Jaffe: More D.C. cops coming to a neighborhood near you

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Local,DC,Crime,Harry Jaffe,Phil Mendelson,Cathy L. Lanier,D.C. Council

We could see the return of Officer Friendly in 2013.

More men and women in blue walking beats. More jump-out crews busting drug dealers. More detectives investigating homicides.

I am encouraged to report this because Phil Mendelson seems to have had a change of heart. The city council chairman has spent most of his public service career pooh-poohing the need for more police. Now Phil loves the cops!

Last year Mendelson went out of his way to shoot down Mayor Vince Gray's request to shift $1.7 million from a reserve fund to the Metropolitan Police Department to hire 48 more officers. He was derisive, even demeaning, in putting the mayor down.

Now Mendelson begs Gray to ask again for the $1.7 million, which he expects "to be approved without objection," according to his Jan. 28 letter. He even wants Gray to add an additional $1.1 million so the MPD can hire a total of 90 new officers.

Why the change? In his letter to Gray, Mendelson says Police Chief Cathy Lanier convinced him she needed more cops to maintain the peace in emerging neighborhoods like H Street Northeast; the Southwest Waterfront near Nationals Park; CityCenter in the heart of the East End; and the St. Elizabeths campus in Anacostia, the future home of the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security. I would add NoMa, north of Union Station.

"Her strategy is a good one," he writes, "that it is more efficient to minimize crime through deterrence than to have to reduce crime, once it has taken hold in an area, through reactive policing."

Mendelson's conversion is good news, but it begs a few questions. Why did it take him so long? Why his fascination with protecting folks in gentrifying neighborhoods? What about streets still too dangerous to walk?

"We need more police in the Sixth and Seventh Districts, where we have had high crime for years," says police union President Kristopher Baumann. "The problem with too few cops didn't happen yesterday. Mendelson's been ignoring it for years."

But now that Mendelson is engaged and ready to fund more cops, it's the perfect moment to quit playing with the police and put the city and the force on firm ground. Here are two ways to make that happen:

» Pass Jack Evans' bill to maintain the force at 4,000. The city has the funds and the need. When the number of sworn officers topped 4,000 in 2008 and 2009, crime started to drop.

» Give the cops a raise. The city and the union have been deadlocked since 2007 on a new contract. The two sides have declared an impasse and are seeking mediation. Get a mediator to move negotiations toward a new contract with a retroactive raise. Once officers get a raise and a sense of security that comes with a new contract, good cops will stay on the force and new ones will clamor to be in uniform.

Then Chairman Mendelson can take credit for a safer city.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonian.com.

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