3 in 10 DC residents feel unsafe in their neighborhood, post poll finds

A greater percentage of people living in wards 7 and 8 feel unsafe – over 4 in 10 — in areas east of the Anacostia River with the highest concentrations of violent crime, compared to less than 3 in 10 in other parts of the city.

Residents report hearing gunshots, seeing police converge on crime scenes, and learning about violent and property crime on neighborhood email chat groups or on social media. About 1 in 6 residents report that someone in their household has been the victim of a violent crime in the past five years, including 23% of black residents, 8% of white residents, and 21% of those who are Hispanic, Asian or of another origin.

Charlene Battle, 54, a DC native who works as a medical insurance examiner, has lived in Ward 8 for 20 years. She said she was trying to relax on her sofa on a recent Sunday afternoon when the sounds of gunfire rocked her apartment.

“I was like okay, this thing is close to me,” she said. “And that scares you so much. It makes you not want to cross the front door.

In many ways, the poll results reflect the push and pull of the debate over policing and crime.

Battle and many other residents said they wanted more police to patrol communities. But they also said the city should be willing to spend more money to help poor neighborhoods and believe that outreach workers, such as violence interrupters, can help reduce violence.

And just over half rate DC police as “good” or “excellent” (54%), down 20 percentage points from 2017, reflecting declining confidence in the police following calls for reimagining law enforcement after the murder of George Floyd and protests for social and racial justice.

This Post poll was conducted between February 2 and February 14 with a random sample of 904 adult DC residents via landlines and cell phones. The overall margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points.

Susan Breakefield Fulton, now retired co-founder of an investment management firm, lives in Logan Circle, near where a Peace Corps worker was shot and killed over the summer while he was returning home after a dinner with his wife.

“I don’t think it got worse,” said the 82-year-old, who has lived in the district since the 1960s. “But I definitely don’t think it got better.”

She blames DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) but also the police, saying they’re stuck in outdated strategies that leave out social workers who she says should be paired with them on calls. Fulton said she supported Bowser in her first two mayoral elections, but would not in the third.

“We have to find a way to work with people who think crime is the only solution for them,” Fulton said.

The poll finds 36% of residents cite crime, violence or guns as the district’s top issue, twice as many as in 2019, posing a challenge as Bowser seeks a third term.

Although a majority approves of the mayor’s job performance, her popularity has plummeted from previous years, and the poll finds more than 7 in 10 Washingtonians rate her as “not good” or “bad” in reducing crime in the city. the district.

Statistics show that overall violent crimes fell 45% during Bowser’s tenure, although homicides during the same period rose almost as much. Shootings jumped 53% from 2018 to last year.

When Bowser became mayor in 2015, the police numbered more than 3,800 officers; that number has dropped to just over 3,500. The force has lost 267 officers in the past 16 months, the police chief told lawmakers last week, which the administration blames on budget cuts imposed by the Council in 2020.

Over the summer, amid a spate of gun violence, Bowser authorized police to work unlimited overtime, calling for a “sustained police presence” and telling lawmakers that residents “don’t feel safe.” security as the threat of armed violence looms”.

Earlier this month, Michael Reed, project manager at the National Institutes of Health, dropped off his 5-year-old son with his mother and saw dozens of police lights flashing on the way home. There had been a shooting, he learned, on a bend just 15 minutes after passing with his son.

“I’ve heard of bullets going into establishments and not just the intended target,” said Reed, a 35-year-old man who grew up in Ward 8. “If I walked past at that time, could a bullet have hit my car? This is my biggest concern.

Reed said gun violence seems to have gotten particularly out of control lately, and much of that is driven by the volume of reports of crimes he sees on social media and in the news. He particularly remembers articles about the DC Council candidate who was the victim of a carjacking at a gas station, which he said was not far from his home.

The Post poll finds that 63% of residents believe violent crime would be reduced by using outreach workers, such as violence interrupters, to quell disputes before they escalate. And an overwhelming 82% say spending more money on economic opportunity in poor neighborhoods would be effective, including nearly half who think it would reduce crime “a lot”. Less than half of residents, 44%, say increasing prison sentences would reduce crime.

Nearly 6 in 10 residents (59%) say “Increasing the number of police officers patrolling communities” would reduce crime, numbers that are roughly equal across all neighborhoods in the district.

Lesia Alleyne decided to buy a condo for the first time in her life, and she chose a building in Ward 7 that seemed affordable and spacious.

Two years later, the 49-year-old said she was afraid to walk outside when the sun went down. His neighbour’s contractor was robbed on his way to his van; his hyperlocal group chat Nextdoor constantly sends news of smashed car windows; she hears gunshots almost daily, especially when it’s hot outside.

The sense of impending danger is all the more overwhelming as Alleyne lives with her young adult children.

She is most worried about her son, who she says has had trouble with the criminal justice system and was recently the victim of a violent crime. She fears he may have run-ins with troublemakers in the neighborhood or have run-ins with the police.

She fears that one or the other will end her life.

“These boys don’t feel safe,” she says. “They have it coming from both sides. The other brothers and then the police.

The Post poll suggests that some residents who feel unsafe are considering leaving the city. Among residents who feel unsafe in their neighborhood, 40% would like to leave DC if they could, compared to 20% who feel safe.

Alleyne thinks there needs to be more resources to keep people like her son safe, but doesn’t think the police should be part of that equation. Instead of having more police officers, Alleyne wants the city to provide job training and mentors to people like her son.

She said she had never heard of Building Blocks DC — the mayor’s flagship anti-crime program aimed at bringing together city agencies and groups to tackle crime as a public health issue — or other similar initiatives. But she said she supports any program that provides opportunities for black men who feel trapped in a cycle of economic hardship.

Until she sees such initiatives start working on people she knows, however, Alleyne will focus on getting her son out of DC. “There is an inherent safety issue with black boys in DC,” she said. “I’m not even a religious person, but I pray like crazy when my son goes out. Everytime.”

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