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During D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s public safety summit, members of the local public safety and justice ecosystem assessed local crime and various means of addressing it — albeit without much input from District residents, public defenders and social justice advocates.
Through much of Wednesday morning and well into the early afternoon, dozens of elected officials, law enforcement and court officials, and even some organizers who pushed their way into the meeting weighed in on the severity of crime and its impact on District residents.
One question that weighed on the minds of some, including Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Robert J. Contee and Chief Judge Anita M. Josey-Herring, was how to stop the influx of illegal guns, ghost guns, and switches that, once attached to semi-automatic weapons, make them even more powerful killing machines.
“There’s a proliferation of guns coming from various places and we have no indication that’s going to stop,” Josey-Herring said on Wednesday during a panel discussion segment at the public safety that WAMU’s Tom Sherwood hosted.
Other members of the panel were D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb, U.S. Attorney General Matt Graves, D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), and Lindsey Appiah, the District’s interim deputy mayor for public safety and justice.
“The District has to decide what policy is good for the citizens of the District who’s bearing the brunt of [violent crime],” Josey-Herring said. “I don’t believe anyone is interested in over-incarcerating individuals, but we must deal with violent crime differently and I think the law provides for that.”
A Growing, and Increasingly Deadly, Problem
As of May 4, homicides increased by 10% from the same time last year, according to data compiled by MPD. So far this year, MPD has recorded more than 200 incidents where someone was wounded by a gunshot. Nearly 20% of those cases resulted in a fatality.
In 2022, MPD recovered 3,153 guns — a portion of which were unregistered. Ghost guns, which are guns that are made privately, have also been recovered more frequently. More than 500 ghost guns had been recovered in 2022. Meanwhile, Glock switches are also increasingly making a presence in the District, with the number recovered by MPD nearly doubling from 66 to 127 in 2022.
During a briefing by MPD’s Investigative Services Bureau at the summit, Ramey Kyle, who serves as MPD’s violent crime suppression division commander, spoke at length about the search of a residence on 6th Street in Southeast where officers found a semi-automatic handgun attached to a rifle converter.
In that situation, Travis Wicks, 47, was charged with possession of an unregistered firearm, possession of ammunition, and possession of a large-capacity ammunition feeding device, in addition to other charges related to a call about a domestic dispute. He’s currently behind bars awaiting trial.
Another incident, Kyle said, involved William Snyder, who was arrested by the Violent Crime Impact Team, a unit dedicated to removing illegal firearms. Snyder, 32, was charged with possession of an illegal firearm, possession of ammunition, and possession of a large-capacity ammunition feeding machine.
Earlier this year, Schwalb discussed illegal guns when he demanded that Virginia law enforcement officials curb the trafficking of illegal guns from the commonwealth to the District, in response to Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyere’s assertion that lax policies in the District fueled crime.
The Office of the D.C. Attorney General has not responded for further comment to the Informer on the matter.
According to data compiled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, also known as the ATF, the top outside source states for guns recovered in D.C. are Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has secured indictments, and continues to do so, through MPD’s collaboration with the ATF’s anti-firearms trafficking task force. Ashan Benedict, MPD’s executive assistant chief of police, told the Informer that interviews conducted under federal authority have unearthed firearms trafficking rings in some of the aforementioned states, and even Ohio.
“It’s sometimes 20, 30 or even four guns at a time,” said Benedict, who has 26 years of experience in federal law enforcement. “We’ve seen people go to parts of Virginia [before the one gun a month law] or Georgia where a middle man will enlist the help of people with no criminal history to buy guns legally and turn the guns over to them to drive to D.C.”
Competing Interests, But Similar Concerns
At the public safety summit, Bowser revealed her intentions to introduce legislation that, if passed, would keep people previously charged for violent crimes detained in D.C. Jail when they receive new charges.
She said these efforts were in response to concerns about the lack of convictions for gun-related crimes.
Other topics of discussion during the mayor’s public safety summit included the presence of school resource officers, daytime robberies of immigrant contractors, how to respond to juvenile crime, the next steps in revising D.C.’s criminal code, and the recertification of the District’s forensics lab.
During breakout sessions related to juvenile and adult issues, the few community members in attendance, including former ANC commissioner Anthony Muhammad and Tia Bell of T.R.I.G.G.E.R. Project, weighed in on the causes of violence and how best to address it. They offered holistic solutions, including involving and holding parents more accountable, and even treating gun violence as a public health issue.
The summit opened with a focus on Ward 8, what Appiah designated as a jurisdiction with significant quality-of-life issues. In his remarks, D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) touted the need for wraparound services and further support of violence interrupters and credible messengers.
Minutes prior, Wendy Glenn, the Ward 8 representative in the Mayor’s Office of Community Relations and Services, spoke about the impact of gun violence on families, and especially young people who are caught in the crossfire.
“When I see that crime goes up at the same time that children go to school, that’s an issue for me as a parent and grandparent,” Glenn said. “The libraries, recreation centers and schools are safe spaces, but you have to get there and leave there safely. That’s the focus on parents and grandparents. We look to law enforcement and other resources to be partners with parents raising these children.”