Mayor Bowser and Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier are creating policies and procedures to reduce crime in the city. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) unveiled her anti-crime package on Aug. 27 at the former Malcolm X Elementary School in Southeast. It has been met with mixed opinions. However, District residents are not sitting idly by while the package is debated in the media and by political leaders. They want to be involved in its creation and implementation.
“Any plan that the mayor proposes must have serious and continuous involvement of the community,” Anita Bellamy Shelton, president of the D.C. Women in Politics organization, said. “We are here at city hall today to learn and understand the rationale of the mayor’s plan.”
The District of Columbia has recorded 109 deaths by homicide as of Sept. 8, more than all of last year. To combat the rise in homicides, and crime in general, Bowser wants to: put more police officers on the streets, give law enforcement professionals more tools to fight crime, stop violent criminals from repeatedly victimizing members of the community, increase penalties for violent crime on public transit, launch a community partnership strategy to support neighborhoods, strengthen community-police relations, and implement returning citizens employment legislation.
Susan Meehan, a longtime District activist who worked on police reform after the 1968 riots, attended the Shelton meeting. Sheehan said the mayor’s plan is missing a key aspect. “There really needs to be a plan for addressing the mental health of some of our returning citizens,” Meehan, a Ward 2 resident, said. Meehan said numerous studies show violent offenders often have psychological challenges that law enforcement professionals either ignore or do not address.
D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large) said she likes what the mayor is proposing but more could be done. While Bonds, who didn’t attend the Shelton meeting, acknowledged the confiscation of illegal guns by the police and the proliferation of synthetic drugs in the city, she said other factors are driving up crime that have little to do with law enforcement.
“As we join together to address the root causes of crime, we must provide greater opportunities to our young men who disproportionally suffer from violent crime on our streets,” the council member said. “Forty-one percent of our youth drop out of school and without a high school diploma they have very few employment options.”
At the Shelton meeting, Greater Washington Urban League representative Stacey Palmer said, “The police officers ride around in their cars too much. They should go to recreation centers and play ball with the kids. They need to walk the neighborhoods and get to know the people.”
Kevin Donahue, the deputy mayor for public safety, told Shelton’s group that he was at the meeting to listen to their concerns and wanted everyone’s point of view. Donahue said there is no clear reason why there is an uptick in homicides in the city.
Donahue said the mayor’s plan will, among other things, give grants to organizations and individuals who fight crime in the city, and will increase benefits for police officers to stay on the job instead of retiring or resigning to work at another jurisdiction.
Bowser will send her crime package and its budget supplement to the council by Sept. 16 for its approval. Shelton said she will convene another meeting of community leaders in the near future to further discuss the mayor’s package.
“We will submit a list of recommendations to the mayor so that we will input on what she gives to the council,” Shelton said.