I'm throwing together a quicker Ward 6 update to touch on a few urgent topics around public safety, our COVID-19 response, and some notes for small businesses, fans of Metro (aren't we all?!), and more. I hope you're staying warm and looking forward to a bit of a reprieve this week from the cold and the snow.
Public Safety Update
I regularly provide public safety updates in my newsletters but want to make it a top item in this issue. Ensuring public safety is a very high priority for me and should be for all of us, especially as the District has unfortunately followed similar trends to the region and other cities around the country in seeing alarming rises in violent crime.
In particular, armed carjackings are deeply concerning -- I've spoken with a number of victims of these crimes in recent weeks, and I've also kept in close contact with MPD. Last year, MPD stood up a Carjacking Task Force to bring focus and coordination to stopping the spike in armed carjackings and motor vehicle thefts. The Task Force worked regionally, as people committing these violent crimes don't care much about borders. That coordinated effort led to a significant increase in the number of arrests for carjacking-related offenses. But clearly - and especially this last month - the carjackings are up again. DC's laws on armed carjackings are some of the toughest in the nation, with a 15-year penalty in most cases. Yet we've seen these offenses rise again in the new year.
Law enforcement and police have to continue that coordinated approach they started with the Task Force, but we also have to figure out what's driving the increase upstream. Without understanding the reasons behind this challenge, we can't understand the solution. At a press conference last week, for example, Chief Contee shared that 14 of the 18 people arrested so far this year for car theft incidents were under age 18. Last week, a 13- and 14-year-old were arrested for an armed carjacking. That's a pretty awful thing to wrap your head around. It's hard to fathom why children that young would have such easy access to guns and then decide to commit a carjacking. Accountability under the law is critical, and I expect the Task Force and prosecutors to hold those who cause harm responsible, and we also have to address why more children are committing these crimes. Otherwise, we won't break the cycle.
That's why, when we talk about fully funding public safety strategies, it means investing in both traditional law enforcement to hold accountable those who commit violence, and also investing resources in communities, including in the small number of individuals most likely to commit gun violence. Successful violent crime reduction strategies require a hyper-focused, immediate response from both the whole of government and community. When we focus on young people, that also looks like common-sense community investments: functional and open rec centers (where the heat is working - I'm looking at you, Greenleaf Rec), after-school activities, summer youth employment, access to meals, safe routes to get to and from school, and a whole lot more. You may have noticed in that list that those were the services most disrupted by the past two years. I've worked to increase funding and access to those resources in last year's budget and will continue to.
I also meet regularly with MPD Chief Contee, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, the Office of the Attorney General's Cure the Streets program, Building Blocks DC, and others to work collaboratively on this and all things public safety through the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Just this week, all of us will come together again to explore bringing what's called a "shooting review" process to the District. Shooting reviews are deep dives into every shooting that takes place with the goal of not just finding who committed the violence and holding them accountable, but to understand the reasons and relationships behind it to squash any retribution and work to create a more peaceful and safe community.
Finally, as we close out January, I'd like to share some encouraging news. While it's only one month of the year, there are some trends as we begin 2022 I want to highlight. Compared to the first month of last year, homicides are down 24%, and assaults with a deadly weapon are down 8%. I always caution against relying too much on statistics, especially this early in the year -- one homicide or assault is one too many, and we should never lose sight of the impact each incident has on the victim, their friends, family, and community. And I always say, all the trends in the world don't mean much if you, your family, or your community just experienced violence.
I'm happy to share more, but know this is a top priority for me and city partners across government. I regularly speak with victims of crimes in Ward 6 and work to ensure they're receiving the support they need and have access to the many resources available -- both for being made whole physically, but also working through the trauma they've experienced. Importantly, this week is National Gun Violence Survivors Week. Take some time to look through Everytown for Gun Safety's Moments that Survive to reflect on stories from survivors across the country.
