretionary–which is to say arbitrary.

We can’t claim Black lives matter, and then call for strict policing proposals that suggest maybe they don’t matter so much.

Update: After this post ‘went to press’, the DC police union is calling for additional ‘vice squads’–plain clothes units that target guns, drugs, and prostitution. Given that, not that long ago, there was concern about police ‘jump outs’ in D.C., it seems popular opinion might have swung the other way, so we are willing to target young black men. Of course, the intersection of “we” and “young black men” might not be that large (and it’s worth noting that, as best as I can tell, the entire Logan Circle ANC is white, all eight of them).

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1 Response to An Anti-Crime Plan: Well-Intentioned But Could End Badly

  1. Min says:

    Point 1. “We must overcome the culture of a hero being labeled a snitch.”

    Well, if the police act as an occupying force, you are only going to reinforce that culture.

    Point 9. “The same people are getting arrested over and over again and it becomes a “badge of honor”, as one officer told me. We need to look closely at how many arrests are not prosecuted and what comes of those cases that are. The reality is a tiny portion of people commit the violent crime and we need to get them locked up for a long time.”

    The reality is that the police are making too many arrests.

    Point 3. “Re-introduce district-based plain clothes vice units. The Third District vice unit was responsible for 1,400 arrests and 100 gun seizures alone in 2014. Crime suppression teams, fully uniformed and in marked, and very visible, police cruisers, are unable to be as effective as the vice units were.”

    The police cruiser is a barrier between the police and citizens. Why is nothing said about increasing the number of uniformed officers on the beat? Where they can get to know the people and the people can get to know them.

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