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Opinion | D.C. must address its crime issue

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Crime is on most people’s minds in D.C. Already in 2023, we are on pace to have the most homicides since 1995, and the most juveniles shot and killed. What can we do immediately to address this issue?

In 1995, when I was named chair of the D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee, which oversees the police department, the city wasn’t safe. Downtown was deserted, and our population was down to about 500,000 people. Residents were leaving in droves, homicides were close to 500 a year, and we were named the murder capital of the country.

We rebuilt our police force, attacked crime through better policies, instituted violence-intervention programs and involved citizens.

In the past three years, the council has decriminalized many acts, eliminated bail and reduced the size of the police force to 3,400, the smallest in 50 years. We used to consider 4,000 fully staffed. Realistically, we need 4,200 officers. Now, homicides have surpassed 200 for the second year, and our city appears lawless. People jump Metro turnstiles, shoplifting is epidemic and street crime and carjackings are routine.

We need to build the police force to 4,200 officers as fast as possible. Just seeing officers on patrol on our streets makes people feel safer and deters many petty crimes.

We also need to get guns out of the hands of those doing the shooting. We absolutely know who these individuals are. A more aggressive approach by the police without violating anyone’s rights will work. Let the police do their jobs.

We have funded violence interrupters and social workers for 30 years. This is not a new idea. Unfortunately, it has never worked. Let’s figure out why before spending more money.

At a recent meeting, Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said one young man told him people don’t commit as many crimes in Maryland and Virginia because “they don’t play.” Well, if we want a safer city for our residents, we should create the same atmosphere here: We don’t play.

The long-term answers are in better education and job opportunities for our youths and better neighborhood and home environments. But the ultimate question is: How have we spent billions of dollars every year on education and human services — now 60 percent of the entire budget — and have barely moved the needle in 30 years? What are we doing wrong? Answer that question, and we again might have a safe and prosperous city.

The writer is a former member of the D.C. Council.

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