WASHINGTON — National Night Out, an annual event meant to strengthen relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve, took place on Tuesday with neighborhood events held in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, and across the country.
National Night Out comes as police in the DMV are establishing new community-based programs and units to attempt to cut down on crime and violence.
In D.C., the Metropolitan Police Department investigated its 100th homicide earlier this month, the fastest its reached the grim milestone since 2003.
MPD Police Chief Robert Contee has been outspoken about the violence in the District this year, asking for the community's help.
“I’m asking community members: join with me,” the chief pleaded during a press conference following a shooting on 14th Street earlier this month. “My voice is only but one voice and I’ve been saying this for a long time … I’ve been in this police department for over 30 years. This is the same movie from when I was a boy growing up here. When are we going to do something different? And what different looks like - what does not happen here - is accountability.”
In an effort to improve community relations, MPD launched a new unit for high crime areas in the city, with officers on bikes and scooters to better connect with communities.
Tuesday's event in the district came shortly after D.C. Council voted to cut in half Mayor Muriel Bowser's request for $11 million to hire 170 new officers to the force.
Instead, council members approved $5 million for new officers and $6.1 million for other safety programs and initiatives.
A spokesperson for Councilmember Janeese Lewis George believed the revised funding would help hire around 60 officers over the next two years and some additional cadets.
The $6.1 million in alternative funding includes:
- $3.3 million for Cure the Streets violence interrupters
- $1.9 million for Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) violence interrupters
- $884,000 for ONSE Leadership Academy
As of Tuesday night, D.C. had recorded 114 homicides this year, a 5% increase over the same time last time. In 2020, homicides reached a 16-year-high in the district.
Following high-profile shootings including the tragic death of 6-year-old Nyiah Courtney and gun violence outside Nationals Park in July, Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie believed more must be done to help neighborhoods besides adding police to the force.
"The police were right around the corner when Nyiah Courtney was killed. They got to the scene on 14th Street within five seconds. Let’s stop pretending that putting more officers is going to keep that from happening," he said during Tuesday's meeting. "Let’s stop pretending that police are going to solve these problems and let’s give the opportunity to these communities.”
Hours after D.C. Council unanimously passed the revised proposal, Chief Robert Contee spoke about the need for extra officers during the National Night Out event.
"I’m going to do all I can with the resources I have. Next year at this time, when we’re having conversations about this, I’m sure this issue will come up again," he said. "We should have given the police department the $11 million that we asked for and whatever else was needed in that space should’ve been adequately funded.”
Moving forward, he said the department would do its best to keep streets safe from violence regardless of the amount of funding it received.
"The decision has been made," Chief Contee said. "We’ll work with what we got to do the best job we can for the residents of this city.”
But the issue of gun violence is not specific to D.C. President Joe Biden's administration is working to get guns off the streets on a national level using strike forces in major cities, including the District.
Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy said that despite the strain seen between communities and police, he's hopeful the event will be positive.
"There's an old adage that I've learned a couple of years ago in this business ... and it's, 'It's hard to hate up close," McCarthy said. "I think one of the great things we do with National Night Out is we get to know each other as a community."
McCarthy acknowledged the strain seen between police and communities across the country, as well as locally.
"It's even more important for us to get out there, that's why I'm so hopeful that we can get out and have a meaningful conversation," McCarthy said.
National Night Out has been happening since the 1980s.
"National Night Out enhances the relationship between neighbors and law enforcement while bringing back a true sense of community. Furthermore, it provides a great opportunity to bring police and neighbors together under positive circumstances," according to the event's website.
Events will be held across D.C., Maryland and Virginia on August 3.
Arlington Police will have several locations available for the community to meet police and firefighters.
"One of the common concerns that we see when it relates to crime in Arlington is larceny from auto theft. We do have an 9:00 PM routine that we participate in really encouraging the public to take those steps to make sure their property is secured, so locking their doors, checking on them, as well as traffic safety concerns. Really, traffic safety concerns impact everybody and transportation safety is something that connects all of us," Ashley Savage, the Public Information Officer for Arlington County Police, said.
Additional information on National Night Out and be found here.