Thursday, August 11, 2016

Is Columbia Heights getting more dangerous? The stats say mostly no.

Today the City Paper has an article about Columbia Heights called "Withering Heights," talking about how the neighborhood is declining, dangerous and expensive. I agree only with the last one.

I'm quoted in the article about diversity and this blog is quoted about a shooting, but frustratingly I mostly talked about all the good things about the neighborhood, and the article didn't focus on any of that: the people, the places, how things are improving, how people see it as much safer and a good place to go versus 10 years ago (which was the focus of his questions, mostly) and so on. The article is very pessimistic and only focuses on bad things about the neighborhood.

And one thing that I keep noticing is that people are saying the area is getting more dangerous. However, according to the city's crime stats, that's mostly not the case.

The city has a great crime statistics site where you can look at crimes in a 1000-foot radius around a certain block to see what has happened over the last 30 days or up to a year. The stats go back to 2008.

I tried three places in our area -- 1400 Irving where the DCUSA and other developments are, 3000 Sherman, at Columbia and 3600 Georgia where the little bar strip is, looking at 2008 to today. The results are mixed -- there is more crime around DCUSA, violent crime is down while total crime is up around 3000 Sherman, while violent crime is significantly down around 3600 Georgia. And in all cases, total crime is down over the last year and violent crime is either steady or up very slightly. (Of course, I'm no statistician and stats don't tell everything, but I looked at 2008-2009, then from 2010-2011, then 2015-2016.) Try your area and see what you find.

Below are the stats for the three time periods for each location, which also show the change between that year and the previous ear.

I'd bet (but am not certain) that a lot of the property crime, especially around DCUSA and 3600 Georgia, is probably more due to things like high foot traffic, shoplifting and other store- and business-related or crime than anything else. And even with that, crime in all three places I checked is down since last year.

And another thing is that the population of the area and foot traffic are also continuously on the rise. Recently we heard that the area has some of the highest foot traffic in the city, for example. More people in an area would presumably mean more crime, but per capita, not much of an increase, or maybe even a decrease (unfortunately good population stats aren't available recently for our area, or I can't find them if they are.)

However, I think a lot of the perception that things are going downhill is because we hear about crime so often -- from local listserves, blogs, local news and so on. That sort of thing gets hits and people want to know so people write about it. I don't think that the area is getting significantly more dangerous, and the stats seem to back that up -- it's either pretty steady or down. That said, there are definitely still problems -- reduced violent crime is still too much violent crime, I know people who have been victims of violent crime and sadly know a lot of women who have been subjected to street harassment in the area.

The article makes some good points and raises some important issues that need to be addressed -- rising cost of living, segregated people, and more -- but I don't agree with this narrative that the area is on the downward swing and is increasingly dangerous. And those things are not exclusive to Columbia Heights, either. I'd argue they're happening all over the city. I hope we can keep growing while maintaining our local character and making sure long time residents aren't pushed out.

I still love this neighborhood -- from the Malcolm X Park drum circle to the farmers market, dog parks to kids' playgrounds, long-time local businesses and convenient big shopping, lots to eat and drink, a wide range of houses, nice old and new neighbors and good stories -- there's a lot here, and it's great. That's why I've been here since 2007 and intend to stay, until 2107 if I can.

If you want to be part of making things better, get more involved in your community -- work with schools or neighborhood groups, talk to your neighbors and local officials, attend police meetings, help out at local nonprofits, and so on.

Anyway, that's my opinion. I love it here. What do you think?

Here are the stats. The first column is the year, the next column is the following year.

3600 Georgia over time:

1400 Irving:

 3000 Sherman:


  1. But the data actually is showing that crime for all three of those areas is increasing. Look at the upward trend rather than the cherry picked times. The 2009 levels had a lower overall crime rate than that of 2016 for all 3 neighborhood blocks. That being said, it appears that in 2016 the share of nonviolent crimes is higher than in previous years.

