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STATEMENT OF HENRY B. NICHOLS, MEMBER, WASHINGTON
Mr. Nichols. My name is Henry B. Nichols. I am appearing here on behalf of the Washington Board of Realtors. Mr. William Everngam, our Executive Vice President was unable to come. I am here with the President of the Washington Board of Realtors, Wallace B. Agnew. I am an attorney-at-law and realtor, and a real estate columnist for the Evening Star Newspaper.
The Washington Board of Realtors is deeply concerned over the steady rise in crime in the District. In our business of selling, leasing and managing real estate, we feel the pulse of the people. Crime is a common topic of conversation. People are living in fear. We watch with alarm as prospective home owners move to the suburbs. The feeling seems to be --Let's not live in the District. We recoil at that unanswerable question : “Is this neighborhood safe?"
Now we know, and you know, that no neighborhood is safe. No citizen is safe-not on the streets, not in the parks, not even in their homes and offices. Crime is rampant and it's getting worse. It is out of control and it is tearing at the very fabric of our society.
In the interest of time I'll just make three quick points. First-or four, really.
First, you asked earlier, Mr. Chairman, what organizations who take active parts in the Metropolitan Board of Trade supported the Omnibus Crime Bill of last year. I want to say that in 1965 our organization formed a committee, a crime study committee of which I was the Chairman, and after about a year and a half of interviews with judges, police chiefs of the various jurisdictions, knowledgeable citizens and others, we came forth withi a report which embodied many of the items presented by the Board of Trade here today. This report got wide publicity; we submitted it to many members of Congress, judges, city officials, where it was very, very well received. Frankly the only adverse criticism we got was with a well known newspaper, of which I am happy to say I'm a part.
But it presented in very simple terms the fears and trepidations that our industry has as ordinary businessmen, not as legal technicians in the field of criminal law, which we are not, the general fear that our city is going down-hill and that crime is one of the root causes for it.
I'd like to say as point number two, that property values in many parts of our city have gone down drastically, I can cite specifically the area in and around 14th Street N.W., where millions of dollars has been invested in new apartment houses and I can say, without pinpointing any particular apartment, there are vacaney losses in this area approaching 30 and 35 percent.
Now I'm not saying that crime is the sole cause for these enormous Vacancies, but it is certainly one of the most potent factors. People are afraid to live there. They are afraid to walk to and from their office, which is their main reason for living downtown, because they fear they will be attacked.
The third point I want to make concerns the incredible vandalism in this city. We have as part of our District ('ode a section titled
"Destroying or Defacing Buildings, Statues, Monuments, Dwellings or Structures". Gentlemen, over the years there are thousands upon thousands of incidents of vandalism in this city. To my knowledge there is little or no prosecution or even apprehension of the people guilty of these acts of vandalism.
Few, if any, records are kept by the local authority. Quite often evidences of vandalism, or prosecutions of vandalisms are lumped together with other incidents of crime, which is arson, house-breaking, burglary, breaking and entering. And it's very hard to separate them from the fact that they are individual, malicious acts against property. But they exist and the fine and the penalty for these acts is only $100 or six months in jail or both, and I stress again that there is little or no prosecution under this section of the Code.
In January of this year, the Evening Star published a series of five articles called "Across the River”, in which they detailed, in a shocking way, the incredible vandalism that exists, even in Government owned properties, owned by the National Capital Housing Authority. Just one I'd like to comment on in which they said that in one apartment project, and they referred to the Valley Green Project, 350 units are available for rent, 109 of them were vacant due to vandalism.
Now with all this talk about the scarcity of decent housing in this city, a family desperately in need of a place to live, 109 units are unavailable. And why? Because of wanton vandalism. And one interesting part about this series of articles was that no mention was made about prosecutions. No citizen's group got up after these articles appeared and said, "What are we going to do about it?" Nobody came in to say, “Let's put an end to this vandalism”. We need housing, here's an opportunity to get at least 109 more families in, but nothing was done. Nothing was done in the way of prosecutions.
