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As the MPD tackles our national crisis, crime rates rise citywide.

As Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers assist federal authorities in implementing beefed-up security measures for federal Washington in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, their absence is

being felt in the other Washington: its neighborhoods.

The statistics for more conventional crimes—murder, burglary—that terrorize local residents are up across the city, as what was initially hoped to be a temporary situation has become an indefinite period of street closings, bomb threats, and anthrax scares that are devouring the District’s police resources. The added strain on the MPD has prompted Chief Charles Ramsey to temporarily suspend the city’s police service area (PSA) method of patrolling the city—there simply aren’t enough cops to go around.

September’s overall crime rate was up 2.9 percent from the same period last year, according to preliminary crime statistics. Although the increase is a small one, it is the first rise in the number of reported crimes in seven months. September saw a 35 percent increase in homicides (27 in 2001 from 20 in 2000), plus an additional 64 burglaries (a 15.5 percent rise) and 212 additional robberies over last year. Year-to-date crime numbers for 2001, however, are still considerably lower than last year’s—even with September’s increases.

The MPD’s Special Operations Division typically responds to bomb threats, suspicious-package complaints, and other occurrences of the sort that have become commonplace since Sept. 11. Because such incidents were previously rare, some units of Special Operations—such as members of the Civil Disturbance Unit (CDU)—also used to take on regular PSA or other field responsibilities. Now, the heightened need for specialized officers has required CDU officers, for instance, to abandon those additional responsibilities.

During a recent hearing on the city’s disaster preparedness called by the D.C. Council, Ramsey addressed this gap in city policing. “Our response to the events and aftermath of Sept. 11 has impacted the resources we have been able to devote to community policing and other field operations,” he said, adding, “Our current staffing strategies simply did not anticipate the type of large-scale and consistent response that may be needed in the future.”

Ramsey also noted that providing dignitary protection and other security operations is “part of our department’s unique responsibility of policing the nation’s capital.” But Ward 1 D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham argues that the MPD’s first priority should be its local, rather than federal, duties.

“We cannot meet federal priorities at the expense of our neighborhood priorities,” says Graham. “It’s not like we were doing fine before [Sept. 11]—police presence in our neighborhoods has been woefully inadequate. When you take away from what is woefully inadequate, what you are left with is totally intolerable.”

According to Graham, ideas being kicked around to compensate for the police shortage include instituting a police reserve force, dramatically increasing the number of city cops overall, and redirecting National Guard resources. CP