Crime in Foggy Bottom plunges since outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic

Media Credit: Lillian Bautista | Senior Photo Editor

While violent crimes are down over the past several months, thefts in stores and vehicle break-ins are up, which local leaders attribute to reduced foot traffic and security.

Since the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic last March, the number of crimes near campus has dropped by half.

GW Police Department Chief James Tate said officers have responded to fewer than 400 crimes since last March, compared to more than 1,000 crimes reported to the department in each of the two years before the pandemic. Local leaders said the decline in incidents has coincided with the reduction of public activity over the past year.

“The safety of the entire GW community is always a priority for GWPD regardless of what is going on, pandemic or no pandemic,” Tate said in an email. “Staffing and patrols of the area were not affected because our employees still came to work.”

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The District recorded 359 crimes in Foggy Bottom and the West End since Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a stay-at-home order last March.

That number marks a 48 percent drop from the 685 crimes committed in 2019, according to Metropolitan Police Department data. Foggy Bottom and the West End witnessed between 600 to 700 crimes annually in the four years preceding the pandemic, according to MPD data.

MPD Lt. Bredet Williams said at a Foggy Bottom Association meeting late last month that local violent crime has “tremendously” decreased compared to last year at this time. But she said the entire city has faced more thefts at crime hotspots like CVS locations across D.C. because of a lack of on-site security.

Ward 2, which includes Foggy Bottom and the West End, has accumulated more than 3,700 crimes during the pandemic – the third most of any ward in the city – but the majority of incidents occurred near downtown D.C. or Logan Circle.

Williams said ANC 2A saw 20 fewer incidents in March compared to the same month last year, with 58 crimes in the area last month. She said 40 thefts and 18 assaults with dangerous weapons occurred last month, she said.

MPD launched a task force in February to combat carjackings and auto thefts following a boom in those crimes across the city.

Carjackings in D.C. surged last year, shooting up from 178 incidents last March to a peak of 364 in September, according to MPD data. Since the task force’s creation, carjackings have remained slightly above 200 incidents in February and March.

“It’s a combination of detective officers and so on – everything from video searching for cars, catching bad guys and linking them to other crimes,” Williams said.

FBA President John George said he’s pleased with the declining crime rate, which suggests that both the “good guys” and “bad guys” were following COVID-19 public health guidelines. George said the west side of Foggy Bottom is typically one of the quieter parts of the neighborhood, but the recent uptick in vehicle break-ins is “very distressing.”

He said leaving valuable items in a car is an “invitation” for theft to happen and said these types of crime are inevitable in a city. He said drivers should keep belongings concealed in their cars to prevent auto thefts.

“No one likes to see the crimes be reported or occur, but we do live in a city where it is kind of inevitable,” he said. “We’re just happy that the number of incidents is down.”

But George said he thinks residents feel safer living in Foggy Bottom now than before the pandemic because the community is “vigilant” against potential crime. He said residents look out for each other and report crimes to emergency services in a timely manner.

“We have a vigilant community, so we’re watchful,” he said. “We report things. I have a dog, so we walk the dog and we see the car break-in before even the owner does. So we call 9-11 with a non-emergency request and say, ‘You know, there’s the car that’s been broken into.’”

George said hygiene product thefts around convenience stores like 7-Eleven and CVS and graffiti around the Whitehurst Freeway near 26th Street have also become more frequent crimes during the pandemic.

He said he plans to work on “awareness campaigns” for crime safety and promote streateries, outdoor restaurant seating located in public spaces like streets, to keep people safe and protected in the neighborhood.

“The combination of just being out and being aware, as well as awareness that our leaders can provide through the mechanisms I mentioned, will help keep people safe and happy,” he said.

Commissioner Jeri Epstein, the chair of the ANC, said the drop in crime within the community “mirrors” public life during the pandemic, with fewer people out on the streets. She said “crimes of opportunity,” like property theft and carjackings, have been the “biggest” forms of local crime.

“The kind of crimes we had were mostly juveniles or people going for stationary objects, like a car or somebody who hadn’t locked the car,” she said.

Epstein said the ANC has launched the West End Watch, a private email chain that connects all businesses and residential buildings with GWPD to report crime in real time with the support of CCTV footage. She said if a crime is committed, West End Watch will send out a message saying “Be on the Lookout,” notifying businesses in the area to be aware of their surroundings.

“We find that has been a tremendous help in reducing crime,” she said. “If somebody steals a bicycle, we’ve got pictures of them going down 24th Street or whatever he’s doing, and the police are there.”

Epstein said locals’ sense of awareness, instead of the level of crime, will determine personal safety in the area.

“I don’t think people should feel safe or more safe,” she said. “Like everything else, it all depends on you being as aware as you possibly be.”

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