D.C. mayor bolsters efforts to stem gun violence
Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday announced that D.C. will bolster its violence prevention and mitigation strategies after city homicides surpassed 200 for the first time since 2003.
As part of the new effort, Bowser - a Democrat who declared gun violence a "public health crisis" earlier this year - said D.C.'s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) will drastically expand its fleet of violence interrupters, who are tasked with ingratiating themselves into "priority" D.C. neighborhoods to defuse potentially violent conflicts. Officials said the number of interrupters will swell from 30 to 80, and their work will expand into three new communities for a total of 25 city neighborhoods.
ONSE Director Del McFadden said the new neighborhoods were selected based on crime data, community insight and peace negotiation strategies. In addition to increasing the number of interrupters in already prioritized neighborhoods, McFadden said the office will also launch a "floating" violence intervention team next year to respond to violent incidents.
There have been at least 211 homicides in the District this year, an 11% increase over this time in 2020 and the most since 2003. Bowser said the new intervention efforts were made possible through federal funding in her fiscal 2022 budget, including $9.6 million to expand and intensify violence intervention and protection work at ONSE. The city will also use $4.5 million in federal funds to expand the office's Pathways Program to 130 participants. The transitional employment program aims to keep residents out of the criminal justice system and away from violent crime through education and building job skills.
Later this month, Bowser said, the city will award $1.1 million in grants to community-based and nonprofit organizations working to reduce gun violence.
The investments build upon the city's overall approach to violence prevention: Last month, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, a Democrat, announced an expansion to his office's Cure the Streets program, which uses similar violence-intervention strategies in an effort to keep neighborhoods safe. Thanks to a boost in funding from the D.C. Council, the effort will operate in four new areas with high levels of gun violence.
At Thursday's news conference, McFadden acknowledged that it is challenging to measure the impact of intervention work, namely quantifying the number of crimes averted. But he said there was a decrease in gun crimes and gun homicides last year in the priority communities of focus for ONSE - a trend he says has continued this year. McFadden said this data will be posted for each community this month and will be updated quarterly.
Charles King, a violence interrupter with ONSE who works in multiple D.C. neighborhoods, agreed that he and his colleagues' impact can be tricky to measure.
But King, 40, said he was able to recently quash a conflict between individuals in two locations because of connections he had made with some of their family members.
"I was able to say reach back to the other side and say listen, this situation is not going to be a problem moving forward, and it was defused," he said. "Everything is based on relationships in our line of work."