By Jasper Smith
HU News Service
Throughout most of his evening shifts as a security guard at the Columbia Heights CVS, Christian Sloan walks the aisles of the store, equipped with a gun and heavy-duty vest with “SECURITY” written across his chest.
Despite his authoritative presence in the drug-store chain, Sloan says there is little he can do to prevent theft in the CVS on 14th street – a crime he says occurs every five to 10 minutes in most Columbia Heights stores.
Sloan and other Columbia Heights residents said they remain disappointed in how theft in the neighborhood’s shopping center has steadily increased.
“In this area, it’s kind of natural,” Sloan said. “We kind of expect it at this point. It’s sad. But what other way is it if they don’t have their parents telling them not to do it.”
On Oct. 4, the Columbia Heights CVS was ransacked in the middle of the day by a large group of teenagers, stealing food, beverages and miscellaneous merchandise, shared in news reports of the incident.
Sloan said he wants the city council to step in with more programs for D.C. youth and added that he worries the constant theft will negatively impact the seniors in the community, who shop at the CVS and rely on the store for pharmacy services.
According to D.C. crime data, the neighborhood experiences one of the highest crime presence in the District, with more than 480 crimes committed in the area so far this year. Overall in the District, crime is up 38%.
In a news conference in September 2023, the D.C. Office of the Mayor announced new measures to curb youth crime, such as a city-wide curfew for residents 17 and under and the expansion of surveillance cameras throughout the city.
“We want to ensure that our youth are safe,” police Chief Pamela Smith said at the conference. “Our goal isn’t to arrest young people, but we want to ensure the safety of our youth in the District…This is in response to what the community has asked for.”
Amy Tibault, a spokeswoman for CVS, said in an email statement that the company has no plans of closing any CVS locations in D.C. at this time.
“The safety of our colleagues, customers and patients is our top priority and we’re committed to ensuring we have the products they need in our stores,” Tibault said. “In recent weeks, we’ve worked closely with the DC Metro Police to identify and dismantle several major shoplifting rings and will continue to do so.”
Tibault added that the company is also partnering with the D.C. Office of the Attorney General to create new initiatives to combat retail theft.
To Devile Moybler, a Columbia Heights resident who has worked at the 5 Below store in the neighborhood for about two years, theft impacts nearly every store in the Columbia Heights shopping center.
“Kids come in here and run out all day every day. People steal duffle bags full of stuff – socks, iPhone chargers, stuff like that,” Moybler said. “In all reality, it’s sad. You’ve got 5- and 6-year-olds running out with handfuls of stuff.”
Moybler said children have pulled a knife out on him on two separate occasions.
“I can’t speak for the whole community, but we need to get our youth on the right track,” he said. “We should focus on making some of those old buildings a recreational center. If kids had more opportunities it would definitely be less theft and crime.”
While some residents agree that the solution to slowing crime is government programs and incentives, Cornelia Mings, a 72-year-old D.C. native who has lived in the neighborhood for most of her life, believes theft is a cyclical phenomenon, and a response to societal pressures that Black people face.
“It’s hard times. It’s not really the kids’ fault,” Mings said. “It’s society’s and the way they treat us. Kids are just fighting back. All this stealing? I don’t really care.”