Is OccupyDC Causing a Crime Spike in the Capital?

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The head of DC's Fraternal Order of Police sent a rather blistering open letter to Mayor Vincent Gray, chastising him for not admitting that the OccupyDC protests are causing a rise in crime, as neighborhood policing resources are pulled away in order to police the protests.


One needs to take this with a grain of salt--gentrification is creating a lot more opportunities for muggings and property crimes, which may have something to do with the spike he identifies.  And he's clearly got other issues with the Mayor over budget cuts and the rate of new hires.

Nonetheless, it's a plausible case.  And it highlights an inherent tension that Julian Sanchez wrote about well in November: these protests are not simply about the protesters v. "the 1%".  The protesters also impose costs, possibly significant costs, on the surrounding communities.  And the protesters themselves seem to refuse to acknowledge this--that they are not simply a representative of "the 99%", but also often at odds with a significant portion of that larger population.

Now, I'm sure that the members of OccupyDC would contest the need for extra policing.  But the active protests certainly do--sometime before Thanksgiving, I spent about twenty minutes trapped behind a handful of people who had decided to march down K Street at rush hour.  They absolutely did need the large police escort that they had in order to keep angry drivers (not me) from running them over.  And even the passive part of the protest had, last time I was down there, become a magnet for homeless people, with the attendant worries about petty crime and acting out by the mentally ill.

It seems to me that a movement claiming to represent the 99% should consciously take these costs into account--particularly over the longer term.  A one day crime spike is not a big deal. A  three month increase is a pretty sizable cost, particularly in a city that already has a very high crime rate.
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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