  2. Anonymous, I'm not cherry picking years, I didn't want to post 24 images. That's also why I provided the link, so anybody else can dig into the data themselves. You're right there is more crime, but there are also many more people living and visiting the area since 2008 -- a huge increase. And crime has gone down almost across the board since last year.

  3. You cannot go by statistics. There is a reason why the FBI (federal) crime stats to not match DC MPD. MPD can misclassify or downgrade crimes. They do this for several reasons -- to prevent additional paperwork and to make the stars look good. Do you feel more safe in Columbia Heights? I certainly don't. I personally know many people that have been victims of violent crime. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that things have gotten worse. And even then, worse compared to what? Is it better than ten years ago? Yes. Better than 6 years ago? No. Have you ever tried to find out how many crimes actually lead to an arrest? Or what percentage of crimes remain unsolved? Half the time the cops can't even determine a legit suspect. With 911 rsponse times slow to non-existent, a react/respond strategy does not work. We need proactive policing and more resources for VICE/Violent Crimes.

  4. And how do they classify shots fired? Unless there is damage to public property, these incidents aren't even added to the record. Shots fired may not be a crime unless the person is caught in the act (novel concept, huh?), but it does indicate criminal activity. What about when nth bird hear shots fired, but MPD can't find she'll casings? Again, no record. Last week neighbors reported 6-8 shots fired in Petworth. MPD said they couldn't find any casings, so moved on. Guess what? Active neighbors who KNEW what they heard canvassed the area themselves and found the casings. This doesn't mean I don't like the neighborhood, I just recognize it for what it is. It's not as safe as its used to be. That's fine, but I'm not giving anyone a pass (Bowser, Nadeu, Todd or MPD) by simply relying on stats. The stats lie. Residents truly know what. Is happening on the ground.

  5. Stats aren't everything, which is what I note in the blog post, but I am also a resident and I feel like I know what's happening on the ground too. Things aren't perfect by any means, but I think it feels safer, and the stats say things are getting better. Again, a lot of it is perception -- if you perceive it to be more dangerous, well, that's how you feel. I perceive it's not more dangerous, and the only stats I can find mostly agree with me.

    I also agree with you on proactive policing, which is something the local precinct commander said at the Georgia Ave Thrive meeting the other day, that they're walking around more and doing just that, trying to know what's going on. But they also need people to keep reporting crimes, even if they don't lead to an arrest or suspect, because they can get a record of what is happening where and use that to redirect their resources. I think a good place to make those points is at the various neighborhood meetings and also the Citizens Advisory Council meetings with MPD:

  6. Thank you very much for this. I totally agree. I've lived in the neighborhood - right off of Georgia Avenue - since 2007, and I've never felt unsafe here. But if anything, I feel safer now. I would definitely say I feel safer on Georgia Avenue at night because there are so many more businesses and people. Many of the houses on my block were empty when I moved in, but they're all occupied now. I used to hear gunshots frequently, but that is much less frequent now. I witnessed a shooting in 2011, and there have been issues near where I live, but that has always been rare. If people are the victims of crimes or know people who are, they are going to feel unsafe, but that does not mean that it is less safe here. I love Columbia Heights and I love DC. Certainly there are issues related to living in an urban environment and eventually being the victim of a crime is one of them. But, for me, the benefits far and away outweigh the costs.

  7. Thanks for posting. I too agree that context is important and that creating a hysteria to drive clicks or worse (property sales) is completely reckless and unprofessional. The country as a whole and DC is a far cry from what it was in the 80s/90s when close to 500 homicides a year occurred in DC (DC hit a low of 88 in 2012). Thanks to the hard work of visionary community members, mayors (Williams being one), and more Income diverse neighborhoods DC has come a long way.

    DC has worked hard to overcome its crime stigma that to drag it backward based solely on someone's personal perception and emotional feelings with a lack of historical context is short sighted. Living in constant fear of everything is for Trump voters!


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