Panhandlers, Pickpockets / Other Perps, Washington D.C.
Lighting in the Metro stations seems to be considerably lower than before. Be extra careful at the fare machines when fumbling around with money...watch your step on escalators (especially during rush hour) and always stand back from the platform. I don't know if Metro is trying to create more "romantic" lighting in the metro stations or just save money. Be mindful!
News reports in the last months tell of a significant increase in theft on the Metro, more than anything thefts of fancy cell phones and electronic devices. Please be careful with your belongings. Reports of theft on the Metro are no longer uncommon in the Washington DC area.
Be mindful of your belongings. Thieves have a particular attraction to Apple products- ipods ipads,etc. Do not fall asleep on the Metro and make sure your stuff is where it is in your control.
I ride the metro daily to commute to work. I commute at 10/10:30 daily due to an off hours work schedule, but it means my train is mostly full of tourists. I regularly take naps on the train with no issue. I have been taking the metro for 6 months with no issues. I do hold onto my purse, but have never known anyone to be pickpocketed and have never worried about it in the DC metro area.
I take the metro to McPherson Square which is known for having many panhandlers. That is true, however they are harmless and if you just ignore them they will leave you alone. I ride the orange line from VA to DC which seems very safe. I'm sure there are other areas of the Metro that may be sketchier.
Please note on the Metro escalators the rule is stand on the right, walk on the left!! Commuters appreciate it.
Also the Metro is old, and can look that way. On weekends/holidays check the schedule ahead of time because they tend to do construction those days and close stations.
Not that they are much of a danger, but be aware of the constant panhandling in certain areas of the city. You won't see them around the main tourist areas, but they are common in the poorer sections of the city such as here, along US HWY 50. Some areas of downtown like west of Union Station, where there is a homeless shelter, and on K Street NW around Farragut and McPherson Squares where hundreds of homeless sleep outside on the sidewalks.
There are some vagrants in the mall area and where the sites are. Keep walking by them. If you address the matter and talk to them, you may not be able to get away, or the become beligerent when you do not give them money. They are poor people, but have become hardened to a no and will be ugly to get the money-usually for drugs and alcohol.
Like any big city, Washington has its share of bums. They are particularly aggressive, and becoming more so all the time. That's mainly because panhandling no longer carries the social stigma that it should.
To make matters worse, many of these tramps call out to female passersby, making lewd or suggestive comments. This is one reason that many suburban women are so reluctant to venture into the city.
When bums can no longer obtain food, money, or shelter here, then they will migrate to another city and become someone else's problem. So don't give them anything. And don't respond to their crude harassment of women; it could make them belligerent.
The area around the bus station that I saw looked little better than a ghetto, a slum. We walked from station to the White House but seemed to avoid it. However, we came back by taxi and I must say I am glad the driver did not hang about! The were wandering around like zombies, drinking or rifling thru bins. It was like a movie
The DC Metro has its share of pickpockets, plus the occasional panhandler. The city has cracked down on crime, but keep an eye out for them. NEVER give money to any bum on the Metro.
Eating, drinking, and smoking are strictly prohibited on all Metro trains and at the stations. The Transit Police enforce this ordnance; just wait until you get off the Metro to open that can of soda. This is necessary. Otherwise, the system would attract roaches and rodents in addition to the thieves and bums.
All in all, it's a safe system. If you observe anyone violating rules, please call the train operator using the red button at the end of each car.
As usual, in larger cities, there tends to be a higher crime rate. However, as this place holds the Capitol of the United States, well, let's just say it's best to stay alert. There will be pick-pocketers and such, so if you are going to be out and about touring the place, make sure your belongings are secure and your wallet/purse is well-hidden. Muggers are prevalent too, so if you can avoid it, don't wear anything too flashy. Leave any of that fluff at the hotel/residence until you are ready to go out to dinner or something. Then, try to stroll in brightly lighted areas and stay away from dark alleys. That won't guarantee that everything will be peachy keen, but it's a safety measure that could keep you from unnecessary danger.
Sadly, the nation's capitol has the highest crime rate in the nation. My brother and I found this true on our first visit. Every 5th person asked us for a dollar. To make matters worse, many of them will approach you and try to be a tour guide! Just tell them no thank you and go your way. I found if you ignore them, they leave you alone.
Around the Metro stations you will find a lot of panhandlers. Most are very polite and will not give you any trouble. When you get near the Mall area sometimes you will find more aggressive people that will give you a map of the area or some type of souvenier and then will request money for it, oftentimes saying that it's a donation for some charity. So my advice would be not to take anything unless you are willing to pay for it.
Stay in the well trodden tourist areas. If you don't know where you are going, don't stray too far from the Mall. The panhandlers are aggressive but harmless, just ignore them if approached, keep walking. They won't follow.
Other than that, enjoy. DC is famous for being dangerous. But you can't be afraid of everything, or you might as well not go anywhere.
D.C. can be dangerous as any big city can be. Be aware of your surroundings and don't take chances, especially at night.
The street people are usually not a problem. My church group goes downtown to bring sandwiches to the parks every other week and we have come to know some of them. Most are fine. Some are mentally challenged.
You will probably be surprised at how many homeless frequent the streets of DC. But do not feel like they're all out to get you. Most homeless are like you and me, and just want to live their lives. If one asks for money, we feel and most groups recommend you either buy them food, give them fast food certificates, but it is better not to hand out money.
Because this area of the country draws enormous crowds, it's the perfect set up for scams, con artists and pocket pickers! Carry only what you have to, and keep them close to you or your eyes on them at all times. Be careful for con artists ... they are good at their job!
I can almost always spot these "homeless" people right away. You can tell by the way they scan people and approach you. One "homeless" woman asked me for spare change, she had clean Keds on and a nice clean warm coat. Unless I am unaware of a program that gives homeless people nice clothes, these people don't seem at all homeless.