Our Strategies for a Safe City

Police investigate a shooting in Northwest Washington last August.
Police investigate a shooting in Northwest Washington last August. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
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By Peter J. Nickles
Sunday, March 15, 2009

On Feb. 6, the Fenty administration submitted to the D.C. Council the Omnibus Anti-Crime Amendment Act of 2009, an ambitious piece of legislation that seeks to modernize a number of laws and expand the tools available to law enforcement to protect residents of the District. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty led the effort to draft the legislation; it was a collaboration that included the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, the D.C. chief of police, the U.S. attorney's office and members of the community.

With the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, our city is entering an era in which we expect legal gun ownership to increase. The Fenty administration will comply with the ruling and ensure that law-abiding residents can possess handguns in their homes for self-defense. At the same time, criminal gun possession or use will not be tolerated.

The anti-crime bill contains several provisions designed to prevent gun crime and proposes a greater scrutiny of gun offenders from arrest through reentry into the community. The D.C. police department's aggressive gun recovery efforts and the office of the attorney general's coordinated emphasis on prosecuting gun-related crimes are showing strong results: In the past year, robberies with guns have decreased 12 percent; assaults with guns have decreased 14 percent; and overall violent crime has decreased by 5 percent in the District.

However, we can do more to ensure that violent gun offenders are not arrested and then allowed to return quickly to the communities they have victimized. The anti-crime bill would give the court more authority to detain these offenders. When an individual uses a gun in a crime of violence, illegally possesses a gun, or is a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, the act creates a presumption in favor of pretrial detention. While everyone accused of a crime is presumed innocent, the courts must weigh the nature of the charged crime when considering whether it is safe to release that person back into the community before trial. The act would also increase the sentence for possession of a firearm by any person previously convicted of a violent felony.

The act would create a "gun offender registry," which would require each gun offender to register and maintain an accurate address with the D.C. police for two years after incarceration or supervision. Measures focused on gun offenders are critical because studies show that gun offenders pose a high risk of recidivism, and their subsequent arrests are more likely to involve crimes of violence. Perhaps most significant is the finding that previous gun offenders are four times more likely to be arrested for homicide than other offenders.

The act would give the D.C. attorney general the ability to seek civil injunctions against criminal gangs operating in the District. Judges would be granted the authority to issue orders designed to shut down a gang's ability to control the streets, plan crimes and recruit new members. Civil gang injunctions can be a useful tool in combating gang violence and intimidation in the District.

The Fenty administration is committed to ensuring the safety of D.C. residents. We will continue to look for the best methods to prevent violence and to work closely with the community and the criminal justice system to make this a safe city for all.

The writer is attorney general of the District.

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