A pilot initiative that teamed prosecutors with D.C. police officers and residents to target crime and improve the quality of life in several Northeast Washington neighborhoods will be expanded citywide, law enforcement officials announced yesterday.
The community prosecution program will move into the seven police districts by the end of the year, according to U.S. Attorney Wilma A. Lewis, who decided to expand the initiative. The program was launched in 1996 by then-U.S. Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr. as a way to better connect residents with the criminal justice system.
The pilot program included 19 lawyers who were detailed to the 5th Police District in Northeast to handle nuisance complaints, target drug dealers and abandoned buildings, and interact with the community.
"It was a novel concept," Lewis said. "Community prosecution gave all of us an opportunity to work together, and we're better for it."
Lewis announced the expansion during a 50-minute news conference at Bethesda Baptist Church in the 5th District, where the pilot program began. She was joined by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), D.C. Council member Harold Brazil (D-At Large) and Holder, now the deputy attorney general.
"Washington is going to become the first city in the country to have a citywide community prosecution program," Holder told more than two dozen residents and police officers who attended the event. "This is something that is really designed to get prosecutors out of the office . . . and into neighborhoods."
The District-wide program will include more than 125 lawyers who will handle cases ranging from car thefts to violent crimes, Lewis said. The lawyers will be housed at the U.S. attorney's office but are expected to regularly attend community meetings, work closely with police officers and "form a partnership with the community that is essential for effective law enforcement," she said.
Ramsey predicted the expansion will help the department's community policing efforts and will lead to better investigations and prosecutions.
"The single greatest thing we get from this is police officers get more familiar with the community," he said. "It's a very localized effort."
Although the 5th District dropped from second to fifth in violent crimes among the seven districts, officials said they can't attribute it directly to the community prosecution program.
"There's no single factor we can point to, but we'd like to think there's a correlation," said U.S. attorney's office spokesman Channing Phillips.
Roland Chavez, who lives just south of Gallaudet University in Northeast, said the program has made a difference in his community. In 1995, a year before the start of the program, 13 homicides were reported in his neighborhood. That number has dropped to one, he said.
"It wasn't always a great relationship; we argued a lot," Chavez said. "But there was someone to argue with. Someone to listen to us."
Doris Johnson, who has lived on Holbrooke Street in Northeast for nearly 50 years, said the program hasn't been successful in her neighborhood.
"I can't see that much improvement," Johnson said. "There's still a lot of drugs."