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October 14, 1996

District Crime

Dear Neighbors:

The first question posed to me when I proposed starting the Northwest Side Story (then Cleveland Park 90210) was: "Are you going to write about the crime wave?" "What crime wave?" I asked. "You know, the crime rate."

This was a meaty lead I could surely follow. I’d have the scoop on the "crime wave of the century." As you might have guessed, there was no crime wave. There was crime, about the same amount as the previous months. Being into "dog bites man" stories, I reported my findings. I think I also noted that temperatures were cooling off in October but that climatologists didn’t expect an ice age in 1993.

In 1996, I had the simultaneous pleasure and misfortune of wonking a crime study for a medium-sized southern city (where I am convinced that Chamber of Commerce officials buy white bedding for ceremonial reasons). I learned two lessons from that study that might shed some light on crime in our nation’s capital city.

First, crime doesn’t occur in cities. It occurs in neighborhoods and on street corners. With a map and magic marker, you can redraw boundaries to create the best and worst crime districts in the country. For many year, The Washington Post ran an overlay of two maps: one of open-air drug markets and the other of murders. They showed an almost identical pattern.

Please correct me if I’m wrong---and I know you will—but Northwest Washington north of Calvert Street and West of Rock Creek Park has averaged slightly over one murder per year since I moved into the neighborhood in 1987. With the Goff family slaying, Upper Northwest DC has a lower murder rate than Potomac, MD. But Upper NW has an extremely high property crime rate. What does this all mean? It means that it’s almost meaningless to talk about city crime. What type of crime? What neighborhoods? These are the more important questions.

Now let me contradict my point. In recent years, social scientists have found ways to reduce crime by policing. Take that, you Libertarians. I may have the genesis wrong, but James Q. Wilson found that lower tolerance of petty crimes can lead to big drops in violent crimes. New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton implemented a policing policy based on Wilson’s findings and New York City has experienced a remarkable 30-40 percent decline in crime. (Thus, Mayor Guiliani fired Bratton.)

While New York and other locales implemented new policing techniques, the District has appointed Soulsby as police commish, who can only be described as a well-connected hack willing to pay homage to Barry’s Praetorian Guard; have mismanaged funds so badly that citizens have had bake sales for new tires and office supplies; and has cut the pay of it’s police force—now reinstated—which led to morale problems. (And, undoubtedly, we will soon learn of corruption). In other words, we could have done something about crime, but piddled away our time.

The FBI has just released its 1995 crime stats, which shows that (I’m quoting from the A.P.) "violent crimes reported to police dipped by 3 percent across the nation in 1995, led by an 8 percent drop in cities of more than 1 million population. The findings for 1995 showed an 8 percent drop in the 1-million-plus cities of Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Dallas and Houston. However, the 3 percent drop nationally means that many other cities didn’t do as well, and might have experienced increases." Wither Washington?

I couldn’t pull the DC crime rate article from the Washington Post archives, but I remember that the number of crimes in the District and Virginia stayed about even, while Maryland’s violent crime increased. Considering how many people left the District in 1995, you can imply that the crime rate increased in the District. (I’m fairly certain that the Post story didn’t run per capita numbers so I found their results and conclusions misleading.) The FBI’s web page (which doesn’t open with "dum-de-dum-dum in real audio) doesn’t offer detailed information.

Now that I’ve confused you, let me summarize. Crime depends on where you live. Don’t think city. Think neighborhood. However, although many of us (or at least me) believe that government can screw up anything, crime rates actually depend on the quality of policing and crime prevention. The District government has been too busy politicking to put such programs into place.


Also free! Short movie reviews and movie discussion. To subscribe, send an email message to and note the name of the newsletter in the subject line or body of the text.

Jeffrey Itell


Public Meeting
Councilmember Kathy Patterson

I am hosting a town meeting on October 17, from 7 to 9 p.m., at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, 42nd and Albemarle Streets, with an expected focus on public school issues. The timing was initially aimed at being able to talk about the control board’s action on schools (expected Oct. 1 or so).


