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Arlandria Nights Heat Up

During summer, international melting pot swelters with street crime.

Violent crime has increased this year in Alexandria — and the Arlandria neighborhood continues to be one of the more dangerous areas of the city. But police records indicate that violent crime in the neighborhood has decreased during the past decade, a trend that police officers hope to perpetuate.

Arlandria is an international neighborhood on the north end of town nestled between Arlington's south side and Alexandria's Del Ray community. Immigrants from all over the world live in Arlandria's sprawling apartment complexes and public housing units, creating an international neighborhood where crime continues to be a persistent problem. In the past month, nine acts of violent crime have been reported in Arlandria:

* A homeless man was assaulted and seriously cut at 7:25 p.m. on June 18.

* A tow-truck driver was assaulted by several Hispanic males at 9 p.m. on June 18.

* A 23-year-old man was stabbed in the stomach at 2:15 p.m. on June 23.

* Two men were stabbed while leaving a convenience store at 2:15 p.m. on June 23.

* A 55-year-old male and his 21-year-old son were assaulted and robbed by a group of seven men at 9:05 p.m. on July 8.

* A man with a BB gun shot several people in Arlandria, including separate incidents on Jefferson Davis Highway, Mount Vernon Avenue and Reed Avenue.

*A 16-year-old male was assaulted outside a restaurant at 2:55 a.m. on July 16.

Despite these incidents, Mary Garrand — a crime analyst with the Alexandria Police Department — says that violent crime is decreasing in Arlandria. Ten years ago, she says, violent crime was much more prevalent in the neighborhood. But now, the Police Department's increased patrolling and visibility in the area have contributed to decreasing violent crime in the area.

"What you see from the data is a progressive decrease in crime in Arlandria. Yet even though we've been able to make some progress there, it continues to be an area where crime happens on a regular basis," she said. "Almost all of the people involved in violent crime in this area already know each other. This is not an area where random acts of violent crime are likely to happen."

Garrand said that temperature increases associated with the hot Virginia summers contributes to crime, prompting people to leave their houses and walk around the neighborhood. The demographic trends of Arlandria also make it an unusual area.

"This is one of the densest areas in town in terms of population," she said. "And when people have been drinking, they are more likely to commit a crime or be a victim of a crime — especially at night."

FOR RESIDENTS of Arlandria, violent crime is a problem that affects drug dealers and drunks in the middle of the night. Judith Bliss, president of the Arlandria Civic Association, says that her neighborhood is a safe place where a diverse population lives, works and plays.

"Yes, crime is a concern in this area, but most of the crime we've seen lately is people drinking and fighting with each other," Bliss said. "It's summertime. The weather is hot, and this brings everybody outside where tempers are flaring."

The international flavor of Arlandria, where Middle Eastern markets are nestled between Salvadoran restaurants and Chinese take-out stores, creates a charmingly diverse area. The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority operates 40 public housing units and 112 market-rate housing units in Arlandria, bringing a variety of residents to the neighborhood. Bliss says that even though the diversity makes the area better, it can also create problems.

"Our neighborhood is so multicultural that everybody is trying to find out where they belong," she said. "Sometimes, that is a process that explodes into violence between ethnic groups."

Gary Clark, who moved to Arlandria five years ago to be near his job at the Pentagon, said the neighborhood is a convenient location where crime doesn't seem to be a problem.

"I wouldn't want to be a single female living here," he said. "But nobody seems to bother me much."

Clark says that living in Arlandria has its perks. The neighborhood is located inside the Capitol Beltway, which makes commuting easy for federal employees. And its international melting pot creates a vibrant street life.

"You can't beat the restaurants here," he said while folding laundry at a 24-hour laundromat in on Mount Vernon Avenue. "This area has everything I need."

DESPITE ATTEMPTS to address the lingering issue of violent crime in Arlandria, the neighborhood remains a trouble spot for police officers and residents who are concerned about crime. At meetings of the Arlandria Civil Association, anecdotal evidence of stabbings and assaults are a regular feature.

"Crime is discussed at all of our meetings," said Bliss. "One of the things that people here are really concerned with is the possibility that gang crime could come into the area. Sometimes, when younger kids are trying to get into gangs, they are asked to commit initiation crimes. That's a concern in Arlandria."

When Bliss moved to Arlandria in 1969, it was a mostly white neighborhood. In the 1970s, blacks started moving there. In the 1980s, Hispanic started moving there. Bliss loves the diversity of modern-day Arlandria, but she is concerned about the safety of living in the midst of regularly occurring violent crime.

"The neighborhood has changed. But in my opinion, it's changed for the better," she said. "When I first moved here, everyone knew their neighbors. That doesn't happen anymore. I think that we might be able to decrease crime in Arlandria if neighbors took the time to meet each other."

During the summer, Alexandria Police officers are on increased patrol in Arlandria, looking for the kind of alcohol- or drug-related crime that statistics show is likely to happen there. The increased police presence is an attempt to take a proactive stand against violent crime in Arlandria.

"We rely heavily on our crime analysts to determine where crime is happening so we can know where to deploy resources," said Capt. John Crawford, commander of the Public Information Office of the Alexandria Police Department. "There are many areas in town where we deploy more resources than others, and Arlandria is one of those areas."