D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, held a public roundtable June 26 at the John A. Wilson Building. “The District’s Crime Prevention Strategies for Summer 2017” roundtable was informational in structure and while legislation is sometimes discussed during a roundtable session, none is offered for a vote.
“We know that the summer months can be a particularly challenging time. It’s hot, schools out, and neighborhood beefs can reach their breaking points,” Allen said. “So, that’s why we’re having today’s roundtable, to hear from the executive (mayor’s office) about how they’re bringing District agencies together in advance of the summer to prevent crime before it occurs, and to offer an opportunity for our residents to engage with our public safety leaders on these issues.”
Kevin Donahue, District’s Deputy City Administrator and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, served as the primary voice for the administration of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D). Donahue, joined by Director of the District’s Park and Recreation Departments Keith Anderson and Metropolitan Police Department Patrol Chief Lamar Greene, noted a reduction of crime in the city as it goes into the summer months.
“In particular, overall violent crime is down 26 percent this year, with robberies down 33 percent, assaults with a dangerous weapon down 22 percent, and homicides down 15 percent,” he said. “In addition, MPD has launched the Summer Crime Prevention Initiative which provides additional resources to several specific neighborhoods that have historically had challenges with crime during the summer.”
Some of those neighborhoods are represented by D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5). McDuffie, who isn’t a member of the committee, still attended the roundtable to express his concerns. “I understand that violence increases when there is warm weather,” he said. “People are outside enjoying the weather and we want to try to prevent crime as much as we can.”
McDuffie expressed anxiety about Langston Terrace, the playground near Taft School, and neighborhoods such as Trinidad, Brentwood, Saratoga, and Montana Avenue in Northeast D.C.
He would like to see more cross-collaboration between the police, the recreation department, and other agencies. “We have the resources to fight crime,” he said. “We just have to put them on the ground.”
D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) is a member of Allen’s committee and voiced his worry. “Summer is the time that crime goes up historically,” Gray said. He noted that in his ward, the homicide rate was 31 in 2015 and in 2016 it was 39, with much of the killing taking place in the summer.
He expressed apprehension about Lincoln Heights, Richardson, and Stoddard housing projects. Greene told Gray that the police are aware of his concerns. “We are partnering with the D.C. Housing police to fight crime in public housing,” Greene said. “We are really focusing on gun recovery and getting guns off of the street.”
Anderson said his agency is doing all it can do to keep “unruly youths” busy. He mentioned the hundreds of Department of Parks and Recreation facilities in the city including 375 parks, 94 playgrounds, 110 outdoor basketball courts, an array of facilities that include swimming pools, and 74 recreation centers and fitness areas. Anderson said there are more than 100 programs for youth and senior citizens and “there is something for everyone.”
Bruce Purnell, executive director of The Love-More Movement, testified as a public witness and said more must be done to help wayward youth than District government programs. “One of the main reasons I testified at this roundtable was to see if there was an interest in a comprehensive plan to address the problem of youths during the summer,” Purnell told the AFRO. “One of the methodologies should be healing the pain that the young people are facing and it should be done in the context of a youth living in D.C. We should have had this conversation 20 or 30 years ago.”