As we head further into the new year, there's a lot to cover. I know public safety is front of mind for all of us, so I've included a long update below.
Please excuse the length if you're interested in the other topics (we always add the quick links at the top so you can jump to what interests you most), but we're going deep in this newsletter because 1) public safety remains the urgent issue in our city, 2) so many of you have told me you appreciate the context and understanding I share around the complex problems we face and how we solve them.
At the Wilson Building, the Council will vote on a big public safety bill next Tuesday, and we'll also take the final vote on legislation I wrote to give teeth to our laws for holding dangerous drivers accountable. Also on the agenda is important legislation to provide new support for our local businesses, which includes parts of a small business bill I worked on with many of our Ward 6 businesses.
Thanks to Westminster Church in Southwest for hosting a wonderful Black History Month program yesterday, featuring Mr. DC Black History Month himself Chuck Hicks, a fantastic keynote address from Dr. Porter, and the recently retired Sam Ford as emcee. And it's that time again - tax season - so check below for tax benefits for residents and businesses (especially the DC EITC). Finally, we had a great community office hours Friday night on Barracks Row.
Quick Links: Public Safety | Safety Walk Near Potomac Ave Metro | Healthy Homes Act | WMATA Funding | H Street Alliance | Cobb Park | Bus Lane Cameras | Final Vote on Dangerous Driving Bill | Summer Youth Employment | Oversight Hearings | Tax Resources for Residents | Tax Rebate for Small Biz | Trash Collection Issues | 11th Street Bridge Park Meeting | School Lottery Deadline | DPR Camp Registration | Leaf Collection | Caps Tickets
Public Safety Update
This will be a longer update on public safety, but one I hope is helpful at the top of this new year as we all demand solutions to reverse the dramatic increase in violent crime DC experienced last year and we focus urgency around driving down crime in our city. While MPD is reporting an 18% decrease in violent crime in Ward 6 year-to-date, that's nowhere near good enough, and if you or someone you know has been victimized, it also means little. Bottom line: we need to see a serious decline in 2024.
I want to begin by sharing an update on the horrific violent events on Monday night near the Convention Center and in NoMa. One individual committed multiple shootings early last week (two fatal and one at a police officer parked in his squad car who was thankfully unharmed) and multiple carjackings that stretched between DC and Maryland before it ended in a fatal shootout with Maryland police the next morning. It's hard to understand, let alone explain. It's simply horrific. Families are grieving a loss they'll never be able to overcome, and I've talked with several neighbors rocked by the violence that took place. I also knew one of the victims, the wonderful man shot downtown who passed away last night - Mike Gill - through his service on the DC Board of Elections for many years when I had oversight of the agency. He was an exceptional public servant who helped get the District through major changes in elections operations during the pandemic, and my thoughts are with his family, and the Board of Elections family, as well. On Thursday evening, the shooter's name was released publicly, and reporters were quickly able to look up that he had been arrested in 2021 for making felony threats to kill officers responding to a shooting. He verbally threatened to kill the officers, but after the arrest, the federal USAO reduced the charge to a misdemeanor, ultimately didn't proceed with the case, and he was released. Although I don't know the specifics of the evidence in that case, it's a good example of a central challenge that helps make DC unique in a way we don't want to be: too many people aren't experiencing consequences for their actions, nor are there efforts after cases aren't charged to prevent the next violent act before it happens. That's the theme of this section.
On Tuesday night, the Hill Rag hosted an important discussion on juvenile carjacking, building off two in-depth pieces they published late last year - read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. They invited me to moderate the conversation featuring MPD leadership, our federal US Attorney, our local Attorney General, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, a community group working with at-risk youth, and a foster father who had seen first-hand the District's failings in holding his own foster child accountable and providing services when the child was arrested for a carjacking. If you weren't able to tune in, you can watch here.
I had a few takeaways from the panel that I think reflect conversations I often have with Ward 6 residents. One of the big questions was why 2023 was a major departure from national trends (most cities saw a notable decline in violent crime), as well as a departure from our own experience with decreased crime in 2022 here in the District, where nearly every crime category had fallen or was close to falling, compared to 2021. Of course, the crime levels in 2021 and 2022 weren't acceptable, but they did fall more in line with national trends.
This kind of analysis is important because it helps us find solutions. Public safety, especially with DC's unique system, is complex. And pretending simple fixes exist isn't a serious way to attack the problem. So what happened in 2023?
