Attorney General Karl Racine Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

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D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine announced yesterday that his office’s violence reduction program, Cure the Streets, will expand into four new neighborhoods in wards 1, 4, 5, 6, and 8 in the spring. Cure the Streets will soon start operating in Brightwood Park/Petworth, Sursum Corda/Ivy City, and Historic Anacostia/Fairlawn and Congress Heights. The OAG-run program, along with other violence intervention initiatives such as the Pathways Program from the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement and Building Blocks DC, have faced increased pressure amid a record-breaking rise in homicides in the District.

D.C. recently recorded its 200th homicide—the most since 2003—with a month left to go in 2021. The total is 204 as of today.

The D.C. Council gave Racine’s violence interruption initiative a generous $4.1 million boost in this past budget cycle, which is enough to run the four additional sites and bring the total number of sites throughout the District to 10. The OAG is making $3.2 million available for the expansion. 

The new sites were chosen over several months based on quantitative and qualitative data sourced from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, Metropolitan Police Department’s incident reports, data from gunshot sensors, and community members, according to an OAG press release. Officials identified patterns of “persistent” gun homicides and shootings and chronic neighborhood conflicts in the selected sites. Some of the metrics the OAG officials considered, such as gun-related assaults and gun homicides through June 2021, are available on the OAG’s website. 

One community-based organization will run each of the new sites, and the OAG is accepting applications from CBOs until Jan. 12. Racine is setting an “ambitious” timeline to launch the new sites by mid-March. Each site will have eight to 10 employees, including violence interrupters, who are typically members of the community who intervene and de-escalate conflict and potential retaliation through direct outreach, mediations, and referrals to social services. The model also incorporates community activities to help change neighborhood norms and create a sense of safety and goodwill. 

The program’s increased budget, which largely came from federal COVID relief funds, is part of a larger national and District-wide initiative to pour resources into gun violence prevention and safety programs. The emphasis on the Cure the Streets and other violence reduction programs and social services to quell the surge of violence has been a point of contention between the D.C. police union and officials and activists following the murder of George Floyd in summer 2020. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee has called for more accountability for people his officers arrest for gun crimes in particular.

While violence interrupter programs in the District have faced their share of skeptics around efficacy, Racine hopes the newest expansion will provide more data to make the case for the Cure the Violence model, he tells City Paper. Racine measures success by reductions in shootings and homicides in the neighborhoods where Cure the Streets operates and fewer people identified as being “at risk of gun violence.” Another hope is for Cure the Streets workers—typically about four violence interrupters and four community outreach workers per site—to facilitate a high number of mediations.  

He’s also looking at qualitative data on the community’s perceptions of safety. In 2019, OAG went door to door to survey perceptions of neighborhood violence where Cure the Streets operates. The pandemic complicated OAG’s ability to safely conduct follow-up surveys, but those efforts are forthcoming.

The violence interruption program started as a pilot in 2018 and has since expanded to operate in six neighborhoods in wards 5, 7, and 8. At least three to five years of data from existing and additional sites would give the Council the metrics to determine whether the intervention merits more funding, Racine says. A single site can cost anywhere from $700,000 to $950,000 per year to operate, and the demand for the program far outsizes the resources available, he says.

“Success is never final, which means that existing sites that have been around for nearly three years must also be constantly evaluated,” Racine says. “No one escapes constructive criticism. And we’ll roll out that evaluative process in a rigorous way—not only ongoing as to the sites that already exist, but the new ones as soon as they come on board.”

Ambar Castillo (tips? acastillo@washingtoncitypaper.com)

Credit: Photo courtesy of Story District

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