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With mounting pressure to address violence, D.C. unveils another violence-prevention program

The homicide reduction partnership will bring representatives from local and federal agencies to four police areas in Wards 7 and 8

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Police Chief Robert J. Contee III, left, join Prince George's County leaders earlier this month to highlight safety initiatives. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

D.C. leadership announced a new partnership aimed at reducing violent crime in the two districts that saw 62 percent of all homicides last year, adding yet another crime initiative as public safety becomes a chief concern for District residents.

The program coalesces local and national resources from agencies including the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Marshals Service, and directs them toward four police areas east of the Anacostia River where homicides were in large part concentrated last year.

“This is significant,” said D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III, who added that each department had committed to assigning agents to the program areas. “That is a significant contribution to this effort.”

The initiative comes at a critical time for D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who is four months out from a crowded Democratic mayoral primary race and under mounting pressure to address violent crime in the city. A Washington Post poll conducted earlier this month found that Bowser’s overall job performance rating had fallen from 67 percent in 2019 to 58 percent — with more than 7 in 10 residents giving her negative marks on reducing crime. Thirty-six percent of respondents said crime, violence or guns was the District’s top problem.

“I don’t spend too much time talking about polls,” Bowser said at a Friday news conference where she announced the new partnership. “The truth is I have enjoyed incredible approval ratings over my course of time of being mayor, and I have done that by doing the job and doing the job well.”

Bowser acknowledged, however, that there is reason for residents to feel less safe than they did before the pandemic. Homicides and carjackings in the city have increased significantly over the last few years, according to data provided by D.C. police. In 2021, there were 426 carjackings and more than 200 homicides for the first time since 2003. The upticks in those particular categories of crime have brought more visible crime to neighborhoods across the city, putting residents on edge when they stop for gas or walk to the grocery store.

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The new homicide reduction partnership will replace the Summer and Fall Crime Prevention Initiatives, which were three- and four-month-long programs targeting areas with high density of violence. Contee said the new effort will expand on parts of those initiatives that reduced violent crime and homicides in certain neighborhoods by double-digits over the last ten years. He said it will run from March 1 to the end of the year.

“We must reckon with this gun violence as a city and a nation, that this is a gun culture that is feeding cycles of violence and destroying families,” said Bowser, who vowed to ask the council for enough funding to increase the size of the police force. “We need to make sure, though, that anyone who is willing to pick up a gun and use it against their neighbors know what the consequences are.”

U.S. Attorney for D.C. Matthew M. Graves said his office was “fully supportive” of the initiative and vowed that officials would do whatever possible to “make sure that 2022 does not look like 2021.”

The partnership is the latest effort by the D.C. government to quell fear and reduce violence in the city. At this time last year, Bowser announced what was supposed to be her signature crime initiative, Building Blocks D.C., which focuses on 151 city blocks particularly vulnerable to gun violence. Officials said Friday that the new partnership would work alongside Building Blocks.

Earlier this month, Bowser and Contee held a news conference at another park to take a stand on carjackings. They partnered with leaders from neighboring Prince George’s County and vowed to share information, strategies and responsibility to put a stop to the crime that has swept both jurisdictions.

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine, whose office prosecutes all juvenile crimes, began partnering with Prince George’s State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) in January of last year through their Multi-Jurisdictional Crime Task Force. While the U.S. Attorney for D.C. and D.C. Housing Authority, among other agencies, were included in the most recent partnership, Racine’s office was absent on Friday.

Racine’s communications director, Abbie McDonough, said the attorney general was not invited to the news conference nor to participate in the partnership. When asked Friday, Bowser said she would “have to check” to see if he was invited.

Also on Friday, Contee said the police department had identified a suspect in the fatal shooting at the Days Inn hotel on Jan. 27. He also asked for the public’s help identifying a man wanted in connected to the murder of 54-year-old Pamela Thomas, who was fatally struck by a stray bullet Feb. 9 while sitting in the back seat of an SUV next to her 8-year-old son.

“His mom got murdered next to him. Think about that just for a minute,” Contee said, adding there is a possible $50,000 award for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. “It motivates me even more that we got to find this guy.”