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  • Theo Weller

Crime in DC: Shoplifting, Secure DC, and Student Sentiments

CVS pharmacy, popular haunt for Walls students, has reported shoplifting by students / Credit: David Sipos

Over the past year, one topic has dominated the news cycle in DC — crime. DC saw a 26% increase in crime in 2023 compared to 2022, according to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Images of store shelves emptied by shoplifting became national news, making DC a focal point in national discussions about crime prevention. The Foggy Bottom area has been no exception. Advisory Neighborhood Commission area 2A, which includes School Without Walls, saw a staggering 54% increase in crime in 2023 over 2022. Walls students have felt the effects.

One anonymous student reported, “I was walking to the grocery store and three kids, younger than me, came up to me and threatened to shoot me if I did not give them my phone. It was pretty obvious that they did not have any weapon and their attempt was unsuccessful.” Despite this incident, the student didn’t feel very threatened by crime. “I think the incident has opened my eyes to the uptick that some people are talking about. I don’t necessarily feel less safe, but I’ve become more wary of the situation.”

Another anonymous student was followed home after school by middle schoolers, who threatened them and their friend with what appeared to be a gun. “The kids followed us . . . they ran up toward us and one of them had a gun in his pants.” The student said that the middle schoolers demanded they empty out their backpacks. However, the student did not feel particularly threatened due to the short stature and youth of the attackers, and simply walked away without consequence. “[My friend] said later that it looked like [the gun] was fake . . . I don’t know how a middle schooler would have a gun.”

Though not everyone has been as directly impacted as those students, most SWW students seem to have noticed the increase in crime. Max Zeidler (‘24) said “I haven’t actually seen any crime in DC but I know a lot of people in my neighborhood have had packages stolen from their porches and a few neighbors have been robbed. My family has been pretty lucky so far and haven’t lost anything, although our car has been broken into a few times, but nothing has been taken.”

Following pressure from residents to curb the rise in crime, the DC City Council responded with the passage of the Secure DC Omnibus Bill in March. The act is certainly a hot-button issue, with not everyone agreeing that it takes the right approach to preventing crime.

The act contains several controversial provisions. One provision of the amended act adds an additional penalty for wearing a mask or face covering while committing a crime. Many Washingtonians have expressed concerns that this will increase racial profiling by police, or even result in arrests of those wearing face coverings for religious reasons.

Another controversial provision allows MPD to temporarily declare certain areas drug-free zones, allowing officers to disperse gatherings of multiple people if they are suspected to be committing a drug crime. Again, Washingtonians have expressed concern that this will lead to racial profiling.

While there are very real concerns regarding the bill, misinformation has also circulated. A post from a civil rights group’s Instagram with over 300,000 followers oversimplified the drug-free zone provision by saying that the act will “criminalize gatherings of two or more people.”

Criticism of the bill meant that the final draft was not as harsh on crime as the original version. The originally proposed bill lowered the threshold for shoplifting to be considered a felony from $1000 worth of goods stolen to $500 in an attempt to prevent this rampant problem.

This issue specifically hit close to home for Walls students. Last month, Walls’ morning announcements included a message from Principal Sylvia Isaac, who reported that MPD had met with her regarding shoplifting by Walls students at the CVS in Western Market. Ms. Isaac urged students to behave and represent the school well. Some students believe that the announcement has reduced theft at CVS, at least temporarily, and scared students away from stealing.

With these issues directly affecting Walls students, many have weighed in on the Secure DC bill. Some think it will serve to benefit the community, despite possible problems. “I don’t love all the measures in the omnibus,” said Ian Springer (‘25), “but overall I think Secure DC will make our city safer and better.” Stephen Showalter (‘24), on the other hand, thought that Secure DC and the DC Council won’t have much effect on crime in the near future. “Regardless, it will be a while before the actual crime rates decrease,” said Showalter.

Still, others think that the act’s whole approach is flawed. “I do think it promotes over-policing rather than getting to the root cause of our high crime rates,” said Eve Rebora (‘25).

Only time will tell whether new policies will curb DC’s crime problem.


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