It’s sometimes easy for a police department or politician to distort crime statistics to illustrate a desired point. Perhaps a carefully chosen time period can indicate a misleading trend. Maybe focusing on a certain type of offense can distract from a different sort of big picture.
But in the District, we feel optimistic that numbers aren’t lying: Robberies are down both significantly and consistently.
Year to date, Metropolitan Police Department data show a 27.3 percent drop from the corresponding period of 2016. And it reflects an even longer-term trend, with robberies down in all parts of the District over the last two years compared to the previous two.
According to Mayor Muriel Bowser, at least part of the drop is attributable to the District’s Robbery Intervention Task Force, which debuted in December 2015. Composed of the Metropolitan Police Department, Metro Transit Police, the D.C. Office of the Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the task force targets robberies by “quickly identifying and responding to patterns of robbery sprees and focusing on and prosecuting repeat offenders,” according to a news release.
As of Monday morning, there had been 2,114 robberies across D.C. so far this year, compared to 2,909 in that period of 2016, police data show. Looking at the longer trend — the period of two years before and after the task force was created — the figures fell from 6,646 to 5,245, a 21.1 percent decline. We’re happy to see double-digit reductions in each of the city’s seven police districts. The biggest drop (30 percent) came in the 4th District, which patrols most of Ward 4.
That said, while everyone is glad to see the number of robberies fall, too many residents and visitors are still being preyed upon by robbers. Each robbery harms someone. The victims lost their property, may no longer feel safe in the District, and may have even suffered bodily harm.
We recently got a reminder of the human toll behind these robbery numbers when Annie’s Ace Hardware owner Annie Stom addressed her advisory neighborhood commission. Ms. Stom said that two men entered her 1240 Upshur St. NW store at just before 7 p.m. Dec. 9, pointed a gun at the manager’s head, forced all employees to the floor, threatened to kill them if they moved and left with cash from the store’s safe.
She further told the community that police often fail to respond when her employees catch shoplifters in the act. Without the promise of improved safety for her staff, Ms. Stom said, she’d have to close her store — which would be a tremendous loss for the Petworth community.
Police brass and the city officials who set the department’s budget must remember the damage done by each robbery that still takes place, and also not to disregard the harm from other crimes.