The Washington Post

Poll: Most in D.C. feel safe

Survey results arrive as Congress blocks city’s criminal code overhaul, calling it soft


As federal lawmakers rejected D.C.’S bid to overhaul its criminal code, they described the city as awash in violent crime. But D.C. residents feel safer from crime in their neighborho­ods than they did this time last year, according to a Washington Post-schar School poll.

More than three-quarters of Washington­ians (77 percent) feel they are “very” or “somewhat” safe from crime in their neighborho­ods, up from 69 percent in 2022 and about the same percentage as in November 2019, before the pandemic.

In the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of D.C., residents on average feel even safer — with 86 percent of people in the suburbs in Maryland and 94 percent of people in Northern Virginia saying they feel safe in their neighborho­ods.

But crime is still top of mind across the region. The poll shows that the issue of crime and safety narrowly beats out housing costs as the top concern for residents in the District and does so by a wider margin in Prince George’s County. D.C. and Prince George’s have experience­d rising homicide numbers and surges in car thefts.

Violent crime in the nation’s capital has fallen by 9 percent from the same time last year, despite a 32 percent increase in homicides from 2022, according to D.C. police data as of Thursday. The dip in violent crime has largely been driven by a falling number of robberies. Property crime in D.C., however, has increased by 32 percent since last year — with a 109 percent increase in car thefts. The Post-schar School poll finds about 2 in 3 D.C. residents (66 percent) are “very concerned” about gun violence in the area, while about half (48 percent) say the same about carjacking­s.

The overhaul of D.C.’S decades-old criminal code would have changed punishment­s for some crimes,

D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) at a news conference Wednesday in Northwest Washington.

including by lowering statutory maximum penalties for certain offenses including robbery, burglary and carjacking. Proponents of the bill said it would have allowed for sentencing guidelines to more accurately fit the severity of offenses, and would bring sentences in the law in line with what judges actually are doling out. But the city’s mayor, police chief and a bipartisan set of lawmakers in Congress — which has oversight of District laws because of a provision in the Constituti­on — opposed the code, saying it would send the wrong message about public safety.

On Wednesday, the Senate joined the House of Representa­tives in voting to overturn the revised D.C. criminal code, the first time in more than 30 years that Congress voted to block local D.C. legislatio­n. President Biden has said he will sign the resolution.

The poll was conducted by The Post and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University from Feb. 17 to 27 among a random sample of 1,668 adults in the D.C. area including 556 residents each in the District, Northern Virginia and the District’s suburbs in Maryland. It has an overall margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, with a 4.5point error margin in each subregion.

It finds that more than half of residents across the D.C. area perceive crime to be serious in the District, with between 54 and 57 percent of the city and its suburbs saying it is an “extremely” or “very” serious problem. Just under 3 in 10 area residents (29 percent) say the same about the suburbs in Maryland, and even fewer voice the same level of concern about crime in Northern Virginia (14 percent).

Charles Irby, a 49-year-old who was born and raised in D.C., said he feels far safer in his Columbia Heights neighborho­od now than he did in the 1990s. As a child, he said, he used to hear gunfire almost every night. Irby, a business owner, said he can count on one hand the number of times he has heard gunfire in the past year.

In his decades in Washington, said Irby, who is Black, he has seen public safety improve when the city has invested in preventive measures rather than punitive ones. For that reason, he said, he is generally supportive of the revised criminal code’s proposal to lighten maximum sentences — if the local government simultaneo­usly invests in services, such as summer job programs.

“I want to be safe, no doubt, but I don’t think locking people up and throwing away the key is the answer,” said Irby, a father of three. “I think more programs are the answer. I think better education is the answer.”

Irby said he often feels worried for his 26-year-old daughter, who lives near the Kettering area in Prince George’s County. He said she was shot in the arm last September by a man who accused her of cutting him off while driving.

Jason Askew, a 33-year-old pilot who lives on Capitol Hill, said the violence in his neighborho­od feels increasing­ly random. He cited the shooting at the Potomac Avenue Metro station in February — when a gunman killed a Metro employee and injured two others during rush hour — and a robbery at his local liquor store as two recent incidents that have made him feel less safe.

“It kind of goes through waves, but right now I am feeling a little less safe than I was a year or two ago,” Askew said, adding that he has started driving to work some days instead of taking the train.

A few years ago, said Askew, who is White, he was leaning toward supporting the movement to defund the police; now, he wants the city’s police budget to be increased. Although he said he supports D.C. statehood, Askew said he agrees with Biden’s decision to sign a resolution blocking the city’s crime bill.

“Even though I would prefer D.C. statehood to be a thing and to have autonomy, I don’t mind this one because it’s something I kind of agree with,” he said. On one hand, Askew wants the sentencing guidelines to feel “even” with offenses. On the other hand, he said, he does not think now is the right time to take steps that might soften punishment.

Carolyn Mitchell, a 59-year-old who has lived in Southwest Washington for about 20 years, said she has never felt safer in her neighborho­od, and she credits nearby Nationals Park with bringing more business and street traffic to her community.

Mitchell, who is Black, said she feels more scared when she drops her 21-year-old son off to see friends in Anacostia. She said that that neighborho­od feels less safe to her since the onset of the coronaviru­s pandemic and that she wishes the D.C. police would have a more prominent presence east of the Anacostia River.

“When I see them, I feel safe,” she said of police, an opinion Mitchell said she has held for decades.

Mitchell said she supports the overhaul of the criminal code because legal standards that old should be updated. “That is why they should change it,” she said, “because it’s very old.”

Patricia Roberts, a 67-year-old retired banker, said that the permanent closure of businesses during the pandemic has made her neighborho­od in Foggy Bottom feel less safe. Neighbors have discussed an uptick in loitering, she said, and she sees near-daily police alerts about robberies or assaults in her neighborho­od.

But Roberts, who is White, said that D.C. does not feel any more dangerous than other cities she visits and that she does not believe increasing penalties would make her feel any safer. Instead, she said, the city should invest in more economic opportunit­y.

“As a matter of public policy, if we could do whatever we can to encourage businesses to reopen and support them, I think that would go a long way,” she said.

 ?? John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post ?? D.C. police officers at the scene of a Feb. 1 shooting at the Potomac Avenue Metro station that left one person dead and two injured. More than half of residents across the D.C. area perceive crime to be serious in the District, a Washington Post-schar School poll found.
John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post D.C. police officers at the scene of a Feb. 1 shooting at the Potomac Avenue Metro station that left one person dead and two injured. More than half of residents across the D.C. area perceive crime to be serious in the District, a Washington Post-schar School poll found.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States