Stephanie Gerard

Re the dangers of living in the District: FYI, Money Magazine’s "Money Extra" ranks Washington as the 128th best place to live, out of 300, and that’s an improvement over the 1995 ranking where the District was no. 140. Go figure! In the crime statistics for the 300 largest metro areas, the District’s rate of 715 violent crimes per 100,000 people just misses the nat’l avg of 716. For property crime, the District’s 4,669 crimes per 100,000 people is also close to the nat’l avg of 4,658. Overall crime per 100,000 people in the District is given as 5,383, again close to the nat’l avg of 5,374.

The District is way below cities such as Little Rock, Los Angeles, Pueblo, Colorado (!), Gainesville and Jacksonville and Tampa/St. Pete’s (those old folks!) — and some of these places are listed among the BEST places to live! Gainesville, for instance, is listed as the third best small place to live in the U.S., but it has a crime rate of 10,090 per 100,000 people (including 1,377 violent crimes and 8,713 property crimes). I don’t mean to diminish the importance of crime in our city—my own neighborhood has been beset by more vandalism, graffiti, and car theft than occurred a few years ago—but the vast majority of white people in the District have never been, nor will ever be, the victims of serious crime. Our FEAR of crime has overtaken the reality of crime, and we convey this fear to the suburbs. Money’s URL is http:/, by the way.


Andrea Carlson

John Whiteside and others who like to think that DC is Oz...get real. If you believe you go through each day unscathed by crime, you’ve been laying down in the poppies too long. You pay taxes, man. Taxes pay for police (who are completely overwhelmed), medical services (for violent crime victims and others), and a myriad of other services available to the sizable number of career criminals who live in this city. I don’t know what neighborhood you live in, but here in Shaw, our houses get burglarized, plants get stolen from our yards, our children find hypodermic needles on the sidewalks, our buildings are graffiti-covered, and the sound of gunshots is a regular occurrence. Unscathed? Hardly. But, be it ever so dangerous, there’s no place like home.


Brian Reeves

I just heard the Marion Barry quote that you published in DC Story "our crime rate is not so bad if you don’t count the killings" (that you were unable to confirm) repeated on the show This Week With David Brinkley. It was stated by David at the closing of the show today. Sounds like your retraction was unjustified (barring some error by ABC News).


Paul Penniman

David Brinkley closed his program today by quoting Mayor Barry as saying, "Except for the murders, our crime rate isn’t so bad." Then David started laughing.

I’d be interested to find out where David got this information. Perhaps it will turn out to be one of these apocryphal untrue stories that everyone likes without checking for accuracy, like the George Bush encounter with the electronic scanner.


Kemp Falls Flat
Daniel A. Turner

The thing I really didn’t understand is how on earth having no capital gains tax would help a small business owner hire people. I just don’t get it. I’m a small business owner. If there were no capital gains tax I’d sell the stock I got two shares of when I was born which is now many more shares, but I can’t really see how that’d help someone who wasn’t necessarily in that position, and I don’t understand at all why that would allow me to hire more people. (If I could even *find* more people — finding programmers is a bear!!) Some restaurant owner in Harlem would be able to hire 60 people? For what?? What would they sell to be able to hire those people? We figured the owner would have to sell the tables, take any profit (Is there a market in used restaurant tables?) and have the new employees *be* the tables.

Am I just missing something??


David R Hartley

About 3 weeks ago I saw a table set up near 14th and U with a banner over that read "It doesn’t take a village, it takes money!" .They were handing out political propaganda of some kind so I stayed away. Well, it occurred to me that it takes BOTH a village and money. It seems to me that there are elements of both Republican and Democratic platforms that combined have the beginnings of solutions for our inner cities. I hope that the spirit of compromise and statemanlike debate prevails in our nations politics, so that we don’t re-invent the gridlock that pervaded the Reagan era. That s my two centavos.


