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Each fatal shooting costs D.C. more than $1.5 million, study says

A report commissioned by Peace for D.C. found gun violence in the city cost taxpayers $1 billion in 2021 alone

Multiple law enforcement agencies respond to a shooting in Northwest D.C. on April 22. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post)

Every time a trigger is pulled and a victim is shot dead in D.C., the city pays at least $1.53 million in response, according to a new report commissioned by local nonprofit Peace for D.C.

Police race to the scene; an ambulance transports the victim to a hospital; law enforcement searches for perpetrators, attorneys argue in court, suspects are jailed pretrial and then sentenced to time in prison; a coroner’s office investigates the cause of death; and bereaved families receive social-services benefits as small compensation for their life-altering loss. Each step costs taxpayers thousands and thousands of dollars. And then the cycle repeats.

In 2021, it repeated 226 times, as the District struggled with a murder rate not seen in over a decade. A similar process, for each person who sustained a shooting injury but survived, unfolded 904 additional times last year. In total, the report found that gun violence in D.C. directly cost city taxpayers almost $1 billion in 2021 alone.

“By quantifying these costs, we hope it becomes clear to the Mayor and Council that now is the time to invest in both traditional and community-powered public safety,” Peace for D.C. Founder Roger Marmet, who lost his 22-year-old son Tom to gun violence in 2018, said in a statement. “In addition to more people across the city living in fear, there is a tremendous financial burden being placed on all of us.”

The report, conducted by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform and the Urban Institute, examined the direct and indirect costs of gun violence on District residents and taxpayers at a time when public safety has become a defining issue in the city.

A Washington Post poll conducted in February of this year found that 3 in 10 District residents do not feel safe from crime in the neighborhoods, the highest percentage in more than two decades of Post polling. Since then, a sniper has targeted students and adults near a school in Northwest Washington, a 15-year-old was fatally shot near his family’s new home, two dogs were stolen at gunpoint and an assailant fired at three people experiencing homelessness in the city.

The report unveiled the economic toll of these acts of violence, making the argument that it would actually save the city money to invest heavily in comprehensive intervention programs rather than pay for hundreds of shootings each year. If the District cut its gun-violence rate by 20 percent, the report said, the government could save up to $178 million each year.

“Rather than paying after the fact in policing, prosecution, hospital, and judicial costs, the District should invest much more in stopping violence before it happens with strategic community-based violence intervention efforts that reach all of those who are at highest risk,” Lashonia Thompson-El, executive director of Peace for D.C., said in a statement.

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Researchers for the report said they quantified the direct costs of shootings by intentionally using the “low end of the range for each expense,” and did not attempt to include costs associated with loss in employment if the victim or suspect was working at the time of the incident.

Marmet said he hopes the study provides transparency into the scope of the city’s gun-violence problem and adds a sense of urgency for those able to address it. He said he also hopes the report compels the city to reexamine its approach to public safety, which he called unfocused and poorly coordinated.

“As a city, we’re looking at this through the wrong prism,” he wrote in an email. “One that thinks government has all the answers and can solve this alone.”

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Marmet said he wants to see the city rely more heavily on proven models for violence reduction, which involve investing more deeply in community leaders and services, such as therapy, to strengthen intervention programs. He believes that it is possible to decrease homicides in D.C. by 60 percent in the next five years if people from across the District devote themselves to the cause.

At a news conference Friday, Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement interim director Delano Hunter said the city’s new People of Promise Initiative is meant to provide that type of comprehensive treatment plan to those most vulnerable — though Marmet worries it still relies far too much on government officials and not on members of the community. The program, announced last week, assigns multidisciplinary teams to 200 residents identified as being at the highest risk of involvement in gun violence.

“What we are providing through People of Promise is really executive-level oversight to ensure people are connected to resources,” Hunter said.