D.C. government officials are circulating a draft document that lays out D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s latest comprehensive strategy to reduce violent crime that has surged during the coronavirus pandemic, a document that has surfaced as public safety takes center stage in the mayoral primary election.
Most of the programs discussed in the draft are already in place in D.C., and the document is in some ways an effort to rebrand them under a new umbrella.
City Administrator Kevin Donahue said the draft is a “living document” that makes sure the city has “operational discipline and coordination internally” and is consistent in external communication. He said it grew out of a report generated in 2016 through a working group the mayor established after a spike in gun violence and homicides.
“You are seeing the 2022 version of the underlying work projects,” he said.
The mayor has previously touted programs aimed specifically at gun violence. In early 2021, Bowser (D) highlighted a crime plan called Building Blocks DC, a $15 million initiative meant to focus prevention and intervention efforts on the city’s most dangerous blocks. A year later, top Bowser officials conceded that program was more of a concept, and instead touted People of Promise, a program that pairs about 200 at-risk D.C. residents with support teams from various city agencies.
“So, why a comprehensive plan now?” the draft says. “It has been several years since we last presented a comprehensive plan for reducing violent crime.”
The draft plan, titled “Roadmap to Reducing Violent Crime in the District,” was circulated for feedback outside the government with a spreadsheet that city officials said they use to track how they are implementing the strategy. It includes some new programs, such as a “threat assessment center,” which the document describes as a “public reporting tool” where residents can share information about individuals or groups they believe may soon turn violent.
The document also acknowledges pain points in the city’s effort to reduce violence. It describes a need for “effective Comms so we’re all talking from the same playbook,” and a “clear delineation of responsibilities and leadership.” The document also says the city must evaluate its existing initiatives to “make sure our programs are working.”
Last year, the District surpassed 200 homicides for the first time in over a decade, and the city is on track to outpace that grim milestone this year. Violent crime is also up by 17 percent compared with the same time in 2021, driven largely by a surge in robberies that has shaken the sense of safety for residents across D.C.
Less than three weeks out from the primary election — with mail-in voting already underway — Bowser is under pressure to show that she can bring down the violent crime rate while responding to demands from activists to de-emphasize the role of law enforcement and treat crime as a public health emergency. The draft shows the Bowser administration attempting to strike a balance between punishment and rehabilitation. The first strategic goal, for example, is to “deter violence through effective policing,” and the fourth is to “prevent violence through effective interruption and mediation.”
In May, an independent D.C. agency released a report that outlined a comprehensive gun violence reduction strategy for the city. Compiled by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, the document’s recommendations included the establishment of a “Peace Room” where data and crime analysts, violence reduction managers and liaisons from government agencies would coordinate immediate responses to shootings that extend beyond police.
At the time, Bowser was hesitant to commit to adopting the proposals outlined in the institute’s plan. She has described the report as an “excellent document to build on” and told residents at a community meeting that she was working on a “comprehensive approach.”
At an event Tuesday, D.C. Director of Gun Violence Prevention Linda Harllee Harper said not to take the institute’s plan “word for word” and that the city was coming up with its own extensive strategy.
Discussing the draft, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Christopher Geldart said the document includes “95 percent” of what the institute proposed.
Peter Hermann contributed to this report.