D.C. Crime Response Seen Having Political Edge A rash of crimes committed in Washington, D.C., leads city leaders to impose a 10 p.m. youth curfew and pump millions of dollars into police overtime. There have already been 15 homicides reported in July alone, and there's been a jump in robberies committed by young people.
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D.C. Crime Response Seen Having Political Edge

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D.C. Crime Response Seen Having Political Edge

D.C. Crime Response Seen Having Political Edge

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

A new joint task force is being formed to tackle violent crime in the nation's capital. It's a joint effort of the federal and city governments and it's the latest response to what the city has declared as a crime emergency.

NPR's Libby Lewis reports.

LIBBY LEWIS reporting:

U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein announced the task force.

Mr. KENNETH L. WAINSTEIN (U.S. Attorney): No one of us has the silver bullet that can reduce crime. But together we do have the silver bullet and that silver bullet is teamwork.

LEWIS: At his back were rows of officers from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the U.S. Marshal's Office, the FBI, the Secret Service, the U.S. Park Police and other federal agencies. None of them were smiling. D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey said the combined local/federal task force will focus on identifying the criminals who are doing the most damage and getting them off the street.

Chief CHARLES RAMSEY (Washington D.C. Police): We'll also be gathering information about individuals that we believe are associated with crime. We'll be going back looking at old cases that they may have before the courts. There may be a case that had been no papered in the past that the U.S. attorney will review and see whether or not charges ought to be brought forward with those individuals. We'll be executing warrants.

LEWIS: Here are the facts that led the city and now the federal government to weigh in on crime in the District of Columbia. An increase in robberies, as of mid-July there've been 2140 robberies, compared with 1887 robberies by that time last year. Those include several widely publicized robberies and assaults of tourists on the National Mall.

There was also a spike of 15 homicides in the past month. Most of them occurred in the city's black neighborhoods. One was the widely publicized murder of a young British man and the robbery and sexual assault of his female companion in upscale Georgetown.

Behind the headlines, everyone from the mayor to the police chief to the U.S. attorney has been quick to stress that overall serious crime has plummeted in the District since the late ‘90s. Indeed, the District's crime rate last year was lower than it has been in decades. But this summer's crime news has pushed those numbers into the background.

And so, perhaps, has politics. Of the city's 13 council members, seven are running in the District's primary election in two months. This week the council voted to declare a crime emergency. That gave it the go ahead to tighten a youth curfew, to fund two dozen surveillance cameras in some neighborhoods and to allow police to get access to some confidential juvenile arrest records. Today, Mayor Anthony Williams praised the council's actions.

Mr. ANTHONY WILLIAMS (Mayor, Washington D.C.): These are just some of the common sense changes that enjoy overwhelming community support.

LEWIS: Adrian Fenty is a D.C. councilmember who's running for mayor. He was the only councilmember to vote against the emergency crime declaration. He called it window-dressing by a council under political pressure to do something about crime.

Mr. ADRIAN FENTY (Washington D.C. councilman): I will vote yes on matters I think are substantive and respond to increases in the crime wave, but I will vote no on measures which I think are just feel good measures to make people feel like we're doing something.

LEWIS: The council's actions allowed it to authorize about $17 million in emergency spending. About half of that, $8 million, will go to paying police overtime over the next 60 days.

Not everyone agreed with the council's actions. In a plain white row house east of the Anacostia River, a group of nine D.C. teenagers met the day after the council vote. They were at the meeting to show their objections to the council's approach to crime. They're part of the Youth Education Alliance and their goal is to improve D.C. public high schools. Sophomore Renee Edwards and her fellow students were clear about where they thought the council should be spending more money.

Ms. RENEE EDWARDS (Youth Education Alliance): Into the schools, because (unintelligible) just terrible.

LEWIS: Spend more money on giving kids more to do, they said, and spend less on law enforcement.

Libby Lewis, NPR News, Washington.

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