Many people worry about safety in DC. I do not think that it is an issue. Crime has dropped almost 50% since the early 1990s and what crime is left is mainly connected with drugs and gangs in the north-eastern part of the DC metropolitan area (such as Prince George’s Plaza on the green line). So, if you stay out of drugs and gangs, you should not have any issues. Being with one or more other people can make it even less likely, but you can venture out on your own if you wish during the daytime.
Everyone should practice taking safety precautions no matter where they are. DC is no different. Look around you, keep valuables concealed, and don’t talk to strangers–you know, basic common sense safety precautions. If you need help, find a police officer or a professional who is working at a nearby store.
Other things you can do to make yourself less of a target is to act like you know where you are and where you are going (even if you don’t). As difficult as it can be, do not acknowledge or talk to homeless people on the street (unless you are with a group of people whose sole work at the time is to do missions or random acts of kindness). You can even make yourself look more like you are a native DC-er simply by walking on the right side of the sidewalk or by standing on the right side of an escalator and walking up/down the left side of an escalator.
You will notice that DC is different than most cities. This is probably and primarily for safety reasons, I assume. You do not have to do these things to stay safe, but anytime you look more like a DC-er, the less likely people are going to bother you. If nothing else, this will help to explain some strange behavior you may encounter in DC.
Some differences that you may notice are: people do not look at each other usually while walking down a sidewalk or through a mall, but they do keep their heads up. People do not talk to strangers on the bus or Metro–not even to say “excuse me” or “hello.” Native DC-ers ignore homeless people most of the time. Many people who live and work in DC listen to iPods or Mp3 players while they walk to their destinations. People either read or listen to music on Metro or the bus, otherwise, they silently look straight ahead or look down. You will not see many children on Metro during the week. On weekends, you will see a few more, but mostly from tourist families.
Caucasians generally take the yellow line on Metro and African Americans generally take the green line on Metro, especially when going out of the District of Columbia. I am not sure why it is this way, but do not feel as though you cannot ride on the yellow line if you are African American or on the green line if you are Caucasian. You can. I just want to inform you of the general “rules of thumb” in DC so that you will not be alarmed when things do not happen the way you are used to them occurring.
You will not find most of this kind of information in a City Guide or Tourist Book. Most of this you find out yourself through experience or find out through friends. I never knew any of these things when I first came to Gallaudet, but it sure explains a lot of things for me that happened on my first two trips into the District (the first was a mission trip my senior year of high school and the second was for my acceptance interviews at Gallaudet two years later). It isn’t always easy to adapt to DC life, but it is worth the ease of mind to know what people in DC expect of you and to know that you are safer. Of course, these expectations do not apply to tourists, but it is quite funny to watch a DC-er’s face when someone does not follow these “rules.” 🙂
All in all, DC is a safe place, especially if you stay around tourist attractions. If I go to museums, the National Mall (not a real mall), or the store, I feel just as safe going alone as I do going with friends. I have never encountered any problems during my two years in DC. I just go enjoy myself, take the usual safety precautions, and act like I know what I am doing and where I am going. You can do the same. Practice good safety and go explore the city. It will be worth it, I promise!
*Some of this information (mainly the demographic numbers) was retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington,_D.C . *