Washington, D.C., residents, police and city leaders are voicing concerns with local crime incidents over the past year as the city approaches the end of COVID-19.
Beverly Hallberg is one such resident. She lived in or around D.C. for about 20 years before moving to South Carolina last October, though she frequently visits the District for work.
"I'm very blessed and fortunate, and I was able to move, but who it's impacting the most are people who can't move – people who are struggling day to day to make ends meet, and I've thought often about what it means for their neighborhoods," Hallberg told Fox News after describing a "decline" in the city's safety after it appeared to become less violent in the years that she lived there since 2000.
Hallberg, who lived between H Street and Union Station near the Capitol, described "pockets" of D.C. that seem relatively unchanged since the worst of the pandemic while other areas on the outskirts of the city and in certain areas downtown are facing more crime and what some locals have described as a homeless emergency after COVID-19 led the city to temporarily shut down.
Between Monday and early Thursday alone, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) responded to six shootings, including one double shooting; four stabbings; five robberies; and one knife assault, according to the department's social media accounts.
The patrol unit will initially deploy police officers on mountain bikes and scooters in Columbia Heights, Washington Highlands and Bloomingdale, according to a press release.
"We know crime isn't tied to geographical boundaries of wards, districts, PSAs or ANCs," MPD Chief Robert Contee said during a Wednesday press briefing. "Having officers on mountain bikes and scooters maximizes the opportunity for community engagement and communication with residents in our neighborhoods."
Hallberg decided to move in August 2020 because, in that month alone, she and her neighbor experienced three collective car break-ins.
"H Street has been a transitional area, and once COVID hit… the progress it had, had receded," she said.
The media strategist, who was living in D.C. as a single woman at the time, went on to describe instances in which scammers would come up to her front door and pretend they were selling a product while looking inside her house and asking her personal questions about everything from her job to her nail polish. One scammer told her, "I bet you're a lawyer or something," while looking inside her house, she said.
One day during the pandemic, she went for a run without a mask, and a man followed her "for a while, yelling the F-word" at her for "not wearing a mask." She also detailed an incident in which she was walking around her neighborhood at 10 a.m. when a man nearby "dropped his pants" and began to urinate on the sidewalk.
These instances that made Hallberg uncomfortable started becoming more frequent amid the pandemic, and as local businesses boarded up to prevent break-ins and the Capitol was closed off after the Jan. 6 riot, her neighborhood felt eerier than usual, she said.
"Yes, Capitol Hill changed, and yes, there's more violence, and it's a problem, and it's concerning and why I left as a single woman, but it's not nearly the experience some neighborhoods are facing," Hallberg explained.
Marinos Marinos, treasurer and office of police complaints representative for the D.C. Police Union, echoed Hallberg's concerns in a Wednesday interview with Fox News.
"I think everybody is [concerned with crime]," Marinos said. "I think the mayor's concerned with the crime rate. I think management with MPD is concerned about the crime rate. And I can speak for the rank-and-file of the [MPD], and we are very concerned about the crime rate."
He added that " there is a very small minority of very vocal activists who have other plans."
"…The City Council is being moved by [the activists], and that is causing this horrible legislation, which, in turn, is harming the police department, which, in turn, is making the… city less safe," he explained.
Mayor Muriel Bowser voiced concerns when the City Council voted in July of 2020 to reduce police department funding by $15 million and freeze hiring. The mayor's office told The Washington Post that the hiring freeze would leave the department with an estimated 3,460 sworn-in officers compared to the department's 3,800 officers that were employed before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
In her 2022 fiscal year budget released in May, however, Bowser increased funding for public safety initiatives by $45 million but did not include any additional funding for the police department. She also plans to hire just 135 new officers next year compared to the 280 new officers the department typically hires each year, according to the Post.
Police are facing staffing shortages and low morale. Legislation that has been passed since around June of 2020 has led some officers to leave the department and is making it difficult to recruit "quality individuals," Marinos said.
Year-over-year, the city's violent crime rate is down, but motor vehicle thefts and robberies are up, according to citywide crime statistics.
While the District's homicide rate has seen only a 1% increase compared to the same time period in 2020, as of Tuesday, the MPD has reported 106 killings compared to the 198 total killings for all of 2020.