Sheewana Kerns, a mother of four, says she avoids many large outdoor public events out of concern for her childrens’ safety. But when a man handed her a flyer advertising a moon bounce and food at an event hosted by police, she made an exception.
“I don’t come out to anything. It’s not safe,” said Kerns, 29, of the District as her children waited in a line for temporary tattoos on Wednesday night. “The more security, the better,”
Around Kerns, hundreds gathered at Stanton Elementary School in Southeast on one of the hottest days of the year to hop on the moon bounce, eat hamburgers and hot dogs and listen to rappers spit lyrics over hip-hop beats.
The event was as much community fair as crime-fighting tool.
Wednesday marked the kickoff of the D.C. Police Department’s annual “Safe Summer and Crime Prevention Initiative.” Similar events have become a key component of the department’s efforts to connect with the communities they patrol — and keep them safe by supplying activities.
“You are seeing some smiling faces right now,” said James Bunn, an event organizer and resident who is active in public safety issues. “Nobody is fighting, nobody is arguing. We have served some kids today and made them happy.”
The event took place in the 7th police district, which in has housed some of the District’s more violent neighborhoods. In recent weeks police there have investigated at least three homicides there; on Wednesday, District Commander Joel Maupin said two of them appear to be isolated incidents.
“We have had some violence in the past few weeks, but not appears to be gang- or community-related,” Maupin said in an interview.
Police officials credit community events such as Wednesday’s festival for some of the decrease seen in D.C. homicides of late.
“Unfortunately, a lot of our violence has involved youth,” Maupin said. “So giving them some alternatives goes a long way to reducing their opportunity and availability to commit crime.”
But police also recognize that the threat of violent crime still looms for many residents and a safe environment can provide a few hours of respite, according to Asst. Chief Diane Groomes, who commands patrol services citywide.
“It connects and helps us to get interaction with residents, but it’s also a place they can just relax,” Groomes said.
And polie have long said that relationship-building can pay dividends during investigations when they need residents to help them identify suspects or submit other tips.
Earl Solomon, 18, attended the festival, his first, to support friends who worked at the event; he found it “alright.”
“It occupies people’s minds,” Solomon said. “For a while it keeps them out of the street.”
Read more: The Post’s crime coverage