An Update on Public Safety in Ward 1
People throughout Ward 1 and the District are asking what the police, the Council, I, the Mayor, and the rest of District Government are doing to keep us safe from crime. As a mom, a longtime Ward 1 resident, and as your Councilmember, I hear and share your concerns.
Just this past weekend I was at the 700 block of Fairmont Ave as police executed a search warrant after several rounds were fired on the block overnight; police recovered three weapons and made arrests. This violence is not OK, and neither is the recent increase in property crime.
Let me share with you a bit about the District government’s approach, and my approach, to public safety, which includes strategic use of resources, funding MPD at over $500 million and bolstering police recruitment efforts, increasing funds for violence interrupters in the ward, implementing services for people in mental crisis, establishing the U St. Safety Initiative, and other measures. It’s a bit of a long read, but I hope you’ll stick with me.
From my years on the Council and before that as an ANC commissioner, it is clear to me that we must address public safety holistically. No one tool is going to fix crime and, as MPD Chief Contee said just this week, “There is no magic formula.” The solution lies in a mix of short-term immediate interventions and longer-term measures. As Councilmember I support both.
Policing is an important part of improving public safety, but it's not the only avenue we must pursue. Others include securing good jobs and economic security for our residents; ensuring kids are staying in school and getting an education and that we have the programs and mentors to support them; providing mental health services to people who are in crisis and may cause harm to others or themselves; and installing violence interrupters and credible messengers in the community to help defuse tensions that may spill over into violence.
We also need the resources – primarily police and the courts – to ensure that when people commit a crime, we can apprehend them quickly, see justice served, and ensure that offenders are rehabilitated after they have served their sentence.
We need a balance of all these resources, and a balance of funding to support them. And we need to look at the strengths of each of these resources and the role each should play.
A multi-agency approach
We know, for example, that police patrols are shown to be a deterrent to burglary, robbery and other crimes of opportunity. We ask MPD to increase patrols in places where we are seeing car break-ins, for example. When it comes to the day-to-day work of addressing most crimes, that falls directly to MPD.
I say most crimes, because we also know that when it comes to violent crimes and gun violence, policing alone is not as effective at deterring. There are other preventative programs and actions we can take that help prevent violent crimes before they happen, such as violence interrupters. (More on that in a moment.) I’ve been pleased to see over the past few years MPD has embraced working in collaboration with other agencies and organizations for an enhanced and coordinated approach to public safety.
The Council has acted on gun violence, including passage and implementation of the red flag law I introduced, which allows community members to alert law enforcement when someone is planning to use a gun against someone else or themselves, so that it can be temporarily removed with an order from a judge. We also passed a law to crack down on illegal “ghost guns.”
At this point, the discussion about public safety often becomes a debate about the proper number of police officers District government should fund. I am looking forward to reading the D.C. Auditor’s report on MPD staffing when it comes out later this year. The study will look at how many police we have per capita and how they are assigned. This will give us some real insight to help us allocate the right number of people and allocate them to the right responsibilities. Some examples: do we have enough detectives to help address our low case closure rates? Do we have enough civilians to do office work or are we putting uniformed officers in jobs that take them off the street? (I will oppose any effort to defund the Deputy Auditor for Public Safety because we need strong, independent oversight of one of our most important agencies.
In the meantime, the Council funded all the positions the Mayor and MPD asked for, doubled the recruiting budget to over $9 million and approved signing bonuses of $20,000 for new recruits. Even so, a retirement bubble and difficulty recruiting new cadets is thwarting MPD’s efforts to fill its ranks. Just last year, MPD hired 254 officers and 374 others left the force. It is not a lack of funding or support from the Council that is standing in the way of MPD filling all its vacant officer positions. There is some mythology around this, but in fact Councilmembers, me included, have voted only once in the past 10+ years to reduce funding for the $500 million agency. In that year we used unspent MPD funds to fill major gaps in other public safety priorities, such as funding for victim services.
Back to the violent crimes, the ones that evidence shows are not deterred by increased policing: The way that we try to prevent those in the District of Columbia is by putting in place credible messengers and violence interrupters. We hire people who perhaps have gone to prison or have other relevant life experience, done their time and made a different choice and now want to give back to their community.
They work in the community where there is violence and dissuade people from picking up that gun. They are boots on the ground, constantly mitigating conflict – right now, especially in Columbia Heights, Park View and LeDroit Park. They work around the clock and they are tireless.
Many violent feuds start on social media, so they monitor what crews and neighborhood groups are posting to stop a brewing beef from devolving into a shooting. They listen to chatter, build relationships with people, and sit in the emergency room with a victim, helping them make the decision not to further the cycle of violence by getting retribution on the street. These community leaders are also able to get people at risk of perpetrating violence education and even jobs, to help them make positive choices that benefit them and our community.
In the community
In Le Droit, where I was able to find funds for an additional full-time position in the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, there are 20 youth who are engaging with that office daily, kids our community identified as needing more supports to protect them from going down the wrong path.
