NEAR Act Funding – What, How, When?

Note: This is an informative post from one of our neighbors in ANC1A.  It does not represent an endorsement by ANC1A or its Public Safety Committee for particular legislative or budget actions, but is intended to foster community dialogue on issues where citizens may wish to be informed and involved.  Any member of our neighborhood community is welcome to submit thoughtful and respectful blog posts to be considered for publication on this blog, and it is okay if those posts contain differing viewpoints.

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Have you heard of the NEAR Act? It’s a major piece of District of Columbia public safety legislation up for budget negotiations right now. To help you understand why the NEAR Act is part of this year’s budget negotiations, what the NEAR Act is designed to do and why, and what is going on with it this budget season, we’ve broken it down below.

Why is the NEAR Act in budget negotiations for FY 2018?

NEAR stands for “Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results” and was first introduced in 2015. After public comment, committee analysis, and amendment, it was enacted March 26 2016 for an effective date of June 30, 2016. However, some of the core provisions of the NEAR act were dependent on funds being allocated to their implementation as part of the District budget.

In DC, each fiscal year begins on the October 1 before the relevant calendar year, and budget season for a given fiscal year spans from about October-June the preceding year; so for example, the budget for FY 2017 (which began Oct 1, 2016) was worked on from around October 2015  to around June 2016. In other words, the NEAR Act was passed towards the end of last year’s budget season.  That year, few of the funding-dependent provisions of the NEAR Act were provided for in the FY 2017 budget, so they haven’t started to be implemented yet. However, we’re right in the middle of budget negotiations for FY 2018 and NEAR Act funding allocations are on the table.

What is the NEAR Act supposed to do and why?

There are 3 main themes uniting the NEAR Act’s changes to DC’s public safety policy:

  1. Violent crime should be treated as a public health issue
  2. Police reform is needed to prepare law enforcement for this public health approach, and to discourage police brutality
  3. Prison reform is needed to encourage reentry

(The NEAR Act also establishes higher data collection standards, cross-departmental research forces, and, as legislation does, a few ancillary items, but for this blog we’ll focus on these three core premises and how the NEAR Act seeks to implement them.)

Let’s look at these one by one:

Violent crime should be treated as a public health issue

Research shows that violent crime can be treated as a health issue, as reported by the CDC and WHO (Committee Report, page 4). For example, some criminals, such as juveniles, individuals under the influences of substances, or sufferers of mental health disorders, are unable to rationally evaluate their behavior against legal consequences, so traditional punishment-based strategies are ineffective. In the case of violent crime made likely by a mental or emotional disorder, alternative strategies that approach the individual from a health perspective have been shown to have a better effect.

The NEAR act includes 3 main initiatives to enhance DC’s health-based strategies on public safety:

  1. The establishment of an office that preventatively rehabilitates 50 individuals a year that are likely to commit violent crime by providing mental health services, financial stability through a stipend, and employment opportunities for these high-risk individuals. This is based off of a similar model implemented in Richmond, California that is correlated with a 76% reduction in firearm-related homicides and 60% reduction in firearm assaults with an injury (Committee Report, page 3).
  2. The addition of social workers to law enforcement teams to provide on-site assessment and care in reaction to a violent crime perpetrated by an individual suffering from a mental health disorder. This is an expansion of an existing DC program, and is similar to programs in other cities including Baltimore, MD where their version of this program (“Safe Streets”) is correlated with a 5.4 fewer homicide incidents and 34.6 fewer nonfatal shooting incidents than before the program (Johns Hopkins Report, page 2).
  3. The addition of social workers to hospital emergency rooms to provide just-in-time victim intervention to prevent a cycle of violence between perpetrators and victims. This is seen as an expansion of a separately initiated pilot program from FY 2016, the Crisis Continuum Project, funded by DC’s Office of Victim’s Services and Justice Grants at Violence at Washington Hospital Center (Committee Report, page 2; Fiscal Impact Statement, page 5).

All of these programs were funds-dependent according to the legislation, and the specific offices and programs needed to achieve these three goals were identified as:

  1. Establishing a new Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE), which would be the office responsible for the preventative rehabilitation of 50 high-risk individuals yearly. This new office would report directly to the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice (Fiscal Statement, page 1; NEAR Act Title I Subtitle A Sec 101(b))
  2. Establishing a new program in the Metropolitan Police Department called the Community Crime Prevention Team Pilot Program, which would be responsible for pairing mental health professionals with law enforcement teams to provide on-site assessment and care for criminals suffering from mental illness. This program’s fiscal responsibility belongs under the Department of Health (Fiscal Impact Statement, page 2; NEAR Act Title I Subtitle C Sec 105(a-b)).
  3. Adding funding to the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants to expand its Crisis Continuum Program, for the purposes of staffing District hospitals with health professionals for just-in-time victim intervention (Fiscal Impact Statement, page 2; NEAR Act Title I Subtitle B Sec 104(a)). OVSJG itself is legislatively placed under the Department of Judiciary and Public Safety.

The Fiscal Impact Statement prepared against the signed legislation estimated $5 million, $3.5 million, and $16 million needed, respectively, over 5 years to fund these 3 provisions (Fiscal Impact Statement, pages 4-6). No budget documents for FY 2017 indicated funding added to  establish either the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement or the Community Crime Prevention Team Pilot Program. During FY 2017, OVSJG did use existing funds to expand the Crisis Continuum Project to Prince George’s Hospital Center, Howard University Hospital, and Community Connections, but further expansions are dependent on available funding according to their office (OVSJG Performance Oversight Responses FY 2018, page 51).

Police reform is needed to prepare law enforcement for this new public health approach, and to discourage police brutality

Since this legislation represents a new direction in the priorities of DC for public safety strategy, the legislation explicitly mandates expanded training for police officers, particularly in the realms of mental health crisis intervention and bias prevention.

