“Community Policing” is a hallowed term in fighting crime. I do not profess to be a criminologist, but what I think it means is that the police become part of the community.
Right now, the police are a collection of individuals who are in no way viewed as part of the community. Let’s be literal. To be a member of the community means you live in the community. But in D.C., that is hardly the case. Only 18 percent of the police force actually lives in the District. The other officers do their jobs then go back to their homes in Maryland, Virginia and even as far away as Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The advantages of living in the city they service are many. I spoke to Doug Gansler about this issue. Gansler previously served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District, state’s attorney in Montgomery County and, for eight years, attorney general of Maryland. He noted that having a police car parked in front of an officer’s home is definitely “important and helpful.” But beyond that, when police choose to live in D.C., said Gansler, it shows a “commitment to their city.” In his words, “policemen and policewomen are people”; they care about the neighborhood they live in.
Another practical benefit, according to Gansler, is response time. If members of the force live here, the response time is dramatically improved.
Council member Jack Evans calls police “the backbone of the community.” By living in the city, they represent the “solid middle class. That helps all neighborhoods.” Evans has introduced in the D.C. Council a bill that would require all new hires in the police force to live in the city. (It would also apply to firefighters and teachers.) The co-introducers of the bill are Vincent Orange, Anita Bonds and Yvette Alexander. The mayor has not taken a position on the bill, which will go to the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Kenyan McDuffie.
D.C. has seven police districts. Each district has a commander, the person in charge. I sought to find out if any of them live in the city. When questioned, Chief Cathy Lanier said she did not know. I was promised a response, but, to this day, I have not received the information.
The mayor should instruct the chief that each and every one of the commanders must live in the city they serve. It should be a requirement, not an option. The mayor’s very first obligation is to ensure that citizens feel safe and are safe in their neighborhoods.
The recent rise in homicides is of concern to everyone. I believe that Evans’s bill would contribute to a safer city. But the police unions are against it and Congress might seek to overturn it.
The mayor should be actively supporting this measure; no more sitting on the sidelines and remaining silent. The citizenry of D.C. should speak out in favor of the bill (Jobs for D.C. Residents Amendment Act of 2015, B21-0364) and push for its ultimate passage. The same way of doing things is not the answer to reducing crime.
Political analyst Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a contributor to TheHill.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.