Gentlemen, I say to you that the vandalism laws of the District of Columbia must be strengthened, the penalties for vandalism must be increased, but above all they must be enforced. Nothing is being done to enforce them today. It hadn't been done yesterday or the year before. Since 1956 we've been only able to turn up six prosecutions for vandalism in the District of Columbia. Now this is just unbelievable.
And that brings up the fourth item, and that is that we feel that one of the root causes of crime is initiated right in the home. We feel that crime starts in the home, we know it starts out in the street too, but in the home is a very good birthplace for the implements of crime that we have. And one of the reasons for it is that we have in this city a hard-core element of malicious and vandalizing tenants. Just as we have a hard core criminal element, men of violence who commit violence upon a person, we have people of violence who commit injury to property. I want to call to your attention gentlemen that this is not all tenants, it is a small core but their wantonness is bevond belief.
I want to point out too, that the landlord does not throw garbage out the windows, the landlord does not smash glass, nor does he bash in his own thermostat, nor does he kick in screens, nor does he gouge out the plaster, nor does he invite in rats and bugs and roaches. But who is blamed? Under the District Code the landlord must take care of these things and he must pay for it. Not only once in the course of
the tenancy, it can happen every few days for that matter. You can put in a screen door, fifteen minutes later it can be kicked out again. Now who gets blamed: The landlord, the property owner.
So I say to you gentlemen, give us a law where we put the blame where it belongs, on the hard core element of destructive tenants. Give us a law with some teeth in it and let's enforce it.
I don't believe, and our Corps doesn't believe, that we can have effective respect for law and order in public and on the streets unless people are made to realize that there must be respect for property, particularly for property in which they live, because they have as much interest, well maybe not as much, but certainly a great interest in living in a decent place just as much as the property owner.
I want to say in summary that it's all too easy in this day and age of incredible pressure wrought by various, shall we say, well meaning people to point the blame at a property owner and say that he is responsible for all our ills. He's responsible for the slum. I say to you gentlemen, that let's put the blame where it belongs. That crime against property is as prevalent if not more prevalent than crimes against the person. Thank you very much.
Mr. WHITENER. Thank you very much, Mr. Nichols. We appreciate your appearance Mr. Agnew, thank you.
Now, Mrs. Thelma N. Dawson, executive secretary of Washington Building Congress.
STATEMENT OF THELMA N. DAWSON, EXECUTIVE SECRETARY,
WASHINGTON BUILDING CONGRESS
Mrs. Dawson. Mr. Chairman, gentlemen of this committee, I am Mrs. Thelma N. Dawson, Executive Director of the Washington Building Congress. I represent some 1600 members of the Congress. The Trade Association composed of all facets of the industry in the Washington Metropolitan area. This includes architects, general and subcontractors, officials of labor unions, structural and civil engineers, government officials and building suppliers.
I am a native Washingtonian and I remember when I could walk anywhere at any hour without fear. I would dare not do that today.
My organization, as builders of the vast amount of construction in the Metropolitan area, is very vitally concerned, affected and plagued by theft and vandalism on construction sites. We dare not leave any site unprotected. Thus the expense of hiring watchmen and guards is added to increase in insurance and building costs. We often hear about the high cost of construction today and the rising crime rate has added to that cost. We would like too to keep that down. It's impossible with the high insurance we have to pay, with added costs of hiring Watchmen to patrol, not one man, we wouldn't dare-on some of these large sites—to have just one man, we have to have a crew of them; to hire these men to be there and many of them have been injured. Even with these guards there we have experienced theft of valuable building material and destruction of property as well as the ever present danger of injury to young vandals, and believe me, this has happened to us to where they actually have been injured on the site when they are there for the purpose of stealing or destruction of property.
Briefly I would like to cite some instances of some crimes committed on specific job sites. One of our members, who is an officer of the Building Congress and is an official of one of the largest contracting firms in this nation, tells me that theft and vandalism continues to increase. Not only will the thieves take anything moveable, but they will rip out pipes from within the walls and sell the copper tubing which brings a very high salvage price from unscrupulous dealers. This happens all the time. This firm has found it absolutely necessary to hire watchmen after working hours to guard against theft and the senseless vandalism of broken windows, damaged operating equipment and general destruction of property by mere youngsters.
