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Amid rising homicides, District launches effort to target hot spots for violence

Acting D.C. police chief Robert J. Contee III, center, speaks at the launch of the District’s summer anti-crime initiative, targeting hot spots for violence. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

District officials launched their annual summer crime prevention initiative against the backdrop of a soaring homicide rate and on the heels of a particularly bloody weekend in the city.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced the program at a news conference Monday at Rosedale Recreation Center, a 10-minute drive from where a stray bullet struck a 7-year-old through her pink T-shirt two days earlier.

Over the past weekend alone, at least 11 people were shot and another person was stabbed. Three of those victims died, bringing the number of homicides in the District to 66 this year — a 38 percent increase from the same time in 2020.

“As we prepare to kick off this summer crime prevention initiative, it is certainly not lost on me the violent crime that we experienced in our city this past weekend,” said acting D.C. police chief Robert J. Contee III at the news conference. “These things are the reasons why we do the summer crime initiative. It’s the reason why we are so committed to this and we have been for so many years now.”

A 20-year-old man from Northeast Washington, Delano Harris, was fatally shot Sunday evening in the Edgewood neighborhood. Half an hour later, police said Louis Cheeves, a 46-year-old from Southeast Washington, was fatally stabbed near Boone Elementary School in Southeast. Paul Tyrone Dorn, whose age was not immediately available, died of a gunshot wound to his chest Sunday night. A police report says he was “shot in self-defense.”

Seven-year-old Reagan Grimes, a second-grader visiting from Maryland, is expected to recover after a bullet went through her chest outside of the Paradise at Parkside apartment complex on Saturday, police said. Her family said they were visiting relatives and she had gone outside to play.

Girl, 7, shot while playing in D.C. had just made a new friend

City leaders are fighting powerful head winds in their effort to curb crime as the weather warms. Hot summer months tend to be particularly violent, and a slow recovery from the pandemic threatens to exacerbate that trend if more youths and young adults have time to idle outside.

The hope is that pouring extra officers and resources into six historically crime-ridden neighborhoods — as the city has done for 11 years — will attack the sources of unrest before they erupt into violence.

“We know unfortunately that summer sometimes brings more outdoor activity, more conflict, and unfortunately we brace ourselves and prepare ourselves for the possibility of more crime,” Bowser said at the news conference.

Last year amid pandemic-induced lockdowns, the city’s overall homicide count surged to a 16-year high. Burglaries and street robberies went down across the District last year, while shootings and vehicle thefts increased.

During the time the summer anti-crime initiative was in place, the selected areas saw a 10 percent decrease in violent crime and 25 percent reduction in overall crime compared with the same period in 2019, Bowser said. Officers also recovered 115 illegal firearms from those neighborhoods, Contee said.

Residents in Northeast Washington community feel trapped by gunfire

This year, the effort will focus on Potomac Gardens, Carver-Langston, Fort Dupont, Marshall Heights-Benning Ridge, Washington Highlands and Douglas/Shipley. Contee said his team selected these neighborhoods by looking at where there are high concentrations of homicides, sounds of gunshots, robberies and overall violent crime.

“Most importantly,” he added, “we look in areas where things are happening right now.”

Contee grew up in Carver-Langston, and has spoken often of the illegal drugs that affected not only his community, but also his family.

The program runs from May 1 through August in partnership with D.C. police, the Department of Health and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

This year’s summer crime prevention initiative will collaborate with a new program called Building Blocks DC, which aims to bring a public health approach to quell gun violence, coordinating crime intervention, social services and community outreach on 151 D.C. blocks that city leaders have identified as hot spots.

Linda Harper, D.C.’s director of gun violence prevention, said there are 45 blocks selected for both the summer anti-crime initiative and Building Blocks DC. She added that she is in conversation with D.C. police about how they will have “synergy” working on those blocks.

Standing atop a renovated rec center turf field amid a neighborhood still battered by crime, Contee stressed the importance of community involvement in mitigating violence. The D.C. Council is scheduled Tuesday to vote on whether to name Contee the city’s permanent chief, and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Monday he expects there will be unanimous support.

Contee said he already has launched a new departmentwide effort to ensure each officer will take part in monthly outreach activities year-round and told District residents to expect more community walks, public safety resource pop-ups, and clothing and food donation drives.

“It’s unfortunate that someone decided to shoot in the direction where a 7-year-old child was out playing the other day,” Contee said. “But I think it just speaks to the fact that we must continue our effort as an entire ecosystem — not just as MPD, but MPD, community and all the other stakeholders that are involved to make sure we keep our foot on violent crime.”

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