Area HBCUs Endure Ongoing Bomb Threats: I just want to raise awareness that several area Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), including DC's own Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia, endured bomb threats either today or yesterday. You don't need to overthink why HBCUs specifically were targeted on the first day of Black History Month while others weren't: racism, plain and simple. Fear of the role HBCUs are playing as leaders in the fight for racial justice. Fear of our academic leaders and students refusing to allow history to be glossed over and buried in banned books or vague notions of "parental rights" in creating strawman justifications for censoring school curricula. I spoke this morning with the head of DC's homeland security agency about these threats. Thankfully, nothing was found, but not without having already achieved its goal of sowing fear. Our community must not be intimidated, and we have to continue to call out hate, even as we take these threats seriously. More from the Washington Informer and NBC 4.
Related: As we begin Black History Month, focus your energy where it matters. Join a Zoom presentation tonight, Feb 1, at 6:30 pm, to hear a discussion from local Black DC leaders on the power of the Black press as part of a celebratory kick-off of 2022 Black History Month. Or check out Derek Musgrove's project mapping Black Power in Washington, DC from 1961 to 1998 online at your leisure.
Deadly Fentanyl in Southwest: On Friday, my team and I raced to Southwest as reports started rolling in of a deadly batch of fentanyl on the street causing overdoses. Sadly, we lost four neighbors - the Post's Petula Dvorak captured the heartbreaking experience and their stories here in her column. I then joined MPD Chief Contee, Fire & EMS Chief Donnelly, and Department of Behavioral Health Director Bazron yesterday at a press conference to raise awareness of where residents can get both Narcan (to reverse the effects of an overdose) and fentanyl testing strips, and be sure we're bringing attention to the seriousness of this crisis. In DC, opioid and fentanyl overdoses have been spiking in recent years. We must do better and look out for one another. Addiction is a public health crisis, not one of personal moral failings, and we need to treat it with the same urgency we do gun violence or traffic safety or COVID. These are our neighbors and our loved ones, and they should still be with us.
Arrest Made in Defacing of Union Station: Finally, I wanted to circle back that an arrest was made following a number of hateful symbols and defacement at Union Station. As we must say every time hate like this appears, we strongly condemn it and push back. It has no place in our community.
COVID-19 Update - Free tests, vaccines, and masks; Test to Stay guidelines released
I want to jump right in to some important updates in our response to the Omicron spike. First, cases are dropping rapidly. Don't let your guard down yet -- we're certainly trending in the right direction, but take the same precautions you have been to protect others and continue to reduce the number of cases. Cases are still elevated above where they were pre-Omicron.
DC Opens COVID Centers: Every Ward now has a one-stop shop for key needs for COVID-19 mitigation and prevention. I've been a few times to Ward 6's COVID Center, located at 507 8th St., SE (on Barracks R ow), open six days a week from 10 am to 8 pm, but closed on Tuesdays. At this location, you can get a PCR self-test and administer on-site (we got our results back within 24 hours), pick-up rapid tests, get vaccinated, and grab two free KN95 masks. All of it at no cost to you, DC residents!
Get Vaccinated and Boosted: There's an enormous difference in the seriousness of the impact of the virus on someone who's vaccinated versus someone who's not. The vaccines do a fantastic job reducing how much harm the virus can do to your body. It's easy, safe, and free to get vaccinated in DC. In addition to the COVID Centers above, you can make an appointment or walk in to many locations in or near Ward 6. Check out Vaccines.gov to find out where and when.
DC Health Lays out Test-to-Stay Guidelines: Last night, DC Health took an important step forward in bringing a test-to-stay requirement to schools, something many Ward 6 parents have asked me to push hard on. DC Health released new guidance on further improving COVID-19 safety for teachers, students, and school faculty. This hasn't yet been adopted by DCPS, but I think it's clear this is where we need to be going. It also clarifies and lays out vaccine requirements for both students and student-athletes, as well as staff. Read more in the Washington Post.
Redistricting Task Force for Ward 6 ANC and SMD Boundaries Meets Tonight
As you all know, Ward 6 has changed more through the redistricting process than any other ward. We lost large portions of what had been Ward 6 for a long, long time. But now that the ward lines are drawn, we start the process of redrawing the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and Single-Member District (SMD) boundaries. Just for context, there were 4 SMDs in the District that more than doubled in population over the last 10 years, and all were in Ward 6. ANC 6C06 was the fastest growing SMD in the District, from 2,061 to 8,806—essentially becoming more than 4 SMDs in one.
