August 2, 2017

DC moves towards community policing

Jason Fernande, Talk Poverty - Just a few blocks away from the White House—where President Donald Trump recently called for rougher treatment of people in police custody—the District of Columbia city council is quietly implementing one of the most progressive crime bills in recent history.|

The Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act of 2016, sponsored by Democratic Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, represents a dramatic and desperately needed shift in how the nation’s capital will approach violent crime. In 2015, D.C. led the country in two categories: murders and police presence. With 119 homicides, it had a higher murder rate than every state in the country; and with six officers for every 1,000 citizens, it was the most heavily policed district in America.

In his office on Pennsylvania Ave, Councilmember McDuffie sports a pink polo beneath a gray tweed jacket. He speaks in perfect prose, with none of the ums and ahs and broken sentences that plague most of us. He believes in the NEAR Act because it addresses the “root causes” of violence.

“You cannot arrest your way out of this problem,” he says.

McDuffie was raised in D.C. in the 1980’s and 90’s, when it was known as the murder capital of the United States. He grew up around the open drug markets; he had friends who were killed in their neighborhoods.

McDuffie has also seen the perils of overpolicing. He’s watched police officers “converge on communities of color, stopping people in neighborhoods like mine without probable cause.”

The NEAR Act draws from model programs in Chicago and Richmond by establishing an Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement in D.C. The ONSE will hire people from within the community—“people who have credibility in these neighborhoods,” McDuffie says. They will identify community members who are at risk of committing violence or becoming a victim of violence, and then offer them trauma-informed therapy, life planning, and mentorship. The bill also provides funds to train police officers on “cultural competency” and how to recognize bias, and it calls for increased data collection on police stops and the use of force.

The two models that the NEAR Act is based on have shown promise: Richmond has seen a 76 percent drop in homicides, and the Cure Violence model has curbed violence in pilot programs around the world. It remains to be seen whether the nation’s capital will have similar success—whether the old way of approaching violent crime, with militarized policing and mass incarceration, is finally on its way out.

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