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DC expanding violence interrupter program, may merge with AG's initiative to curb rising gun violence, homicide stats

City leaders warn reaching the groups doing the majority of the shooting is "not an overnight process."

WASHINGTON — People in the District do not feel safe right now. That’s the stark admission from D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety.

“You know, we actually have some safer communities,” said Christopher Geldart D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety. “But our people don't feel that way or residents don't feel that way. So, for me what is success when residents are telling me you know, I feel safe in my home?"

D.C. Police’s crime stats page tells the story. The data shows homicides are up 13% over this time last year. Robberies up 25%. And even though some other key categories, like assault with a dangerous weapon and sex abuse, are down, statistics show overall, that violent crime is up 7% in the District compared to this same time last year.

This means we can verify, yes, violence in D.C. is worse now than it was last year at this time.

“Our numbers show what they show,” Geldart said.

While acknowledging crime is on the rise in some parts of the District, Geldart believes the city is making inroads in some neighborhoods.

“Twelve percent to 18% reduction in gun violence in the neighborhoods where we have our violence interrupters,” Geldart said. “That doesn't sound like a lot, but it's a heck of a lot better if we weren't doing that.”

But a recent report by the D.C. Auditor said D.C. needs to increase the size of its violence interrupter program, something Interim Director of the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement Delano Hunter said they are doing.

“We onboarded a floating mediation team that has the ability to go into any community with credibility to mediate those truces,” Hunter said, adding that when the expansion is complete.

One of those truces between warring blocks was negotiated at Langdon Park in Northeast where Geldart, Hunter and the Director of D.C.’s Office for Gun Violence Prevention, Linda Harllee Harper, met with WUSA9 to address the city’s gun violence response.

RELATED: Thousands of DC kids were exposed to gun violence in 2021. This group is working to stop the spread

But the D.C. auditor went further, suggesting the city’s violence interrupter effort suffered from a lack of coordination, with the District running one program, the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, with an entirely separate violence interrupter operation.

“Should it all be combined under one? Sure, we can do that,” Geldart said. “I've actually talked to the Attorney General about that.”

But with a report from the National Institute for Criminal Justice finding most gun violence in the city is done by a small number of very high-risk young Black men with similar risk factors, Harper said reversing the upswing in violence will take time.

“You can have a list of, you know, people that that are we're concerned about,” Harper said. “But actually finding them, engaging them, getting them to trust you and then working with them to figure out what are their goals? What are their strengths, where do they need support, and then connecting them to those services? That's not an overnight process.”

One thing all three city leaders stressed was the need for continued investment in programs that reach kids living in high crime areas at a young age, giving them safe places to play and programs that will steer them away from a life of crime and violence.

Unlike turf wars of the past, city leaders said the majority of the gun violence happening right now results from personal “beefs” or insults between two or a small group of people.

If D.C.’s murder rate continues at this pace, this will be the sixth year in a row, homicides are up from the year before

RELATED: Police point to successes despite violent weekend in DC

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