CM Allen at ANC6C: Crime, Policing, and Community Action on Crosswalks
by Larry Janezich
CM Charles Allen appeared before ANC6C’s February meeting Wednesday night at the first of hisannual early spring Ward 6 ANC appearances to report on what’s happening in the city council vis a vis Ward 6.
As Chair of the council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, he had a lot to say about crime and policing.
He said that although violent crime has gone down in many areas of the city, last year there were 160 homicides, and that is unacceptable. Further, the number of homicides in the beginning of this year is higher than the last. Allen says, “We need to have a comprehensive approach to public safety and reducing gun violence… I do not believe increasing the number of arrests is the way to go.”
He wants to focus on prevention, citing the work of the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (created under the NEAR Act – Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results) – which aims to intervene in communities to head off violence. Allen said that most violent crimes are one-on-one interactions that turn lethal very quickly, involving a gun or knife. The question is, he said, “How do we get into the neighborhoods to stop it – it’s not always police officers – we work with neighborhood leaders to help de-escalate situations.” He says the city has spent a lot of time on that and has seen results.
On community policing, Allen said that during a public safety oversight hearing with MPD last week, he had pointed to two potentially conflicting needs: the need to build community trust when enforcing the NEAR Act while recognizing the unintentional bias that exists in all of us, and, when there is a clear and present danger we want MPD to make that stop. “It’s a challenge to do both,” he said, “the answer is not saying not to stop anymore, but to do the right stop.”
The city is looking at a multifaceted approach because there doesn’t seem to be a single answer. He cited one of the facets, the Red Flag Law – requiring police to take weapons from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others, while providing limited immunity from charges of possession for people turning in illegal guns.
Allen disagrees with the recent decision of DC’s US Attorney’s Office to prosecute felony possession of guns in federal US District Court rather that DC Superior Court. The reason he said, is that convictions under federal court results in sentences to the federal Bureau of Prisons located all over the country, taking those incarcerated away from family and community, resulting in a higher recidivism rate. In addition, the feds provide fewer tools to help former inmates re-enter society. “But it’s the US Attorney’s decision,” Allen said, “and although I work well with the [US Attorney] Jessica Liu, I strongly disagree with the decision.”
A second major issue for Allen is transportation and safety. He says DC gives priority to convenience of cars and not the ability to walk through neighborhoods – “The presumption in our neighborhood should be four-way stops, and putting pressure on DDOT to convince us why not why there should not be one.” Allen said he will continue to press DDOT Director Marootian.
On Vision Zero – the Mayor’s goal of reaching zero pedestrian and bike deaths – he says it doesn’t mean anything without action, adding, “The Mayor has announced positive steps, like a ban on right turn on red, but that doesn’t go far enough….The city doesn’t give pedestrians and bikers the attention they deserve at crosswalks and intersections.” Allen introduced a bill addressing accountability at intersections and crosswalks which failed to pass the council, but which he will introduce again. It would require utility companies who alter or obliterate crosswalk striping to replace it within 24 hours or face a stiff fine. Allen says, “Paint can make a huge difference,” and said he was checking the drying time of paint and planning a community effort to repaint crosswalks “on our own,” and asked for volunteers to assist. When an audience member asked if he would provide immunity, Allen laughed and said, “I might not be able to provide immunity, but if you’re arrested, I’ll be there with you.”
On other Ward 6 topics:
Public space and parks – Allen said he would continue to push on rethinking our investments in public space to create dynamic spaces good for public safety.
Homelessness – He noted that MPD is often called upon to address homeless issues, and while many officers are sympathetic to the problem, they have a limited toolset. The focus has been on family homelessness, and not so much on individual homelessness. Allen said, “We need to get housing for these individuals before we can address mental and abuse issues.” He said he will continue to support more funding.
Affordable Housing – Ward 6 is leading the way to expand opportunities on affordable housing, not just studios, but for all phases of life.
Education – DC Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee has appeared before the council at several hearings including, including one which ran until 11:30pm the Tuesday night. Allen said “I heard many commitments I like but I’m not fully supporting him yet. Allen said he needs to hear more about solving the problems in Ward 6, especially regarding equity – making sure were doing enough for each kid to see that he or she gets what they need.
Allen will hold community office hours this Friday at Pretzel Bakery, 257 15th Street, on Friday, February 15, from 8:00am to 9:30pm.