Stephanie Faul

1. If there’s a "Bethesda Buick" auto repair shop at Wisconsin and Jennifer, it must be located in the basement of the Mazza Gallerie.

2. What *is* located at Wisconsin and Jennifer is a lot of restaurants. The old Hamburger Hamlet now has a banner across it saying "That’s Amore" and promising an Italian restaurant. (Now hiring!) The TGI Friday’s opened last Monday, complete with person outside in a cow costume. Now all we need is a tenant for the Pleasant Peasant’s space and things will be back to normal, whatever that means.

3. One of the comments I heard about the Kemp-Gore debate is that it should have come with a yawn track. Everyone I’ve talked to who watched it fell asleep at some point. But you are quite right about Kemp: What nobody points out is that the people who benefit most from lower capital gains taxes are the ones who already have money. Poor people don’t have capital. Most wage-earners don’t have capital. Most households don’t own stocks or bonds; the main investment is in domestic real estate. And when something is proposed that will actually give working people more money, i.e., higher wages, it’s denounced as being inflationary.


COPPI’Ssam smith

Six of us went there the other night and not only was the food fine, it was fun. The owner has his own bicycle team and while the place is a bit noisy, it was nice to be in a place where so many people seemed to be having a good time.

BTW, re the carry out trade at the Yenching, I think the reader has spotted a trend. My office is near City Lights and when I’m working late I regularly go in for carry out — the back of the restaurant sometimes looks like the NYSE trading floor. I would imagine the profit margin on carry out is much higher. If not, places like the Yenching might win back some of the sit-down trade by installing miniature VCRs at each table.


Ken Levinson

Coppi’s is a welcome addition to my old neighborhood. Great atmosphere, funky menu, and pretty good food. Saying that however, a couple of complaints. First, it’s overpriced by at least 10 or 15 percent. Two people having a large pizza and dinner salads, with no alcohol or dessert, should not be paying over $40 for dinner — if we had added a bottle of wine and dessert, it would have easily approached $100 (tax and tip included). Second, Coppi’s idea of a large pizza is a joke. A large is about 10 to 12 inches across — what is a medium in other venues. Two adults would have a hard time getting by without something more than that (salads or an appetizer), and then whamo, you’re over $40 for pizza.

One further note: a weekend brunch menu would be great. Cafe Deluxe, which aims at a similar clientele, does great brunch biz. Coppi’s could do well serving that meal in Cleveland Park. There certainly is a market for upscale, funky dining aimed at the 20 to 40 crowd, especially in Cleveland Park. But I’m afraid they won’t survive on novelty alone at these prices.



Regarding the comments on Coppis in Cleveland Park, let me offer a bit of insight from his first restaurant on U Street, near my home. Pierre, the owner, doesn’t like to get involved in community efforts. In fact he regarded our community organization’s $25 dollar annual membership not worth his participation saying "what have you done for me lately?" He also freely states that he doesn’t have to advertise, people know about his place. I’ve got plenty of restaurants to choose from on U Street now, and choose to eat in those that support our community.


Evan Roth (The usual disclaimers . . . )

Looks like the Uptown Cafe has closed for good. It was dark when I drove past it Saturday night and locked up tight Sunday afternoon. Doesn’t really surprise me. It never seemed to catch on in the neighborhood. It’s food was average, even mediocre, and it had zippo atmosphere. That surprised me when it opened. I had high hopes it would be a fun place like its sister restaurant Au Pied de Cochon.

(additional culinary thoughts)

Tom Berry was wondering about Yenching Palace. Him and me both! My question is how the restaurant has managed to stay in business for so long (it’s been there forever) selling pretty lousy food.


IMHO, Yenching’s food is mediocre, and I would guess it does a big carry-out business because there is no other Chinese restaurant along Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park. Peking Cafe was not much competition; its food was lousy too, even worse than Yenching’s.