I'll start quickly with a few areas in which I see a lot of confusion or misinformation:
- The District actually hasn't lowered any criminal penalties on the books in years, including for carjacking, which remains one of the longest penalties anywhere in the United States, with up to 40 years of incarceration for armed carjacking. In fact, I've passed legislation that increased criminal penalties for gun crimes, banned ghost guns and bump stocks, and made penalties more severe for extended gun clips and dangerous automatic weapons. On the whole, people convicted of a crime in DC serve longer sentences than in most other states, especially when we talk about our most serious offenses. So if these increases are happening while our sentences stay the same, something else is going on.
- Every sentencing reform the Council has passed in recent memory has been law dating back to 2016, 2018, or 2021 at the latest, if not earlier. While no law should be considered immune to changes or updates, there's no evidence that these sentencing laws, all of which can only be used at the discretion of Superior Court judges, impacted 2023 crime rates, especially as several reforms applied to middle-aged or elderly individuals, not young people who are exponentially more likely to commit violent crimes. In fact, the District paid for an analysis of reoffense rates, which showed no connection between those arrested for carjackings, for example, and individuals being resentenced by judges under these laws. Specifically related to police accountability reforms, the District is also hardly alone in our efforts to balance policing needs with commonsense laws passed to ban chokeholds, expand transparency, and improve accountability for officers found to have committed serious misconduct like domestic violence and sexual assault. Many jurisdictions saw declines in violent crime and put in place similar reforms since 2020.
- MPD's staffing challenges stem from low hiring numbers, something nearly every department in the nation struggles with. I passed a law to require MPD to publish data on hiring and attrition, and that data (FY18-FY24 is here) shows that voluntary reasons for leaving, retirements, resignations, and senior separations (when a veteran officer stayed on past their retirement as a "senior officer"), dating back to 2014 have been largely been steady over that nine year stretch -- with last year, FY23, showing one of the lowest numbers of departures from the department. In that nine year stretch, departures were highest in FY15 and FY16. Our challenge now is that it still outpaces hiring trends, with 316 total separations in FY23 but only 193 hires (and that's with MPD's fully requested hiring budget being approved by the Council, including $25k signing bonuses and tuition and housing incentives).
- I also see DC Superior Court judges questioned on their sentencing decisions, but in close to 95% of all cases with a sentence, judges are what we call "Guideline-compliant", meaning they follow DC's voluntary Sentencing Guidelines. These Guidelines are developed by the D.C. Sentencing Commission based on past sentences and the penalties in law, and factor in the defendant's criminal history, the severity of the offense, and any mitigating factors (like self-defense) or exacerbating ones (motivated by a hate crime or clear bias). A further wrinkle here is that in every year since 2014, U.S. Attorney's Office prosecutors have reached a plea agreement in roughly 9 out of every 10 convictions secured. By its very nature, a plea agreement almost always involves a downgrade in the charge, as very few people plea to the most serious consequences they face -- which can result in a shorter sentence and a lower criminal history score when evaluating any new offenses.
The Lack of Swift and Certain Consequences
So what was unique about the District compared to its peers in 2023? The bottom line is we aren't seeing anything close to "swift and certain consequences" that we know are essential to deterring illegal and dangerous behavior. That means people aren't being caught, or if they are, the charges aren't being prosecuted. And we're not focusing all of our efforts on the "hot people" in our neighborhoods. In a theme that was extremely clear during the panel, coordination between government agencies is poor. This is why the District needs to adopt a strategic gun violence reduction plan immediately, and Executive Branch agencies must coordinate with focus on the small number of individuals responsible for most violent crime.
Some of this inevitably stems from the biggest reason DC is an outlier -- we're the only jurisdiction in the US where the federal government and the local government split core responsibilities in the criminal justice system:
Federal: courts, many police departments, adult prosecution, prison for local felonies, monitoring defendants on pre-trial release in the community, parole, clemency, US Marshals, and Court Social Services, which works with a good part of the youth in the criminal justice system.
- Local: MPD, crime lab, victim support, violence intervention programs, DC Attorney General (juvenile crimes and some adult violations including traffic), DC Jail (for sentences under one year or holding during trial), and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, which works with the rest of the youth in the criminal justice system.
It would be hard to design a more convoluted public safety system if you tried. And even if everyone has the best intentions, the result means inevitably a less coordinated effort that often lets people slip through the cracks and experience little to no accountability or rehabilitation and intervention. It also means the Council can't pass laws dictating how federal agencies operate. Even with the best of partnerships, federal agencies ultimately don't answer to DC residents, and even simple steps like requiring information-sharing to help bring transparency to the full system are ignored. That doesn't mean there's nothing we can do; we just have to constantly work together collaboratively to push in the same direction and, again, with strategic focus.
All of this means that people who commit harm often aren't experiencing swift and certain accountability.
