WASHINGTON—As Gary Robinson and his wife were driving to Washington this week for a three-day stay, they heard news over the radio that a "crime emergency" had been declared in the district.
But they didn't turn back to Ontario, Canada.
"I'd be careful where I went," Gary Robinson said. "I think you have to be careful in any big city."
Fourteen people were killed in Washington during the first 12 days of July, and two attacks occurred near the Washington Monument. Responding to the crime wave, Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey declared a "crime emergency" this week.
For the most part, tourists don't appear to be overly worried, but police are stepping up patrols and trying to figure out what's behind the surge.
Though the murders have taken place throughout the city, there was particular alarm when a British man was killed last Sunday around 2 a.m. in the affluent Georgetown neighborhood. Also, a family and two women—one of whom was sexually assaulted—were robbed near the Washington Monument on the National Mall within minutes of one another Tuesday evening. As of June, robberies had increased 15 percent compared with that time last year, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. Homicides were down 5 percent.
Although crime has spread to areas that have been considered relatively safe, tourists continue to go about their plans. Lindsay Spradlin said he was spooked when he first heard about the assaults on the Mall and decided not to take a night bus tour around the monuments. But the Scottsville, Va., man has reconsidered, saying he doubts that anyone would rob an entire bus.
A souvenir vendor said business hadn't changed.
"If you come here to go sightseeing, you're going to go sightseeing," said Juanita, who'd give only her first name because, she said, another vendor had been beaten recently.
But Juanita, who's lived in Washington her entire life, said she thought that a greater police presence was needed near tourist attractions.
"People are being beaten and raped. It's ridiculous," she said.
As St. Paul, Minn., native Robin Rice was walking along the Mall on Wednesday, she said she felt safer in Washington than she did in Minneapolis. She does make sure to be aware of her surroundings. "You have to be," she said.
More than 18 million people came to Washington in 2004, and summer months tend to be the busiest, according to the Washington, DC Convention and Tourism Corp. So far, the steady flow continues.
"At this time, we haven't seen any impact on visitation to the city," said Victoria Isley, the senior vice president of marketing and communication for the Convention and Tourism Corp. "It's really too early to speculate on what impact might take place."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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