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D.C. mayor, police chief launch fall initiative to combat crime in five neighborhoods

D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III speaks alongside D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) on Friday to announce a fall crime prevention initiative combating gun violence.
D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III speaks alongside D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) on Friday to announce a fall crime prevention initiative combating gun violence. (Michael Blackshire/The Washington Post)

D.C. leaders, struggling to curtail deadly gun violence in the city, are extending a summer crime prevention initiative into the fall, hoping to keep heightened police attention focused on neighborhoods where residents feel besieged by crime.

The areas of concern are Anacostia and Washington Highlands in Southeast Washington, Benning in Northeast and Columbia Heights and Brightwood Park in Northwest.

Five people were fatally shot in and around Brightwood Park last month, including three in a single incident on Sept. 4 on Longfellow Street. The number of homicides in that neighborhood has more than doubled this year.

“We know that we are experiencing an unacceptable level of gun violence,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said at a news conference on Friday in Columbia Heights, flanked by police officials and confronting a 9 percent increase in homicides this year.

The mayor said police and leaders of city programs trying to direct people away from crime are seeking to identify those “highly at risk” for using or being victimized by someone using an illegal firearm.

Police in the District conduct crime prevention initiatives every summer, typically selecting up to six neighborhoods for concentrated law enforcement and providing a variety of services to help residents find jobs, fight drug addiction and connect with assistance programs. The last time a summer crime initiative was extended into fall was 2019.

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This summer, the crime prevention initiative covered Potomac Gardens, Carver-Langston, Fort Dupont, Marshall Heights-Benning Ridge, Washington Highlands and Douglas/Shipley. Police said homicides collectively dropped 33 percent in those areas from May through the end of August, along with other crimes such as robberies and assaults decreasing as well. Police said they seized 73 illegal firearms in those neighborhoods during that time period.

Washington Highlands, the only area carrying over from the summer initiative, has had seven homicides this year, compared to three at this time in 2020. Assaults with dangerous weapons have spiked nearly 70 percent in that neighborhood this year.

Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said officers working in areas selected for enhanced attention will engage in “strategic crime prevention and focused enforcement,” trying to identify people and locations where crime is most acute.

Contee said the initiatives have proved effective at reducing violence and help people connect with other resources provided by the city. “People can’t take advantage of those programs if they don’t feel safe,” the chief said.

Walter Kyles, who has lived in the District all his life, listened to Friday’s announcement at a plaza in Columbia Heights’ commercial center at 14th and Irving streets NW and slowly shook his head. Afterward, the 53-year-old chatted with a police captain.

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Kyles later said he doubted whether any new initiatives would have any real impact. He said for him it was more about how police interact with residents. “We’d probably have better policing if the police learned to communicate better with the youth,” he said.

One of the areas selected for the fall initiative, Brightwood Park, is two miles north of Columbia Heights. In recent weeks, it has been hit hard with violence, some of which police have attributed to street crews.

Council member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), has lobbied for Brightwood Park’s Kennedy Street, which she represents, to be included in the Bowser’s still-emerging Building Blocks DC program, which pours resources into the 151 blocks where nearly 40 percent of the District’s shootings occur.

George and five council members told Bowser in a Sept. 15 letter there have been 37 shootings along the Kennedy Street corridor in the past three years that have “claimed the lives of many of our neighbors, left others injured, and traumatized the broader community.”

Authorities have said Kennedy Street, the main thoroughfare through Brightwood Park, does not have enough shootings to qualify for Building Blocks.

On Friday, Bowser said Building Blocks is geared more toward long-term solutions, while the fall crime prevention initiative is to deal with “short term acute problems” that she believes Kennedy Street needs.

Bowser mentioned the shooting that killed the three people last month, calling it “a brazen crime,” in which police have made no arrest.

“We need to deal with the people who would sneak up on their neighbors and shoot them in cold blood on the street,” Bowser said.

Thousands of bullets have been fired in this D.C. neighborhood. Fear is part of everyday life.

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