So How Can We Have a Safer 2024?
This has already been a very long public safety update from me, so I'll just hit a few points where I have hope, as well as areas where we need to see improvement, in the coming year. I'll also keep sharing more actions in future newsletters:
- First, our Department of Forensic Sciences was reaccredited for processing drugs and biological evidence like DNA at the end of December. I've written legislation reforming the crime lab and pushing it to regain its accreditation. This is big and will allow many criminal cases to be tested again in DC rather than dropped, put on the backburner, or farmed out to private labs for analysis.
- Second, MPD hiring is improving, despite the gap between hiring and attrition, and our cadet pipeline is growing. The number of officers last year who left the force was one of the lowest in the past nine years, and at the Council, the expanded DC's cadet pipeline from 15 to 150 new cadets per year, something I made a priority during previously when I used to be Chair of the Judiciary Committee.
- Third, with the recent announcement of an infusion of support and needed resources from the Department of Justice, I hope we see USAO bringing more cases and lowering their declination rates. As a reminder, USAO is our federal prosecutor, part of the Department of Justice. Of course, we want to see these be strong cases, and as I've said before many times, the communication and collaboration between prosecutors and police officers needs to be a priority.
- In December, MPD announced a real-time crime center and entered into agreement with many of the federal law enforcement agencies in the District. This is an encouraging start to seeing improved coordination in our public safety response.
I remain concerned that DC is resource-rich, but coordination-poor. We haven't had a new Director of the Mayor's Office of Gun Violence Prevention since the sudden and tragic passing of its first director, Linda Harllee Harper last May. The Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement has had an interim leader for too long. Both of these critical vacancies tell me that gun violence prevention isn't nearly the priority it needs to be. In 2021, DC paid for the strategic gun violence reduction plan I mentioned above, and in an update of that report released this week, the report's author told NBC4 the District has failed to take aggressive steps to implement that plan. Accountability is hard to achieve if our agencies don't work together with a common plan and purpose.
Secure DC Vote on Tuesday
On the Council side, on Tuesday, we'll have our first vote on Councilmember Pinto's Secure DC legislation. This is a massive bill, and I shared some aspects of the bill I feel strongly about and my intent to support the final package in the last newsletter. If you want to share your view, just reply to this email.
Public Safety Walk Around Penn and Potomac Avenue SE
Join me, ANC 6B09 Commissioner Matt LaFortune, and MPD's First District for a community walk to hear updates from MPD on the recent reckless and unacceptable shootings in the neighborhood. We'll meet at the Potomac Avenue Metro Station on Monday, February 5, at 5pm. After the shootings, I visited the impacted businesses and talked with neighbors, but these walks are opportunities to come together to connect directly with MPD for subsequent updates on their investigations and to focus on targeted areas where we need to see improvements.
MPD's First District schedules monthly walks with my office and our ANCs across the District. I'll share information about future dates in our newsletter when they're finalized.
DC Commits $200 Million to WMATA Fiscal Cliff
I've written in past newsletters that I've been working closely with Chairman Mendelson and the Mayor's team to determine how the District will do our part to support our WMATA system. You've heard me say before -- failure is not an option, and we cannot allow our system to deteriorate with the broad service cuts WMATA had to put forward last year as a "doomsday budget." The District is doing more than our fair share here, as Maryland has offered $150 million and Virginia $130 million. Read more about the District's proposal for this year in DCist. And know this isn't nearly the end of the work -- we need to get WMATA to a place where it has a reliable and consistent funding stream.
Update on the Healthy Homes Act
One of the most important bills in the Committee on Transportation and the Environment is the Healthy Homes and Residential Electrification Act, which I worked on in partnership with the Sierra Club, Washington Interfaith Network, and other partners to help DC residents make changes to electrify their homes and improve the health, sustainability, and affordability of their households. It would be a voluntary program but would help incentivize residential transitions of appliances and energy savings. There's a host of benefits for homeowners, like cleaner air in the home, improved health, and the potential to lower bills when electrification is tied to renewable sources (DC has some of the most generous solar benefits in the country for residences and a community solar program for houses that can't afford or aren't able to install solar). You'll see the bill move forward soon -- no matter how many lobbyists Washington Gas hires. Residents who want to make the switch should be able to do so, and taking on climate change can't wait. I started my morning on Friday meeting with DC's Commission on Climate Change and Resiliency, where I ran through my agenda for 2024 -- Healthy Homes, lead pipe removal, building out EV charging, and more.
Related: Did you know the DC Sustainable Energy Utility has a whole bunch of rebates and tips for reducing energy use and switching to more efficient and cleaner systems for both homes and businesses?
