Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Do you consider Columbia Heights safe?

Horse cop and kids I often get emails from people who are thinking of moving to the neighborhood or who just moved asking about safety. "Is the neighborhood safe? Are there certain places or times I should avoid?" and the like.

I generally tell them that crime could happen any part of the city, even the nicest ones, and that they should be aware of their surroundings and don't do things like walking around alone at 3 am, or drunk and alone, or on your phone.

But aside from that, I'm kind of stumped. I generally think Columbia Heights is very safe. I've only been hassled once in the neighborhood: in maybe 2007 a very scared kid with what looked like a fake gun held up my friends and I. Of course we didn't want to find out for sure about the gun, and he got about $20 total from us. We called the police and they came but didn't find anybody (and a couple of cabs drove past us while it was happening and didn't seem to call the police or anything, which was frustrating.) Maybe I've been lucky though, and I hope everyone reading hasn't had a similar experience.

Of course, your results may vary, but it seems mostly random. I've had a hard time finding places where lots of bad things happen to bystanders or passersby. There have been shootings, but I think mostly those are targeted or the result of some dispute, not just a random robber shooting somebody they are trying to rob. (This has happened a little bit though, like the sad shooting during a robbery at Sherman Circle in 2010.)

It's also been a while since there has been a big shooting, like the one around the Faircliff building at 14th and Fairmont in 2008 where a number of people were shot, as well as some cars. The Faircliff building management has since done a lot to address crime there and we haven't heard much from it in a while, to their credit.

I also think the neighborhood certainly seems safer than a few years ago, mainly due to increased foot traffic everywhere. Back before DCUSA was built, the area around 14th and Irving was completely deserted at almost all times of the day. Now there are people there constantly and all over the neighborhood -- though I also usually tell people that they should stick to busier streets and that generally as you go north and east, streets get less busy. I'm not sure if that actually results in more crime, but it can be eerie walking alone on Kenyon and Georgia or something at night.

So those are my thoughts, how about yours? Are we safe? Are certain parts more unsafe for people? Let us know in the comments.

13 comments:

GK said...

I lived on 16th street between Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant for over 3 years. I'm female, and the worst thing I've had to put up with in all that time is the occasional cat-call. For perspective, the drunks in Adams Morgan on a Friday/Saturday night are usually much more harassing than CoHi's denizens.
I've walked home from the Circulator stop on 15th and Columbia or from the Red Derby after 3 AM on the regular without incident.
There's not really any reason to go east of 11th or south of Columbia though if you don't live that way, for what it's worth.
Burglary and vandalism still happen though, so keep your home and cars locked.

ben said...

It's a tough question to answer when people ask because people can mean different things by "safe."

I do think it's important to point out to people who ask that question that Columbia Heights is a relatively high crime area. Muggings, break-ins, property crimes, theft from cars, etc. are common occurences in the neighborhood. It's not the kind of place where you can walk around late at night without having to worry. Yes, there is some risk of these things happening anywhere in the city, but Columbia Heights is riskier than many other places you could live in the area. MPD used to have a crime map online that showed this pretty clearly.

That said, Columbia Heights is "safe" in the sense that if you take reasonable precautions, I'd say you are very unlikely to ever be a victim. It's not so bad that everyone who lives here eventually gets mugged or anything like that. And most importantly, as you point out the chance that anyone would cause you bodily harm you is remote- you're probably in much more physical danger when you're in your own kitchen or crossing the street.

In the three years I've been here, I've had some minor experiences with crime. I've seen somebody running down the street hollering that they'd just been mugged and I've known a couple of other people who have been mugged also. All of them were walking down dimly lit streets late at night. I've also had the basement storage area of my apartment building broken into twice, and someone knocking at my apartment door claiming to be the neighbor who wasn't. None of this was a big deal to me at all, but it's also true that nothing like this ever happened in the three years I lived around Woodley Park.

I love it here, but some people are not cool with living in a neighborhood where this kind of stuff happens. For people like that I would recommend somewhere like the Connecticut Ave. corridor north of Woodley Park, or some of the near-in suburbs, but I wouldn't try to convince them to move here.

Andrew W said...

All good points, thanks folks. I tried to look at crime over time, but MPD's app is currently just crimes within a 1500 yard radius and doesn't really show you density, so it's tough to compare. I bet there is more property crime here, like ben said.

Anonymous said...

Its relatively safe. Ive been here for 11 years and was mugged about one year ago, ran from the guy and pushed him over. But in all honesty there are 3,000 units of public housing in Cohi....the highest density anywhere in the city, so what would you expect.

Colin said...

My place on Columbia Rd. was burglarized. A kid across the street from where I live was shot to death a few years back. Couple of months ago I saw a kid running down 14th with a woman running after him screaming "He stole my jacket." Talked to a Bank of America employee and she said that security has been a problem and they could see fights, etc. taking place right outside their window.

