Sunday, April 21, 2024

Here’s How DC Created ‘Crime and Disorder Crisis,’ Witness Testifies at House Hearing

The nation’s capital has seen a drastic jump in violent crime in recent years, putting residents, visitors, and lawmakers at elevated risk of victimization.

A House committee held a hearing Thursday to address the crime issue in the District of Columbia.

Among the witnesses was Rafael A. Mangual, the Nick Ohnell fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, who made his case for a serious rethink about addressing crime in the District. Mangual said the nation’s capital is suffering a “crime and disorder crisis.”

The crime spike in Washington, D.C., which surged dramatically beginning in the summer of 2020, continues to worsen with little sign of slowing down.

This has caused some to question “home rule” in the District of Columbia, which allows the city to govern itself rather than being governed directly by Congress as it was decades ago.

In March 2023, Congress and President Joe Biden vetoed a crime bill passed by the D.C. Council that would have shortened prison sentences for convicted carjackers during a historic increase in carjackings. The city witnessed 959 carjackings in 2023, twice the number as the previous year.

Several high-profile cases, such as the carjacking of a congressman and the carjacking-related death of an Afghanistan interpreter, have shined a light on this specific crime. 

The 13-member D.C. Council, made up of 11 Democrats and two independents, has taken some steps this year to begin getting crime under control.

However, Mangual’s testimony during the House Administration Committee hearing, titled “D.C. Crime’s Impact on Congressional Operations and Visitors,” laid out the breadth of the problems and offered some solutions.

While violent crime dipped in many cities around the country in the last year, Mangual explained, the District saw a 35% increase in homicides and a 39% increase in all violent crime. 

This makes the District’s homicide rate the highest it’s been in 26 years.

That’s not all. Mangual said that robberies and car thefts are up 67% and 82%, respectively, and that carjackings have “nearly doubled.” The carjacking number is notable, he said, because the city already has suffered  half a decade of year-to-year carjacking increases.

The Manhattan Institute scholar said that these statistics are even more remarkable given how the District of Columbia—like many other U.S. cities after the COVID-19 lockdowns—has seen a significant drop in “routine activities” such as foot traffic, in-office work, and public transit ridership.

Based on cellphone data, Mangual noted, foot traffic in downtown Washington has dropped 70% from pre-pandemic numbers.

This means that “what the official crime statistics don’t fully capture,” Mangual said, is that crime is up dramatically even though the opportunity for crime is down.

This trend has been common throughout the nation, he said, meaning that while crime numbers are down in many other cities, the odds of being victimized in cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago are up by 15% to 30% compared to 2020.

After laying out these statistics, Mangual laid out his ideas about what caused the D.C. crime spike and what can be done about it.

He said the District has fallen short in two significant ways when it comes to crime.

“First is the dwindling number of experienced police officers on the street,” Mangual said, noting that the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department was down by 450 officers compared to 2020.

This brings the city police force to its “lowest staffing level in half a century,” he said.

Mangual directly related this statistic to the sharp decline in arrests in the city after 2020 and said that increasing the number of police officers would reduce homicides in the city’s “most troubled enclaves.”

The second driver of increased crime in the District is repeat offenders, he said.

“Not enough is being done to incapacitate those who repeatedly offend,” Mangual said. “A 2021 report by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform reported that, quote, ‘approximately 86% of homicide victims and suspects were known by the criminal justice system prior to the incident.’”

The study also found that most victims and suspects had been arrested about 11 times for 13 offenses prior to the homicide, Mangual said.

A decline in the share of felony and misdemeanor arrests by police being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office hasn’t helped with this problem, he said, noting that the number of cases charged by that office hit a 20-year low in 2022. This number went up in 2023, however.

“The reality is that D.C. has not been immune from the general national trend toward de-policing and de-incarceration, and I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that the city has also seen public safety deteriorate since more dramatically moving in that direction,” Mangual said.

Mangual concluded by saying that even if the District of Columbia sees some future declines in crime overall, it has to focus on more police and more prosecutions to target repeat offenders. 

If the nation’s capital is to turn around this public safety issue, he said, it will have to “address the gaps in policing and prosecution that have allowed too many chronic offenders to walk the streets of our nation’s capital with too few officers to respond and prevent the sort of offenses that have been plaguing D.C. and visitors for far too long.”