Earlier this year there was some rare encouraging news out of the District of Columbia. It appeared that the federal enclave had uncovered a key insight into its increasingly outrageous violent crime problem – something that they could use to help protect the city’s law-abiding residents.
A December 2021 report titled “Gun Violence Problem Analysis Summary Report” from the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, who worked in concert with D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department, noted that a massive amount of the city’s violent crime is perpetrated by an exceedingly small subset of people that are already known to law enforcement.
The study focused on mapping the real-life social networks and criminal justice histories of those involved in violence perpetrated with firearms. The report concluded, “In Washington, DC, most gun violence is tightly concentrated,” and that those involved, “share a common set of risk factors, including: involvement in street crews/groups; significant criminal justice history including prior or active community supervision; often prior victimization; and a connection to a recent shooting (within the past 12 months).”
Summarizing the data, the report explained,
This small number of very high risk individuals are identifiable, their violence is predictable, and therefore it is preventable. Based on the assessment of data and the series of interviews conducted, [National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform] estimates that within a year, there are at least 500 identifiable people who rise to this level of very high risk, and likely no more than 200 at any one given time. These individuals comprise approximately 60-70% of all gun violence in the District.
Further, the report explained, “Approximately 86 percent of homicide victims and suspects were known to the criminal justice system prior to the incident. Among all victims and suspects, about 46 percent had been previously incarcerated.” Further, “at least 23.3 percent of all homicide victims and suspects were under active [criminal justice system] supervision.” The report also stated, “most victims and suspects with prior criminal offenses had been arrested about 11 times for about 13 different offenses by the time of the homicide,” qualifying that, “This count only refers to adult arrests and juvenile arrests were not included.”
With this type of actionable information, a reasonable person might have expected a crack down on the roughly 500 individuals tormenting the city’s other 669,500 residents. Given that so much of this dangerous population interacts with the criminal justice system, incapacitating these individuals through vigorous prosecution and stiffer prison sentences should be relatively simple and would go a long way in promoting public safety. Unsurprisingly, the District’s notoriously soft-on-crime politicians have opted for a different focus.
On April 18, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the People of Promise initiative aimed at those identified in the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform report. Described by the city as part of a set of “non-police interventions,” WAMU’s DCist blog reported that the program “pairs 200 people considered high risk for involvement in gun violence with a specialized team that can help them access city services like job training, subsidized employment, and behavioral health treatment.” The DCist noted that D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter, in describing the targeted individuals “said many of the people identified for the initiative have a ‘lengthy history’ with the criminal legal system, including prior incarceration.”
A D.C. press release noted that each person identified “has been assigned a multidisciplinary team to include a Credible Contact, a Pathfinder, and a member of Mayor Bowser’s cabinet.” According to the document,
Credible Contacts are staff from the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE), the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) or the Department of Corrections (DOC) who utilize community connections to find individuals in the community and build trusting relationships with them to learn more about risk level, stage of readiness, and service needs. ONSE Pathfinders assist Credible Contacts with service navigation and track outreach and service delivery efforts to measure progress.
The mayor also announced that city’s FY23 budget includes $1.7 million “that will strengthen this initiative by adding approximately 20 Life Coaches to provide intensive and high-quality care coordination services.”
With bureaucratic-speak like that and the District’s sterling track record of civic integrity, Bowser should have no trouble convincing skeptics that this program is on the up and up and not some scheme to shuffle around taxpayer plunder. No word yet on if those targeted will be enrolled in hot yoga.
Also, consider that the NICJR report found that “76% of homicide suspects had active or prior [criminal justice system] supervision.” This included those under the supervision of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, Pretrial Services Agency, or Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. This suggests that a dearth of interaction between the targeted individuals and government services isn’t the underlying problem.
The mayor’s proposed expenditure wasn’t enough for some. The DCist cited concerns from Rachel Usdan, an official with the organization Peace for DC. The item noted,
“We really need ten times that $1.7 million to be able to reach all 500 individuals” driving the majority of D.C.’s gun violence, said Usdan, who noted that successful life-coaching programs in other cities she studied cost about $35,000 a year per individual and include stipends for participants, cognitive behavioral therapy, and substance abuse treatment, among other resources and supports.
To put Usdan’s proposal in context, the cost per individual per year would be about the same as the out-of-state tuition for the nearby University of Maryland.
The federal enclave’s misadventures in public safety reform is chiefly a problem for its law-abiding residents. However, District politicians make their unwillingness to tackle violent crime a problem for the rest of the nation when they use the woeful state of their city to advocate for new burdens on law-abiding gun owners around the country.
In January 2020, Bowser sent a letter to Virginia lawmakers asking that they pass a raft of gun controls for the benefit of the federal enclave. This included legislation to criminalize the private transfer of firearms and further regulating Federal Firearms Licensees (gun dealers). Demonstrating that this political gesture had little to do with crime in the District, Bowser also called for the enactment of gun confiscation order (Red Flag) legislation that couldn’t possibly have a logical nexus to D.C.’s crime problem.
That same month, at an event held by the handgun prohibitionist U.S. Conference of Mayors, Bowser called for federal gun control. Blaming Maryland and Virginia for the sorry state of her city, Bowser said “I want the Congress to be able to pass a sensible bill that protects us.”
Likewise, in February 2019 Bowser demanded that the U.S. Congress pass federal gun control legislation. Arguing that all Americans must be burdened to benefit the District, Bowser stated, “In places like Washington, DC where we have some of the strongest gun laws in the nation, we know better than anyone that this is a matter that won’t be solved state by state.” The irony that a jurisdiction with some of the most onerous gun laws in the country would also have a severe violent crime problem appeared lost on Bowser.
At present, the District is free to eschew traditional criminal justice methods in favor of indulging criminals. However, until such time as the city is prepared take the obvious steps necessary to address its violent crime problem, its officials should refrain from demanding that law-abiding Americans outside its jurisdiction forego their Constitutional rights for the federal enclave’s benefit.