H Street Alliance Meeting Launch
Last week, we had our first meeting of the H Street Alliance at the Atlas Performing Arts Center with more than 60 committed residents, small business owners, and ANCs joining on a weekday afternoon. The next meeting will be in the evening to ensure we're accessible to others. But our first conversations were very encouraging, and we talked about the corridor's challenges, successes, and where we go from here - all with the goal of concrete programming to uplift the H Street corridor. We'll have the next meeting date set soon - likely also at the Atlas - and if you'd like to join our efforts, just reply!
Related: Thanks to everyone who headed to a Ward 6 restaurant during Winter Restaurant Week. I know along the H Street corridor, I spoke to a lot of business owners who said they saw business booming! And felt hope and excitement after a strong two weeks. These businesses mean a lot to us and our community, so thanks if you were able to get out for a meal or two.
Cobb Park in Mt. Vernon Triangle Finally Moving Forward
Finally, finally, finally there's a park coming to the Mt. Vernon Triangle neighborhood. Earlier this month, I urged DGS, DPR, and DDOT to take action on stalled progress to begin construction on Cobb Park, which I funded now several years ago. This week, DDOT responded that they're clearing the remaining hurdles so that construction can begin this calendar year. This is great news, and I'm excited to see movement. Here's a little more on Cobb Park, and here's the last community presentation featuring design concepts from 2022.
Bus Lane Camera Enforcement Now in Effect
In December, I moved emergency legislation to speed up DDOT and WMATA's rollout of the Clear Lanes Program, which is an automated ticketing camera initiative on our buses for violations of parking or standing in a bus lane or bus stop. As part of that legislation, I lowered the fine from $200 to $100 to align with similar violations. Last month, the program began enforcement for blocking bus stops. This Monday, the program expanded to include our red, painted bus lanes. Please note that this only applies during hours when the bus lane is in effect. Some bus lanes are 24/7, but most have specific posted hours so that people can use them for parking most of the day outside of the rush hour when we need those buses moving and clearing out of traffic. Just like with the District's speed cameras, the easiest way to avoid a ticket is to find a place to park or drop-off that isn't the bus lane. The goal, of course, is to speed up our bus service and improve reliability, and you can't do either with blocked lanes. That being said, if you find areas where we've got a real challenge, particularly for residents with disabilities, flag them for me or my team so we can explore alternatives with DDOT.
Final Vote Tuesday on STEER Act
Next Tuesday, the Council will hold our second and final vote on my STEER Act, which includes provisions to give teeth to our automated traffic enforcement cameras to hold dangerous drivers accountable. How many times have you seen a report of a license plate with thousands and thousands of dollars in unpaid tickets - sometimes even more than $100,000?! These are dangerous drivers, but our system doesn't have a way to hold them accountable. That changes with this law. I wrote more in-depth in my last newsletter about the bill, but here are three things I want you to know as the bill passes:
- It creates a point system for vehicles that accumulate multiple dangerous speeding violations in a six-month window and allows them to be prioritized for booting and towing.
- It empowers the District's Attorney General to bring a civil suit against drivers and the cars themselves - in DC and in other states - with a large number of unpaid DC speeding violations.
- It closes gaps between DC's DMV and DC Superior Court to ensure people arrested or convicted for a DWI or DUI to ensure those drivers no longer have the right to get behind the wheel.
There's plenty more in the bill highlighted in the press release here. Thanks to our many safe streets advocates in the Ward and across the District for all your support.
The Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program Registration is Live
The Summer Youth Employment Program is now accepting applications for 2024. This is a paid summer job or internship for young people, and we've loved having them in our office over the years. If you know a DC resident between the ages of 14 and 24 who needs a summer job, this is a great opportunity or if you're an employer interested in hosting, everything can be found here.
Performance Oversight Form and Transportation & Environment Hearings
The Council's performance oversight season is underway. This is the time when nearly every District government agency comes before the Council to review its performance, update the public on various initiatives, and answer questions from Councilmembers. I've created a form here for feedback on the performance of any government agency -- many thanks to those who have already submitted comments and questions. These help me and my team know where to focus during this busy period.
I'll be chairing three oversight hearings on the agencies under the purview of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment. You can sign up to testify here (filter by Committee to find the hearing you want to register for).
Tax Resources and Credits Available to District Residents
It's tax season, and DC residents have several available benefits I don't want you to miss. Here's a quick rundown:
DC’s Earned Income Tax Credit (DC EITC): In the past, I've referred to this as DC's monthly basic income. In the FY21 budget, I expanded the District's match of the Earned Income Tax Credit and turned it into a monthly payment to recipients. This has helped thousands of District families have more money in their budget each month for whatever they need.
