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Washington’s Sweeping Crime Wave Exposes The City’s Distorted Priorities


I live mere feet from a military installation in Washington, D.C., yet someone had little qualms with entering my car and rifling through it last week in an attempt to find something of value. Thankfully, nothing was stolen — because I don’t leave anything in my car worth stealing — and my vehicle incurred no damage.

Such is life in the nation’s capital these days. The concerns about crime, both big and small, pervade the populace, caused in no small part by a series of flawed policies on both the local and national levels.

Consider these news stories just from the first four months of 2024:

  • CVS announced that a store plagued by rampant theft would close in late February; staff at the store told a local media outlet last fall that “dozens of kids were regularly going in to steal chips and drinks before school, after school, and late at night,” and claimed that “street vendors were paying people to steal from the store so they could re-sell the goods.” 
  • Last week, supermarket chain Harris Teeter started requiring customers to show their receipts before leaving stores and banned some types of suitcases and luggage in an attempt to prevent mass thefts.
  • In February, supermarket chain Safeway installed security gates in multiple stores to combat retail theft and crime, immediately after thieves broke into a Safeway ATM, “stealing cash and ordering employees on the ground.”

To this customer at least, the latter security measure had an eerie effect; passing through Safeway’s security gates to enter the store gave one the feeling of going into jail, just to buy eggs or a gallon of milk. The gates block egress at all checkout stands and doors, such that one wonders how readily one could leave the store if one decided not to purchase anything.

It remains unclear if the stricter security measures will have a measurable effect on retail theft. In my few trips to Safeway since the installation of the security gates, the alarms from said gates went off every few minutes, such that one could readily become inured to the noise (e.g., rampant car alarms blaring). Harris Teeter’s receipt requirement means customers will have to show proof that they bought something, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the products listed on the receipt represent the sum of all the goods included in their bags.

Leftist Policies in Practice

That said, one has to feel for the stores, which are trying to strike a delicate balance: combating thefts in a way that stanches their losses without alienating paying customers. With 13,000 theft incidents in 2023 — roughly 1.5 thefts every hour of every day, not including vehicle thefts or thefts from vehicles — Washington has a lot of crime to clean up, such that even Mayor Muriel Bowser had to concede that “we had a tough year last year” on crime.

In many ways, the stores’ plight and their unilateral actions stem from the ways policymakers have contributed to this mess. A demoralized and depleted police squad — anyone remember “Defund the police?” — has resulted in massive amounts of overtime for an overworked and undermanned force. And the harmful effects of “Bidenflation” could encourage people to resort to thievery even as businesses may have to raise prices still higher to combat losses associated with retail theft.

While Bowser and the D.C. City Council claims to want to get a handle on security issues, their actions can belie their statements. Amid the widespread concerns about crime, and a major budget crunch stemming from the rise of remote work since the pandemic, what actions did Bowser recently take? Sign an ordinance making marijuana tax-free for the second half of April in “honor” of 4/20, and release a budget that, while increasing security funding by several million dollars, also proposed “$5.25 million to support DC’s hosting of World Pride in 2025.” Seriously.

Whether at the city, state, or federal level, lawmakers should keep in mind that their first duty above all is to keep the public safe. All its other services and components pale in comparison if the government cannot ensure public safety. Perhaps Bowser and company should stop the woke virtue signaling, and start devoting resources — all of their available resources — to that.

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