The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion How many violence-prevention programs are enough for D.C.?

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser speaks during a news conference discussing public safety and rising crime in Washington on July 28. (Michael Blackshire/The Washington Post)
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Mayor Muriel E. Bowser appears to have written a check that the D.C. Council won’t cash.

Last week, and with great fanfare, Bowser announced she was sending an $11 million supplemental budget request to the council for the hiring and training of 170 additional police officers — 20 for this fiscal year, and 150 the next. It turns out that Bowser doesn’t have enough credibility among lawmakers to cover her down payment on policing.

Her request was dead on arrival at the council last weekend, according to a veteran council staffer. Tuesday, if all goes as planned, a police-hiring compromise proposal hammered out by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) will be placed on the agenda. If it is adopted, the mayor should consider herself lucky, given the limited political credit apparently at her disposal. She’s getting “$5 million in funding for additional sworn officers to reduce overtime pressures and maintain the [Police] Department’s hiring pipeline,” according to a D.C. Council news release.

But $6 million, or the balance of Bowser’s request, will be diverted to violence-prevention programs. “The solution can’t solely be more police,” Mendelson said in the release.

“Now’s not the time to fall back on police-only responses when we know a more well-rounded approach will have better immediate and long-term results in stopping the next shooter,” added Allen, according to the release.

Where District residents, who bear the financial costs of government as well as the brunt of violence, end up with this funding package is hard to assess.

Give credit to city lawmakers and to Bowser for wanting to stem the rising tide of violent crime. At the same time, it’s also fair, and necessary, to take a close look at the volume of programs and services being developed, hastily in some instances, for violence prevention and youth development. Are they getting at the problems or making matters even more confusing, if not worse?

The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, in partnership with the Public Welfare Foundation, recently published an analysis of the various violence-reduction programs — close to 70 — funded and at work in the city. The report concluded, “many of these programs and services may be uncoordinated, disjointed, and unintentionally serving a duplicative client base. All the while, those at the highest risk and need appear to not be connected to needed services.”

Crime eats at the heart of this city. But the city can ill-afford a well-intentioned but diffuse, disjointed, decentralized violence-prevention network that stumbles over its own feet.

The same warning flags were raised in a Post opinion piece by D.C. Witness publisher Amos Gelb and editor in chief LaTrina Antoine about the effectiveness of Bowser and D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine’s violence-interrupters programs. Put simply, they wrote, “as it is run in D.C., the violence interrupter programs are not making the difference they could or claim to.” Council members viewing violence-interrupter programs as virtual panaceas ought not just curl their lips and accuse D.C. Witness of having political or philosophical axes to grind. Read the reports. That goes for Bowser and citizens all across this city.

This isn’t a political contest between Bowser and police reformers, or between current-day policing and progressive policies.

This arrived at my inbox following last week’s column: “I’ve been robbed at knifepoint, I am a senior … and I’m not the only senior! MPD is a responder ... unless I had been stabbed, assaulted or kidnapped MPD is so overwhelmed w crime they will only respond to serious crime. robbing me of $10 isn’t serious. I did not report it to anyone. Simply avoid walking on empty streets. These are kids …WHY are kids running around w knives robbing old ppl or anybody? Do u want an officer on every street every hour of the day? D.C. pours money into ‘youth’ programs and in rehab programs; eg, ABC and street advocate programs … How would you do it better?”

She’s not alone.

But she’s out of sight. And, in some city circles, out of mind.