District officers will be joined by federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Thje effort also involves city agencies that work with convicted offenders and people awaiting trial, and others that help with jobs and drug addiction, to address a wide variety of social challenges. The initiative runs through the end of August.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced the program at a news conference at Benning Park Community Center in Southeast Washington’s Marshall Heights neighborhood, on the same block where a construction worker directing traffic was fatally shot two weeks ago.
After the remarks, Gail Perkins, who has lived near the community center for 60 of her 65 years, questioned the strength of the relationship between law enforcement and the community. She reminded the mayor of a video played in the media last week showing an officer handcuffing a 9-year-old boy. “How many people have seen that?” she said. “How can the community come forward after that?” Perkins told the mayor: “Our children are dying. We feel helpless.”
The two met up a few minutes later as the mayor, police chief and others walked down Hanna Place, chatting with residents in bungalows and venturing into an overgrown, vacant lot. Bowser told Perkins that sometimes interactions go wrong, but what happened with the detained child “doesn’t define the relationship between MPD and the community.” The mayor added that police “have a lot to do, and we expect them to do it well.”
Tanya Acker told police that every night she retreats to a room that overlooks a side street. “There’s something always going on,” she said, pleading for help. One her neighbors, Jennetta Wooton, told Bowser: “Thank you for the help. We need it.”
In addition to the Marshall Heights-Benning Ridge neighborhoods, the initiative includes Carver-Langston and Kingman Park; Fort Dupont; Anacostia; Congress Heights; and Washington Highlands.
Bowser has spent hours over the past two weeks meeting with homicide detectives and their supervisors getting briefed on each of the District’s killings this year. Her last meeting with two dozen investigators was Tuesday, when the homicide count was 54. A 22-year-old man was shot in Southeast just as the mayor was wrapping up; he died that afternoon, raising the number killed to 55, nearly a 30 percent increase over the same period last year. Homicides in 2018 also rose over the previous year.
The meetings were held in the department’s Joint Operations Command Center, where police typically monitor large-scale events. “It was important to me who these crime victims were, why they were killed and where we are in the process of closing cases,” Bowser said.
The mayor routinely attends crime meetings, but she said this was her first time being briefed at the micro level. Bowser said there seem to be fewer killings related to neighborhood disputes and retaliations for past violence, and more involving personal disputes. “A number of our suspects and our victims are known to the police and known to each other,” she said.
Police have previously said that shootings are getting more lethal, with a greater percentage of victims dying than in years past.
But Bowser and Police Chief Peter Newsham said the arrest rate could suffer if the D.C. Council doesn’t extend a program that allows the department to rehire retired senior detectives and sergeants to counter a recent surge of retirements. The program is set to end Sept. 30, with no new hires permitted after that date, but those hired by the fall could work until 2022.
“I have a hard time understanding how anyone would want to start firing experienced detectives when we have homicides to investigate and close,” Bowser said.
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who chairs the public safety committee, had been hesitant to extend the program, arguing it was supposed to be a temporary fix to make up for the drain from retirements, which has now slowed. Police union officials said they support rehiring investigators with deep experience but are concerned that the retirees are taking up slots that could be filled by officers awaiting advancement.
Allen said Wednesday that he would support extending the program to hire through the fall of 2020 and allow those hired to work until 2025. He said the more senior detectives could help train the younger officers.
“That’s got to be part of the strategy of how we grow our own workforce because they will one day be those senior detectives and sergeants,” Allen said.
The council member said lawmakers have focused on “making a substantial investment” in violence intervention programs. “Stop the violence before the trigger gets pulled,” he said.