I'm very grateful that former ANC6B Commissioner Ivan Frishberg has agreed to Chair our Ward 6 ANC Task Force process, and we have some outstanding members helping serve. The Task Force will work over the next eight weeks or so to produce a final recommendation that will then be submitted to the Council's Subcommittee on Redistricting. That will start a process in April to review all of the 8 Ward Task Force recommendations, including a public hearing, before the Council then makes a final approval and transmits the boundaries in time for the Board of Elections to upload them before ANC candidates pick up petitions for the November election.
The Task Force meetings will be open to the public, and the initial meeting is tonight, Tuesday, February 1, 7:00-8:30pm. All meetings will be recorded, but if you'd like to join in the first meeting, here's the Zoom link to register.
A Public Hearing on Metro For DC has been Set: February 23!
In exciting news, we finally have a public hearing scheduled to consider my Metro For DC proposal! This is the bill that would let every DC resident sign up to receive a monthly balance of $100 on a registered SmarTrip card and would also create a dedicated $10 million fund for improving bus service and infrastructure (think everything from bus lanes to bus shelters to more buses running). A public hearing is a really important step in getting a bill to the finish line. If you're able, please sign up to testify in favor at the hearing or submit testimony in writing. If you need a refresher, read up on the bill here.
Thanks for the Oversight Feedback. Hearings are Underway.
I want to say thank you to the many Ward 6 neighbors who took time to submit feedback with agency oversight recommendations in response to our last newsletter. We received a lot of insight on what impacts you and your neighborhoods -- ranging from traffic safety to regular (or not) DPW collection to public safety to 311 and its infuriating inconsistency (a little more on that one next). My team has taken the feedback and worked it into questions for the committees, and I'll certainly use it as a jumping off point when I'm able to get into agency hearings. I'll also look to share more as we have those conversations down at the Council.
A lack of movement in improving 311
One government service my team and I hear about more and more often from Ward 6 neighbors is 311, specifically how it works (or doesn't work). While I hear the occasional kudos, more often than not, we get complaints about how it's not working to solve your problems. One source of common frustration is when you report a problem to 311, it gets referred to an agency and then "closed" without it ever being resolved. That drives residents mad and never solves the problem in the first place! I chaired the oversight hearing last week on the Office of Unified Communications, which operates both 911 and 311. As I probed deeper, the agency reported that they have an interagency 311 Working Group to tackle these kinds of coordination problems. But when I asked when they last met, the answer was September 2021. A working group that hasn't met in almost six months isn't driving change. That's unacceptable, and I'm pressing agencies to better coordinate and make the District's 311 system work smoothly for you.
Council-approved relief for small biz now available
Just a reminder that Ward 6 small businesses can apply now for the pandemic relief that the Council set aside in this year's budget - a total of $40 million to help with rent and payroll. You can get the details here and apply today. We know that many of our small and local businesses have struggled to recover and then got hit hard again over the holidays with the omicron surge. Please spread the word with your favorite local businesses so they can get the support they need!
Name the Next NoMa Park
A new park is coming to the NoMa neighborhood, and it's your turn to help us name it! (Working name) Swampoodle Park II will be located on the northwest corner of 3rd and L St., NE, across the street from Swampoodle Park. Learn more and cast your vote for the name of the new park.
Replacing your home heating? Get $600-$700 off!
With temperatures in the teens and 20s for now and likely into February, I bet there's more than a few people who might be thinking about replacing their home heating. Did you know there are ways you can save hundreds of dollars on a new home heating system if you go electric? Learn more here.
Switch to an electric leaf blower, and get cash back!
As of January 1, 2022, it's illegal to use a gas-powered leaf blower. The two-cycle engines are big-time emitters of carbon dioxide and way too noisy to boot. The good news is both homeowners and businesses can get cash back on the purchase of electric blowers right now. Check out this link to learn how.
That's all for now. See you around the neighborhood,