No, I don't consider CH particularly safe. Wouldn't call it a warzone, but I can think of some safer hoods.

Anonymous said...

We just moved to Columbia Heights from NYC and I have to say it feels very different, and not in a good way. There never seems to be enough people around on the streets, but maybe that's just DC in general.
In New York we didn't often stumble home drunk at 3 am, because we're in our 30's, but it did happen occasionally. We never worried about safety though, mostly because there were always other people around. We would think "maybe we're getting too old for this", but that was about our only concern. For the record, we lived WAY uptown, in what is considered one of the least-safe areas of Manhattan. In New York there's pretty much always other people around, 24/7.
DC in general seems to be a much more constrained city. You have to be more conscious of how late you stay out and what it's going to be like to walk home from the Metro. We live around 3 blocks east of the Columbia Heights metro, which I know is the wrong direction, and it's a hassle to have to think about this kind of stuff when you just want to be living your life. I have a right to get home whenever I feel like it, drunk/on my phone/whatever!
Last weekend we walked up Georgia from G or H street and started getting worried. It was only 7 or 8 pm, just dark, but the area was deserted so we switched over to Sherman which was a little more active. It makes the idea of exploring DC a lot less attractive when you have to make sure you're not in the wrong neighborhood after sundown.
I get annoyed when people say not using your phone on the street or not walking home drunk and alone is "just like any other city". It's not! What's the point of night life if you can't stumble home after dark? ;)

Anonymous said...

I think comparing CH to Manhattan neighborhoods is just not fair. Manhattan is just a different price range and I agree that for the money it costs to live in Manhattan, it better be safe. Maybe I have been living under a rock, but rents and property values are quite different between CH and Manhattan. In "boutique" cities like Manhattan and Paris, you will not find the same crime rates. In terms of safety, I have lived in CH for over 11 years and have never experienced crime. Sorry to dissapoint. I come from Mexico, and I am quite cautious about how I conduct myself in the city. I don't expect safety all the time, I work hard at being safe too. But if that's not an approach that works for everyone, then CH or any other semi-large city might not be the best place to live. BTW: I know more people that have been mugged at Dupont than at CH.

Anonymous said...

It is not safe. I signed a one year lease in Columbia Heights (Sherman/Columbia Rd.) and left after 9 months. I was willing to pay all of the costs associated with breaking my lease early just so I could get away from that neighborhood. I have not been back to columbia heights, for any reason, in almost 3 years.

Andrew W said...

Most recent Anon, I'm sorry to hear that. Why do you think it's unsafe? And if you don't mind saying, where did you come from or move to?

Anonymous said...

I've lived in the neighborhood for 10+ years (minus a few years in Baltimore). I (knock on wood) have not personally been the victim of a crime, but years ago my neighbor was viciously attacked. Thankfully nothing that terrible has happened since. Just some packages being stolen here and there. I wouldn't go so far as to say CH is 'safe'. I definitely felt safer in my Bmore neighborhood. I think there's also the elephant in the room here of (relatively) newly mixing demographics as 14th street is developed and we're all trying to figure this out. I'd like to see a more open and honest dialogue around this topic actually and that might help form more neighborhood cohesion. Just like any other neighborhood though there are pluses and minuses.

Anonymous said...

I've lived in CH on Park and 11th for almost three years and thankfully have never had an issue involving crime. Not to say it doesn't happen (it obviously does), but I wouldn't consider the neighborhood categorically unsafe. But are neighborhoods with (even) higher rents statistically safer...yes.

Amelia said...

I've had the same reaction to people asking me if Columbia Heights is safe. I've only lived here 2 years, but feel very safe. It's mostly well lit, and rarely quiet I do live pretty close to 14th/DCUSA I suppose, but I'm confused about this 'deserted' thing people are mentioning as people are on buses and out it seems all hours of the day and night. Also if you're coming home drunk at 3am (post jumbo slice i guess?), you're not on the metro (it's not running). If you're alone and nervous, just choose not to hike the 1.5 miles up hill from U street or wherever. If you're concerned, spring for the $8 cab ride, it's really not a huge deal. Other than the bike theft and occasional yelling homeless person, I think the area is all around very safe. Can't imagine living in another neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I had three credit cards stolen out of my wallet last week at a yoga studio in Columbia Heights. Last month someone snatched my laptop out of my hands when I was working on it in a coffee shop. Granted, in the first case, I probably didn't leave my wallet in the most secure place, but it was a YOGA studio, so this just goes to show that this stuff can happen absolutely anywhere. I'm not thrilled with these things happening, but I truly think anyone should consider this part and parcel to living in a city (petty thefts, not bigger issues like gun violence). I feel lucky that I've only experienced these petty thefts. I've had friends robbed in Dupont Circle and held at gunpoint in another much more tony neighborhood in DC.
--Amanda