- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: Earlier versions of this report cited faulty information provided by the Metropolitan Police Department and overstated the increase in the homicide rate in the District this year. The story has been updated with corrected MPD statistics. 

Homicides in the District of Columbia in 2021 are up almost 35%, from 49 killings to 66, over the same period last year, and after another weekend of multiple shootings, including the wounding Saturday of a 7-year-old riding a scooter, city officials on Monday outlined plans to address the surge of violence.

D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said at a press conference about the city’s annual Summer Crime Prevention Initiative that officers are implementing target prevention and enforcement strategies in several neighborhoods “that have traditionally been hit the hardest.”

The D.C. statistics mirror a trend unfolding across the country. New Orleans-based crime analyst Jeff Asher said 2020 marked the highest single one-year increase in homicides on record.

The nation’s capital is among more than 50 major U.S. cities with unprecedented increases in homicides from 2019 to 2020. They also included Seattle (74.1%), New Orleans (61.7%) and Atlanta (57.9%), statistics compiled by Mr. Asher show.

Chief Contee said targeting specific neighborhoods with additional police resources has paid off in the past.

His department, he said, is “laser-focused on providing these targeted areas with all the available resources and utilizing evidence-based and intelligence-driven strategies to combat crime, while partnering with other law enforcement agencies, community organizations and advocates with a collective goal to reduce crime.”

The targeted neighborhoods this summer include Potomac Gardens, Rosedale/Langston Carver, Greenway/Fort Dupont, Marshall Heights/Benning Ridge, Washington Highlands and Douglas/Shipley.

Last year, the department’s focus areas reported a 10% decrease in violent crimes and a 25% decrease in crimes overall, according to police data.

The annual summertime anti-crime initiative began in 2010. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said it runs through the warm-weather months specifically because “summer sometimes brings more outdoor activity, more conflict.”

Targeted areas are chosen based on crime statistics, including the rates of homicides, robberies, other violent crimes and reports of gunshots.

From May through August, extra officers patrol the specified neighborhoods to find and confiscate illegal guns in an effort to prevent deadly violence.

Officers also work with other government agencies and nonprofits to engage with local residents to help identify area-specific ways to address crime.

“Our No. 1 goal … has not changed, and that is to reduce violent crimes in the areas of the city that have traditionally been hit the hardest while building positive relationships with those in the community,” the chief said.

Miss Bowser said the program’s success speaks for itself.

“The reason this initiative works is because it’s not just about policing and it’s not just about what MPD is doing. It’s about engaging people, providing opportunity and working across D.C. government to bring resources and supports to residents who need them,” the mayor said in a press release.

Government policy expert Jeff Roth says pandemic stress and increased gun sales last year may have contributed to the nation’s homicide surge and that the District’s program is an “impressive effort” to address the violence by fostering relationships among local officials, key stakeholders and residents.

“Bringing all those voices to the table builds those relationships and builds those communication pathways so that everyone is talking about these things,” Mr. Roth told The Washington Times. “I think it’s in those sorts of things where you identify ‘Oh hey, in our community this is where we still need the change, or in our community this is where we need to advocate for greater enforcement, or a different response by the courts, or whatever it may be.’”

Mr. Roth said data obtained from local programs could be used to help combat gun violence nationwide.

“There are online a number of different associations and organizations that do try to collect these data, but it’s very hard to … dig in and do the research that would help us identify root causes without access to those data,” he said.

Establishing a national database with information on trends and tools from local, state and federal agencies could help produce a concerted effort similar to the District program, he said.

Likening the violence to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Roth said, “it’s a public health issue, it’s an economic issue [and] it’s a social issue.”

“We need to pull in all of these experts from those arenas to help clarify what’s happening, the root causes and to identify a path forward,” he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Earlier versions of this report cited faulty information provided by the Metropolitan Police Department and overstated the increase in the homicide rate in the District this year. The story has been updated with corrected MPD statistics. 


• Emily Zantow can be reached at ezantow@washingtontimes.com.

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