Image of yellow police tape.
Tony Webster/Flickr

On September 16, the first day that the D.C. Council reconvened, a roundtable meeting was held to find solutions to the alarming increase in violent crime in the District and prevent things from getting worse. While the meeting was in session, another murder occurred on the 4200 block of East Capitol Street NE at approximately 8:20 p.m.; D.C. officially has a murder epidemic.

The murder rate of the nation’s capital is 40.5 percent higher than it was last year around this time. The East Capitol Street killing brought the year’s total murders to 111 so far, in comparison to 105 for all of 2014.

The roundtable was hosted by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie from Ward 5. People and organizations from across the District came to voice their concerns and suggestions.  For periods of time throughout the meeting, there was only standing room.

“Our families are afraid, our communities are trying to heal, and our residents are searching for answers,” McDuffie said.

The meeting began at 5 p.m. and lasted until after 3 a.m., making it over 10 hours. Many people addressed crime as a public health issue born from a lack of jobs, housing and social services, as well as a police issue.  However, little to none was said on violent crimes against homeless people, such as Joel Johnson’s homicide.

Johnson was stabbed while asleep outside in Georgetown, and his case remains unsolved. Homeless people are some of the most vulnerable people living in D.C.

McDuffie used the hearing as a platform to outline his new violent crime response bill.  The meeting was also used to address the usage and selling of synthetic drugs in D.C. and to have the council consider Bill 21-0261, “The Sale of Synthetic Drugs Emergency Amendment Act of 2015,” which was introduced by Mayor Bowser in July of this year.

The day before the meeting, Mayor Bowser announced a supplemental budget request that would allocate $326,000 to synthetic drug testing. This program, instituted through the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Department of Health, will allow the District to collect data needed to understand the level and location of drug usage. Officials plan to use this data to educate people on the dangers of synthetic drugs and help those who have already succumbed to their effects.

The supplemental budget request included other measures to fight crime in the District; including enhancing security cameras and lighting, supporting the District’s crime lab, putting more police on the streets and fully implementing body-worn cameras for law enforcement. Adding synthetic drug testing to that list brings the total number of resources to fight crime to about $13.6 million.

Mayor Bowser also aims to offer “mini-grants” for non-profit organizations and individuals that work in communities hard hit by crime.

The Mayor pointed out that trained police officers were at work in the crime lab doing analysis. Bowser also pointed out that, “We are going to hire civilians to do that work at the crime lab and we are going to send 50 police officers back to the streets.”

McDuffie introduced the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act of 2015 on September 22. This bill aims to use collaboration of human service organizations and neighborhood organizations to tackle the surge in continuing surge in crime.

The creation of an Office of Neighborhood Engagement and Safety is an important aspect of the bill. The office would identifying teenagers and young adults who are at a higher risk of committing a crime. After identification, the office would work with these individuals to help them seek and execute a successful life plan so that they don’t fall through the cracks.

The act would also increase transparency for the community by requiring the Metropolitan Police Department to collect stop-and-frisk and use-of-force data.

Lastly, he bill aims to further expand the cooperation between law enforcement and health and service agencies. A “Community Crime Prevention Team” pilot program would be established to embed Department of Behavioral Health and Department of Human Services social workers with law enforcement in three high-crime neighborhoods. The social workers will serve as advisors to law enforcement on how best to deal with people experiencing homelessness, suffering from a mental disorder, and/or dealing with substance abuse issues.