He told me of a case in South East in which an apartment building had been completed, store and shops faced had been let and the apartment section 90 percent rented, then the neighborhood was plagued with numerous disturbances and fearfully families began to move from the building.
Merchants refused to rent the remaining store space and today that building is only 20 percent occupied. The owner hired two retired policemen as watchmen and once when one of the watchmen apprehended a suspect, before the police arrived neighborhood resi dents ganged up on him, beat him severely and released the suspects This building owner was forced to go into bankruptcy and turn the building back to F.H.A.
An excavating contractor sold a very profitable business recently and stated one of the contributing factors to his decision was theft and vandalism and outright destruction of valuable and expensive equipment. Although he stored his equipment within a vard, a fenced area, he had a watchman who lived on the premises, this watchman couldn't patrol the whole section at one time; and once some youngsters, aged six and seven, climbed the fence and were caught throwing sand into equipment costing thousands of dollars, these are bulldozers, tractors, cranes and such as that; very, very expensive equipment.
Another time teenagers, thirteen and fourteen, entered the storage yard and quite again, they climbed the machinery, released the brake and on the crane and bulldozers. If you can imagine the size of equipment, released the brakes just to see them crash into whatever might be in their path.
He also had the problem of batteries being stolen from the engines and equipment. He and his partner finally sold the business, and as I said, this was one of the reasons. They couldn't--they just couldn't get insurance.
For some reason school construction projects seem to particularly attract young hoodlums who systematically loot and destroy school property. It is perhaps a feeling of rebellion against school? I don't know but I do know that schools are a prime target for young criminals.
Since one of the biggest firms in Washington refuses to bid on school construction anymore because of theft and vandalism. In fact some insurance will not even insure companies that build in certain neighborhoods, build schools in certain neighborhoods; and the loss in products and equipment is too great for a contractor to make a reasonable profit. Windows on new school constructions are a favorite tarvet for the vounger vandals and because of this insurance policies exclude glass breakage. In fact, it's becoming increasingly
more difficult for builders to get more adequate insurance coverage and the rates have increased accordingly.
Such insurance policies as may be purchased specify there must be storage rooms with heavy locks for tools and equipment must be kept and that guards must be employed 24 hours. This insurance is quite high and naturally our people do take it. It is a protection for them.
If I seem to stress young people, let me say they are not entirely the culprits by major means. I just bring this out because there is so much of it, and the youth of these children, the fact that these six and seven year olds are doing these things. I am a mother, I have raised my family. I raised them with discipline. I think this is one of the problems today, is that the parents do not start early enough and do not discipline their children, however, we're dealing with the more hardened criminal perhaps but I do believe it should start a little earlier than it is.
Gentlemen, I could cite you hundreds of such cases and it is our belief, the Washington Building Congress, that much more drastic steps must be taken to prosecute thieves and vandals and to instill in them a respect for law and order, instead of the present practice of giving them a slap on the wrist, turning them loose on probation and within days being brought back on similar charges. Lest
you think that we are perhaps not helping in this effort, I have been with the construction industry, in June it will be 36 years, I have worked with them, I have worked with our people in trying to help to get jobs, job training--we've done everything we can to get young people long range employment opportunities through apprenticeship training and the manpower training division of the Department of Labor; we have worked with the probation officers and parole board in placing people. We have had them I have had them in my office where I interviewed them and helped them to get a job.
Last night the gentleman spoke of the building trades training program and he said only eight people turned up for it. We have had this problem over the years. We offer our services and we've tried to help. I want you to know that the Washinging Building Congress urgentsy endorses and supports more stringent anti-crime legislation and we assure you that we will do our part. We will do all we can to help. I want to thank you for the privilege of appearing before you to give you the views of my organization.
Mr. WHITENER. Thank you very much Mrs. Dawson. We appreciate you coming
STATEMENT OF CARL JESINA, SECRETARY, PEOPLES DRUG
As a member of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade Committee to Reduce Crime Now, I want to endorse their recommendations. I believe that the members of this Committee received a copy of a letter dated February 9, 1967 from Mr. G. B. Burrus, President and Chairman of the Board of Peoples Drug Stores addressed to the President of the United States. I would like to submit a copy of this letter to the Commitee for your records.