I must confess Yenching has come in handy when I’ve come home late and haven’t a thing to eat in the house. I imagine many others find themselves in the same situation, and that’s why Yenching is able to shuffle along

If only the people who own City Lights of China would expand to Cleveland Park . . .

[My friends and I always refer to it as the Wretching Palace. Is the food better than that? jeff]


John Whiteside jmw@USORDER.COM

David Powers writes:
>Sorry a reader could not pass the DC inspection test due to emissions. However, it’s very unlikely that the mechanics at Spring Valley Exxon caused that problem.

I’m sure they didn’t cause it. My gripe is that they did $600 worth of work to fix it, and their response when it didn’t pass was "Tough .Take it somewhere else." Maybe it’s unfixable… but I expect someone who takes my money to stand behind their work, and at least be able to take a look and see if there’s something they can do. (Note that I told them I needed to get through inspection before they even touched the truck, and that would have been the time to tell me it wasn’t something they were equipped to handle… not before they took my money!)

>Warm up car before going for inspection.

You’re absolutely right — I had the same problem once on my Massachusetts emissions test… so I arrived at the Half Street inspection station at 6:15 AM (there was already a line of about ten vehicles at that hour waiting for the 7 AM opening!) after driving from Kalorama, including going about 50 mph down Rock Creek Parkway, and kept the engine running. (As did everyone else; I’m sure this does wonders for air quality near the inspection sites.)

This is good advice for anyone going to inspection, though; go for a drive on your way to the station, be sure you’re fully warmed up. (Note that the folks at Spring Valley didn’t make this recommendation, either.)

Thanks to the readers who sent me recommendations for better, more honest mechanics; I wound up just getting a new truck, but I’m saving those referrals for when it gets older. (And remember, when you’re worried about crime and fiscal mismanagement, at least you can sleep better knowing I’m not threatening the safety and cleanliness of DC with my old pickup! I was quite surprised by how thorough the DC inspection was compared to Mass. and New York, in terms of checking out the body condition, etc. Whether that’s a good thing or an annoyance is the reader’s judgment.)


John Eaton

If anyone out there in web-land is interested in supporting the John Eaton elementary school without spending a penny or even giving of your time please consider purchasing grocery certificates for Fresh Fields, Safeway or Giant. The way this works is that you buy the certificate for its face value, then you use them like cash at the grocery store (where you receive face value.) The grocery store then gives 5% of the face value to the school. It costs you nothing, most of you buy food at the grocery store so it takes up no extra time and it will give much need support to your community. Furthermore, you don’t even have to save the receipts etc. which can be a pain.

If you are interested, please respond to me privately.


Thursday, 24 October 8 p.m. Education Building Auditorium National Zoo

Enter at Connecticut Ave. and park in Lot A Free, but please RSVP by e-mailing to


Zoo archaeologists search ancient animal remains for clues to early civilization. Melinda Zeder, associate curator at the National Museum of Natural History is rewriting the story of the Neolithic Revolution, after finding evidence that early agriculture in Mesopotamia was far more diversified than we imagined.

Office of Public Affairs, National Zoo Washington, D.C. 20008 (202) 673-4866, FAX (202) 673-4607

Margie Gibson NZPEM053@SIVM.SI.EDU


Car For Sale

1989 Mazda 323 SE Hatchback, only 65,000 miles, A/C, AM/FM cassette, power steering, power brakes, automatic transmission, excellent condition (always kept inside a garage). $4,495 OBO. Call 202-332-5663 after 6pm.



Home PC Computer Assistance

I’ll help you choose and buy the best model for the lowest price, get your computer up and running, teach you the ins and outs of Windows 95 and applications, show you how to maintain your system, build special applications for you, and get you up and running on the internet. $60/hour. 202.244.4163.

Jeffrey Itell


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