WOODBRIDGE, Va. (DC News Now) — This month, two people have been killed in Woodbridge — a 17-year-old, who was shot, and a 33-year-old, who was stabbed.
As violence has become a rising problem in the county, the local government is opening its arms to a man who has spent time in Baltimore and D.C., who it hopes can help address the issue with a different approach.
Wesley Dawson previously served in the City of Baltimore’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, but just moved to Prince William County to become the director of the newly-formed and funded Community Safety Initiative (CSI).
He sat down for his first TV interview with DC News Now on Wednesday following his hiring.
“Public safety is primarily one of the chief concerns in many communities, and Prince William County is no different,” he said. “I can truly say that public service has been at the root of my career.”
In December 2022, the county supervisors moved forward with a plan to establish the CSI, a program they hope can bring results.
“This initiative couldn’t have come at a better time with all the activities that are going on in our communities,” Supervisor Andrea Bailey, said in December.
The goal of the program is to focus on only crime and violence, crashes and traffic safety, drug overdoses and mental health. It’s designed to look at the underlying issues that lead up to tragic events — including homicides and violence — from happening.
“If in your community, you only see that broken glass, you’re likely to continue to throw trash into it,” Dawson said. “But if we address it, and we repair it, and we can provide the necessary supports for sustainability, the community can wrap its arms around that.”
Among the solutions the program outlined: counseling, mental health services, housing, safe places for students before and after school, violence interruption and environmental designs, will be looked at.
That type of help is needed. In 2022, there were 20 homicides in the county — the most since 2016. Total crime was up 11% compared to the most recent five-year average.
DC News Now asked Dawson to give an example of how the initiative’s work could prevent a shooting.
“We’re looking at how we can prevent [the assailant] from even obtaining a weapon to cause that type of violence in the community,” he said. “What services could we have provided? What interventions could have been provided?”
Dawson’s role includes leading a committee of 20 people, which will be made up of government and public safety officials, as well as community leaders and community members.
“If it is in your church basement, if it is right on your front porch, if it’s right at your community day event, whatever it is, we want to get out there in front of you,” he said.