Violent crimes in Washington D.C. are said to be escalating at an alarming rate in the first couple months of the year. According to The Washington Times, the district saw a 40 percent uptick in crimes of a violent nature, including nearly twice as many gunpoint robberies in D.C. than in the first several months of 2011.
Washington D.C. criminal defense attorneys know, however, to take such reports with a grain of salt - a sentiment further underscored by researchers at the D.C. Crime Policy Institute, who note that the numbers, while accurate, are somewhat taken out of context.
All too often, alarming statistics like this are used by law enforcement to justify an increase in spending or in over-vigilant tactics in order to tamp down the swelling rate of crime - even when the numbers may not show a complete and accurate picture.
That said, here is what the Times is reporting:
That all but one police district is reporting double-digit upswings in violent crimes, according to internal documents from the Metropolitan Police Department. This reported increase follows more than 12 months of a downward bend, when the number of homicides in the district were lower than at any other point in the last 50 years. And while homicides continue to fall below the numbers reported in recent years, other crimes, such as robberies, assaults with deadly weapons and sex crimes, are said to be picking up the pace.
The greatest augmentation of crime figures happened in Capitol Hill's 1st District. In that area, crimes classified as violent soared an astounding 69 percent.
Then in the 7th District, near the Anacostia River, an hike of more than 40 percent was reported.
The district with the smallest rise in serious crimes was the 2nd. There, police reported a 4 percent rise. Still, of the 53 reported, nearly 40 were robberies, though many, which were reported in wealthier neighborhoods, are believed to be connected.
Some politicians have come forward in press conferences to note that constituents don't feel safe. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the rise in robberies could be traced back to a number of individuals snatching small electronics, namely smartphones. Robberies alone saw a reported 55 percent increase in comparison to last year.
Additionally, all types of crime, not just violent crimes, are reported to have climbed by about 25 percent.
The mayor has come under fire for not releasing the numbers soon enough, and some have even alleged city officials have played down these numbers.
But the headlines would tend to suggest the opposite is true.
It all must be taken in the appropriate context. As Washington Post Columnist Mike DeBonis points out, the situation is "hardly evidence of a crime epidemic."
As the crime policy institute's researchers noted, district leaders need to take into account the long-term trends. They further pointed out that it is easy to become alarmed when looking at stories that reflect short-term crime "trends," but those figures may not actually be reflective of the true amount of crime on our streets. In fact, a six-week analysis is not nearly enough on which to base any long-term crime policies.