WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — Mayor Muriel Bowser held a half-day public safety summit Wednesday convening local and federal law enforcement and community leaders to discuss solutions.
Total crime in D.C. is up 27%, with violent crime is up 10% and property crime is up 30%. Car thefts are up a staggering 111%.
With dozens of community stakeholders at the District Emergency Operations Center, one message was clear.
“We will make crime better. We will because we have to,” said Deputy Mayor for Crime and Justice Lindsey Appiah.
A panel of federal and local law enforcement answered questions while breakout sessions focused on adult and juvenile crime.
“Our focus groups with our kids in juvenile probation and pretrial and post-disposition shows most of them were victims of aggression before they engaged in it,” said Terri Odom, director of the family court social services division.
Mayor Muriel Bowser listened to solutions and offered her own, including working with prosecutors not to throw every juvenile in jail.
“Give them to us in another way where we can make their services mandatory,” Bowser said. “And that may mean detention, but it is not D.C. jail.”
In 2022, for 31% of juveniles arrested for violent crimes, this was their first arrest.
“There was a lot of discussion in our breakout about supporting and focusing on the whole family,” Bowser said.
She mentioned there’s been talk for years about centralizing data on juveniles, but it hasn’t happened yet.
“We of course want children to be able to make a mistake and then restart their lives, but shrouding their activities and hiding it from one government agency, one from the other isn’t working.”
67% of all arrests in D.C. last year were not prosecuted. U.S. Attorney Matt Graves says many of those were misdemeanor drug charges.
“We of course, have not been able to test drugs since DFS. lost its accreditation,” Graves said.
DFS, the Department of Forensic Sciences is D.C.’s crime lab.
Bowser called that wholly unacceptable, saying contracts are in place to test drugs.
“The executive has worked with the U.S. attorney’s office now to have contracts in place so that they can test drugs,” said Deputy Mayor Lindsey Appiah.
To get accreditation back, district leaders want legislation to change the structure of DFS.
“I’ve asked that public health and our department of health focus on the public health laboratory and I’ve asked MPD to ask what MPD did for decades and that’s collect evidence,” Bowser said.
City Administrator Kevin Donahue says it should also be structured to report to the mayor.
“I think reporting to a mayor helps protect DFS when it’s combined with a strong science advisory board. Without that protection the agency can be a bit on its own,” Donahue said.
While prosecutors have to have a stronger burden of proof than police, Bowser said this:
“From the outside looking in people are concerned that one might be more concerned about their conviction rates than they are about working and trying cases,” Bowser said.
Graves said when it comes to firearms arrests they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt they are charging people in those cases.
“In many of our felonies, we agree that there’s a situation. There’s something that we want to continue to investigate,” Graves said. “We just don’t have enough evidence at that point in time to go forward. So we decline prosecution, but we continue to investigate.”
Graves said they currently have a 40-year-old software system for processing data that isn’t designed to export data. He said they’re working with the Department of Justice to upgrade the system. In the meantime, a data scientist has been hired to start publishing data for the public.
“We are going to start publishing monthly statistics on key prosecutorial metrics so that the citizenry has a better understanding,” Graves said.
Bowser said she will use what she heard to consider legislation to prevent crime.
That includes legislation already before the council changing a law to prevent repeat offenders from being released before their trial happens.