Political Discussion Takes Over Capitol Hill Community Crime Meeting
by Larry Janezich
The politics of how to address the city’s ongoing gun violence dominated last Tuesday night’s ANC6B community crime meeting. Three top city officials – CM Charles Allen, DC Attorney General Karl Racine, and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Chris Geldhart – participated in the panel discussion.
The genesis of the meeting was the occurrence of three mid-October homicides within two weeks on Capitol Hill – two near Watkins School and one at 17th and Independence.
The only new information about the homicides was the assertion by CM Charles Allen and MPD officials that the two homicides near Watkins were not related. In addition, Allen said that MPD had very good information and leads and that both were likely to be closed very soon. With little new information on the homicides, the two and a half hour meeting became a wide ranging discussion on increased policing vs alternatives to addressing crime and gun violence. More than 20 residents had questions and/or comments for the panel, roughly equally divided between those advocating for more police on the streets and those who said that more police is not the solution. Some 400 residents participated at some point in the virtual community meeting. Former ANC6B Chair Chander Jayraman moderated the discussion.
Allen said he supported putting more funding into community based strategies and supported his committee’s and the council’s action in directing MPD funding to programs such as the Violence Interrupters and Family and Survivor Support. He said, “There is a role for traditional policing but also for other programs.”
(The FY 2022 budget provides funds for 195 new officers – which is the number MPD Chief Contee said the department could absorb in a budget cycle. In August of this year, led by Council Chair Phil Mendelsohn and CM Charles Allen, the city council rejected Mayor Bowser’s supplemental budget request for FY 2022 for $11 million to hire an additional 170 new police officers. The council voted unanimously to cut the funding to $6 million and spend $5 million on violence interruption. The Mayor’s additional request followed an alarming dinner hour shooting in 14th Street NW’s restaurant district and another shooting outside Nationals Park.)
Racine supported Allen, saying the whole budget process is involved and confusing and lends itself to mischaracterization. He said a multiplicity of approaches at the same time is necessary. “I totally understand that the community wants to see more police. But we need to invest in these programs – not as a replacement but as a complement to the work police do.
Geldhart endorsed an all-in strategy. He said additional resources are needed to address poverty, systemic racism, and generational under-investment in communities. He supported violence interruption and community based policing saying, “It is not either or – not a question of subtracting police and increasing other areas.” He noted that in 2020 no new officers were hired because there was no budget. In 2021 the new budget allowed for 200 new officers. He said, when people are not afraid to use illegal guns they need to be prosecuted, and noted there is a problem with offenders not being papered or waiting to be processed because of backlog in the courts.
DC Attorney Karl Racine explained that not every case ends up being papered. He said prosecutors sometimes exercised prosecutorial discretion – choosing not to prosecute because of “infirmity in the process.” He continued, “Police have a hard job and try to get it right but sometimes there is a Constitutional issue.” And sometimes three or four people in a car are arrested when an illegal gun is discovered but only one gets charged because there’s not enough evidence to charge all four and sometimes prosecutors are not able to put forward enough evidence to prosecute or to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
Top MPD brass did not participate in the meeting, but MPD was represented by Inspector Tasha Bryan and Captain Tatjana Savoy of the 1st District. Bryant noted that the numbers of MPD are shrinking and that the 200 cadet class for the current year will result in a 20 officer net gain. (According to MPD, 178 officers had left the force by the beginning of May, 202; 315 left in 2020, and 333 left in 2019. In May, the current force level was 3,580.)
The meeting was organized by ANC6B in response to recent violence in the community. In terms of next steps, Brian Ready, Chair of ANC6B, said he hoped for future meetings which would more specifically address some of the issue raised Tuesday night.