On U Street, the neighborhood with the highest crime in the ward right now, the Mayor’s Nightlife Task Force has been doing incredible work on improving safety in the corridor, coordinating with multiple agencies to have greater impact than MPD can have alone. DPW is out ticketing and towing, ABRA is checking on licensing, MPD is doing its patrols and other police work. Together, they are making that commercial corridor less hospitable to people who would commit crimes, especially violent crimes.
That work has served as a foundation for the U Street Safety Initiative, which I established last summer. I am moving forward the recommendations from that initiative. Councilmember Brooke Pinto and I recently asked Mayor Bowser to dedicate $500,000 to support the Initiative’s recommendations and bring additional resources to address safety in this neighborhood.
In Adams Morgan, we’ve been grappling with a string of burglaries, primarily of businesses, and these crimes have left the community feeling under attack. I recently joined MPD Commander Boteler and Chairman Phil Mendelson at the Kalorama Citizens Association where we discussed the police work being done to apprehend the 3 suspects involved (MPD has now made 3 arrests), as well as public safety more broadly. DCist covered the meeting and gave a comprehensive summary of the issues. The Business Improvement District is adding a second safety ambassador to address crime and assist with connecting people to behavioral health services and homeless services. The BID is also hosting two public safety meetings – on March 13 and 27, both at the Line Hotel, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. They will be facilitated by the Department of Justice Community Affairs Department. The first will be focused on law enforcement and the second on all other agencies that respond to public safety issues, including human services and others. I will be there.
In Columbia Heights, in addition to the violence prevention program that we’ve had in place for the past several years, we also welcomed the Cure the Streets program to mitigate ongoing violent conflicts, and I allocated funding for two community navigators who work on the plaza and have connected more than 38 people in crisis with rehab and detox services and have worked with more than 170 total so far. The need has been so great in Columbia Heights that funds I had originally allocated for an expansion to Mount Pleasant could not stretch that far. This is something I’ll be looking to address in the upcoming budget.
In Shaw, the 7th Street Task Force works to address gun violence, drug addiction and homelessness, and while MPD continues its work to address drug sales, Councilmember Brooke Pinto and I have requested funds from Mayor Bowser to hire a full-time outreach worker specializing in Substance Use Disorder, modeled after our success at the Columbia Heights Civic Engagement Plaza.
All of this work is how we get out in front of violent crime and prevent shootings in the first place. A lot of this came out of the passage several years ago of the NEAR Act, which established the violence interrupter programs, red flag laws and other initiatives. When I first became Councilmember, before the NEAR Act, there were zero dollars in Ward 1 going to violence prevention. Now we have millions of dollars that I have championed, for prevention in Ward 1.
How you can help
Finally, I encourage you to get involved.
Many of the ANCs and civic associations in Ward 1 have public safety committees that work to address these issues by neighborhood. ANC commissioners are also your elected officials, and we all work together. Someone from my office (and often I) joins each of the five ANCs in the ward at their monthly meetings, another great place for residents to raise questions and offer ideas. If you need help finding your ANC or your ANC’s public safety committee (ANC 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E), please reach out to me or my office.
The MPD 3rd District Citizens Advisory Council holds a public safety community meeting the last Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. in person in the community room at 1620 V St NW. Commander Boteler speaks at each of these meetings. I join these four times a year. My staff is at almost all of them. Contact the CAC at 3DCACDC@gmail.com.
One way to help deter and convict burglars is by installing security cameras. If you are a homeowner or business owner, I encourage you to take advantage of the camera rebate program (apply here) that I helped fund. And if you are a business owner, I’m aware that we need to make adjustments to the program to meet your unique needs – I am working with the Director of the Mayor’s Office on Nightlife and Culture to come up with solutions.
I also encourage you, if you own a Kia or Hyundai from 2011 to 2021, to get a free steering wheel lock from a Metropolitan Police Department district station while supplies last. MPD is partnering with Kia and Hyundai corporations to combat motor vehicle theft after a social media challenge that encourages using a USB cable to steal these types of cars led to a substantial increase in Kia and Hyundai car thefts.
Addressing crime is complex and challenging. If it were as easy as hiring more police or locking people in jail and throwing away the key, we and cities around the country would have solved it long ago.
Thankfully we have a caring and compassionate community that is united in wanting a safe place to live. We have thousands of people working day and night to prevent crime in the first place and to respond when it occurs. We will continue to try out new ideas from residents and other cities to bring crime down. As your Councilmember, I am determined to ensure the District government funds an "all of the above" approach to public safety and that we provide independent oversight of the agencies that we rely on to keep us safe.
I welcome any and all suggestions and want to hear your concerns. If you are a victim of crime – a resident or a business – and want assistance in being connected to resources, please reach out. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach individual staffers in my office:
Jackie Castaneda, ANC 1A (Columbia Heights) and ANC 1D (Mt. Pleasant), email@example.com
Lauren Lipsey, ANC 1B (Cardozo/Shaw, U St., LeDroit Park) and ANC 1C (Adams Morgan), firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Pham, ANC 1E (Pleasant Plains, Park View), email@example.com