In her fiscal 2020 budget, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser allocated $2.5 million to the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) for the expansion of its violence interruption program, approaching its ninth month of operation.
Nearly 20 full-time and part-time violence interrupters live in and maintain a presence in 20 District neighborhoods, establishing relationships with residents and mediating violent disputes. The multimillion-dollar infusion will provide funds for an additional seven full-time violence interrupters, case managers, and community activities in neighborhoods with the greatest need.
“We have an alert system that lets the violence interrupters know something happened in their targeted community,” said ONSE Executive Director Del McFadden as he outlined a violence interrupter’s daily activities. “Soon, they’re making calls to see what happened. They can get into the hospital to meet with the individual. They also meet with the aggressor, if possible. Within 24 hours, they have a triage meeting. They later send out a plan about how they will support the communities and gauge the chances of retaliation.”
The expansion of ONSE’s violence interruption program comes amid concerns about tense police-community relations in affected District neighborhoods, and criticism that the NEAR (Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results) Act, under which violence interrupters operate, hadn’t been fully implemented.
The D.C. Council passed the NEAR Act in 2015, which institutionalized ONSE, provider of violence interruption services and the Pathways Program through which 50 participants gain resources and enrichment to place them on a path to self-sustainability. Mayor Bowser’s 2020 budget allocates $360,000 to increase wages in the Pathways Program and expand the reach of the Aspire to Entrepreneurship Program.
Both offerings count among ONSE’s efforts to address an ongoing problem of violence in the District. As of Monday, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recorded 37 homicides, including the death of Rafiq Hawkins, 23, of Northeast on Saturday. Parts of Northwest have also experienced violent crime, including Columbia Heights, where a man was recently killed near a playground.
Along the Kennedy Street corridor in Northwest, where ONSE expects to set up shop next year, residents, Metro riders and patrons of nearby day care centers remain cautious. An afternoon shootout on 5th and Kennedy streets in February compelled a community discussion at nearby Blandi’s Child Learning Center.
In a subsequent ANC meeting, ONSE staff members hinted that violence interrupters would soon come to that neighborhood. The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice later confirmed that announcement with a written follow-up notice.
Some such as 4D02 ANC Commissioner Renee Bowser welcomed the news. For years, she has appealed to MPD Chief Peter Newsham, Ward 4 D.C. Councilman Brandon Todd (D), and ONSE for at least 10 violence interrupters for Ward 4.
However, Bowser, who has no relation to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, said violence interruption alone wouldn’t slow down homicides in D.C., a city with gentrification that outpaces that of other jurisdictions.
“The District must invest now in real structural changes in the life of poor people, particularly youth, if we are to see real change in the conditions in our community,” Bowser wrote in an email. “We have to have safe, secure affordable housing for the poor and that means the District’s inequitable housing policies have to change. The District also has to make real investment in jobs and job training.”