Crime in D.C.

Sonny Bunch has questions:

There’s no easy fix here — as much as I dig handguns and think that Heller was properly decided, I don’t think doling out concealed-carry permits is the solution. More police would be nice, but they won’t make any difference without a better policing strategy. The community breeding these problems should be aided, but pouring good money after bad hasn’t gotten us anything so far. So what do we do? Wait until gentrification has pushed the poorest elements into the outer suburbs? Throw every violent criminal ages 13 and up into the big house for 20 years? Wait until vigilante groups roam the street protecting law-abiding citizens from the baser portions of humanity? What. Do. We. Do?

There’s also a fascinating related discussion going on over at Ta-Nahisi Coates’ (excellent) blog.

I recently moved into a wonderful neighborhood in the city. I love it, really — it’s beautiful, for one thing, and unpretentious and convenient for most everything I do. Within the confines its relatively narrow boundaries, crime isn’t too bad, at least by DC standards. But it’s also the sort of neighborhood which will get a Post profile largely dedicated to ruminating on its checkered recent past. (Sample quotes: “The first month we moved in, we were breaking up a mugging.” “People used to get shot. People used to sell drugs. Places used to get robbed.”) And it’s a neighborhood just a few blocks away from an area the City Paper found worthy of writing up for its ongoing drug-related gang warfare. If you want to live in DC, especially if you want to live near food and entertainment and nightlife, this is pretty common.

I don’t have any grand solutions (or at least none which are politically feasible, ie: we’re not likely to see massive shifts in drug policy), and I haven’t come across anyone who does. Economic development will help transform the city; it already has. Violent crime, especially murder, will go down, at least in rapidly developing areas. On the other hand, an increase in relatively wealthy city-dwellers will, in many cases, increase some types of crime, especially during transition periods: It brings in a host of affluent targets.

The only semi-small bore policy change I’d suggest is to consider increasing public transportation options and focusing on building walkable communities. As Sonny notes, streets at least feel a lot safer when they’re well lit and busy. I know I won’t walk home after dark, despite the relative safety of my neighborhood, and one of the reasons why is that there just aren’t enough people on the streets. Putting more people in cars might make people safer in some respects, but encouraging car culture just isn’t feasible in this jam-packed city. So why not try to solve two problems at once: Increase the public transportation infrastructure, especially with regards to rail, and not only will you see an impact on traffic, you’ll also see more people choosing to go without cars and, instead, stroll the streets — which will, over time, hopefully make them safer.