Every year, people who are eligible for the EITC credit miss out on free money back because they don't think they're owed or owe taxes. So if you know someone who might be eligible, make sure they file!
- The District Earned Income Tax Credit (DC EITC) is a refundable credit for low- and moderate-income workers, separate from the federal EITC.
- The DC EITC gives individuals and families 70% of their Federal EITC amount for tax year 2023, one of the highest match rates in the country.
- To learn more visit, visit https://eitc.dc.gov/
Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (Federal EITC)
- The Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (Federal EITC) provides money back for people who work and who have a low or moderate income.
- Individuals and families who qualify generally make less than $17,640 and $63,398, respectively.
- Through the federal EITC, residents can get back anywhere between $560 to $7,000 on their taxes.
- To learn more visit: irs.gov/eitc.
District of Columbia Keep Child Care Affordable Tax Credit
- The credit is available to taxpayers based on the amount of eligible child care expenses paid by the taxpayer per eligible child.
- Last year, the amount of the Keep Child Care Affordable Tax Credit was a maximum of $1,045 per eligible child.
- To learn more visit: MyTax.dc.gov.
Disabled or Senior Citizen Property Tax Relief
- The Senior Citizen Tax Relief Program applies to those property owners who occupy their property as their principal place of residence, are 65 years of age or older, and meet certain income requirements.
- When a property owner turns 65 years of age or older, or when they have a disability, they may file an application immediately for disabled or senior citizen property tax relief.
- This benefit reduces a qualified property owner's property tax by 50%.
- To learn more visit: MyTax.dc.gov.
DC Free Tax Preparation Locations and Financial Assistance
- Free tax clinics are open to all residents.
- To find a tax clinic near you, visit disb.dc.gov/freetaxprepresources.
- The AARP is partnering with DC to support seniors, which includes free tax assistance.
- To learn more, visit: taxaide.aarpfoundation.org. (I'll save you the click -- there's an AARP tax prep location at the Southwest Library Mondays and Wednesdays Friday 1 to 5 pm)
Tax Credit for Small and Local Businesses
I'm always surprised by the number of business owners who aren't aware of the Small Retailer Property Tax Credit, which provides up $5,000 back to a retail or restaurant business with a federal gross receipts under $2.5 million. I created this business tax credit a few years ago and for those using it, it's been a welcome help. Learn more with this FAQ, and don't miss out on this credit. Relatedly, I introduced legislation to expand this credit up to $10,000, and I could use your help advocating to the Committee on Business and Economic Development that this bill should move forward.
Missed Trash / Recycling or Leaf Collection? Let my team know.
In the past few weeks, my Constituent Services team has helped fix trash and recycling collection for many neighbors where it was skipped for a few cycles. I know it can get backed up quickly, so don't hesitate to reach out as soon as you have a missed collection. Similarly, DPW is back to leaf collection for a second pass. If you haven't gotten it, let my team know. Here's my team:
- For neighbors living in Southeast, contact Kimberly Kennedy: [email protected]
- For neighbors living in Northeast, contact Jen DeMayo: [email protected]
- For neighbors living in Northwest or Southwest, contact Jeanne Mattison: [email protected]
11th Street Bridge Park Town Hall Meeting
Join a meeting on February 8th at 7:00pm for the 11th Street Bridge Park Town Hall. It’s an opportunity to come together as a community and discuss the future of the 11th Street Bridge Park. The 11th Street Bridge Park will show a presentation of the park’s final design by architectural team OMA+OLIN, followed by the unveiling of the park's brand new Equitable Development Plan. Visit bridgepark.org/publicmeeting for more information.
My School DC Lottery Applications for High School Due, Pre-K 3 Closes March 1
The deadline for enrolling students in DC public school grades 9-12 closed on February 1. The next deadline is March 1 for all other grades, including Pre-K. Visit MySchoolDC.com for more information.
DPR Summer Camp Registration Coming Up
Parents of school-aged kids, I know you're already deep in the planning for the summer months when school is out. DPR opened up its website this past Monday for parents to browse camp locations and offerings online. The summer camp registration lottery will run February 12-26. Residents can also apply for reduced rate. Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor!
Second Pass at Leaf Collection Begins This Week
Caps Ticket Giveaway!
And a reward for all our loyal readers: a ticket giveaway! Just reply to this email if you'd like two tickets to the Caps v. Canucks on Sunday, February 11th, at 1:30pm at Capital One Arena.
Finally, a quick thanks to everyone who joined me for community office hours on Friday evening at as you are. on Barracks Row. We'll post more soon to the website calendar.
See you around the neighborhood!