The NEAR Act also drastically narrows the language of DC’s legal definition of the crime of “Assault on a Police Officer”. Previously, the language was particularly broad, applying to the resistance to any arrest, with or without physical assault, and whether or not the arrest was lawful. Public comments from then-Police Chief Kathy Lanier revealed it could and had been used to convict individuals even when no physical force was used at all, and an investigation by WAMU 88.9 revealed, among other things, that the charge was levied disproportionately against black individuals and was used three times more often in DC than in cities of comparable size. (Committee Report, page 10-11). The NEAR Act replaced the previous definition with two separate offenses, one to represent resisting a lawful arrest (“Resisting Arrest”), and one to represent unjustifiably using force against a law enforcement officer performing his or her normal duties (“Assault on a Police Officer”).

The NEAR Act also expands the power of the Office of Police Complaints, a civilian agency that receives and processes complaints on police officer misconduct. Notably, it allows the OPC to be the sole authority to dismiss, conciliate, mediate, or adjudicate a citizen complaint (previously, MPD had authority to do this too), gives OPC greater referral authority, and expands the types of complaints OPC can handle. (Committee Report, page 20-22).

These provisions took effect immediately on the enactment of the NEAR Act in June 2016, as they required no additional funds to be implemented. (Fiscal Impact Statement).

Prison reform is needed to encourage reentry

Two NEAR Act provisions touch on prison reform, with the express intent to reduce repeat offenses after release. The specific changes in the NEAR Act are to give flexibility for pretrial defendants to go to work/school, and to increase the limits of “good time credits” for inmates that allow for a reduction in the sentence.

These provisions took effect immediately on the enactment of the NEAR Act in June 2016, as they required no additional funds to be implemented. (Fiscal Impact Statement).

So what’s going on with NEAR Act funds-dependent programs now?

Mayor Bowser released her FY 2018 proposed budget on April 4. The formal public commentary period for FY 2018’s budget started on April 6 with a series of hearings for which in-person testimony or written submissions could be collected. Public commentary meetings are organized by agency, each of which is presided over by its parent council committee. All the hearings for agencies affected by the NEAR Act for FY 2018 have already occurred; in fact the schedule of public commentary hearings ended entirely on May 12 (Budget Hearing Schedule, page 8). The next step for the budget is the submission and debate of amendments by councilmembers, which occurs during individual committee budget markup meetings this week.

The establishment of the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) is legislatively placed under the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice; the public hearing for this agency happened on April 12 (Budget Hearing Schedule, page 3). This agency is represented by the Committee of the Judiciary and Public Safety, which is headed by chairperson Charles Allen; the budget markup meeting is this Thursday, May 18. Mayor Bowser released a press release on May 11 clarifying her proposed budget’s intent to develop the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (Bowser Press Release 5/11), so this is assumedly covered in FY 2018 budget as submitted from the Mayor’s office.

The public hearing for budget amendments for the Department of Health was held on on April 28 (Budget Hearing Schedule, page 6). This agency is represented by the Committee on Health, which is headed by Chairperson Vincent Gray; the budget markup meeting for this committee is this Wednesday, May 17.

The Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants is its own agency; the formal hearing for this agency was Friday, May 5 (Budget Hearing Schedule, page 8). This agency is also represented by the Committee of the Judiciary and Public Safety, so will be represented by the same budget markup meeting as ONSE on Thursday, May 18.

We will be following these meetings closely to see what amendments come out of the committee meetings, if funding is finalized for the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, and what we can learn about DC funding coverage of the Crisis Continuum Project and the Community Crime Prevention Team Pilot Program for FY 2018.

As always, you can contact your Councilmember with comments about anything, including the current budget proposal and your opinions on the funding of the NEAR Act’s funds-dependent programs. In addition, we know of two local organizations that have been vocal advocates for the NEAR Act that you may want to follow if you are in support of this legislation: Black Lives Matter DC and Stop Police Terror Project DC

If you have questions or comments, feel free to comment here or email us at 1APublicSafety.DC@gmail.com!

 

Sources

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NEAR Act Funding – What, How, When?

Welcome to ANC1A, Lt. Robinson!

RobinsonI (this is Dan writing here — others are welcome to submit posts to this blog too!) met yesterday for an hour with Lt. Michelle Robinson, who heads up PSA 409 (see this post for an explanation of what a PSA is and other local policing fundamentals).

Lt. Robinson took over this command one or two months ago from Lt. Angela Cousins, and she oversees the sergeants and officers who patrol the northern half of 1A.

As Chair of 1A’s Public Safety Committee I look forward to working with Lt. Robinson.  I am grateful for her work and leadership within MPD since she joined the force in 1990.  She most recently served as the head of the Domestic Violence Unit for the city as a whole.  I have already found her to be responsive by email (you can reach her at michelle.robinson@dc.gov, but please call 911 instead in any emergency, and 311 for non-police services)

We drew a little map on notebook paper and started discussing the geography of the neighborhood.

Lt. Robinson has three initial messages for neighbors in the area:

  1. She is committed to your safety and would love your collaboration and communication.  Your eyes and ears and gut feelings and concerns are incredibly helpful and she is listening — so please be in touch!  You can also get to know MPD better by signing up for a 4-hour ride-along with an officer at any time.
  2. The next joint PSA 409/302 MPD and Community public safety meeting will be October 19, 2016 — mark your calendars!  And when you see officers before then, if you feel so inclined please say thank you for their service — it really helps encourage the officers when they feel that the community gets that they care.
  3. Not everyone understands that MPD does not solve many of the issues that people are often asking officers for help with — whether it is broken streetlights, mediating a (non-violent) dispute, mental health support, etc.  There are other DC agencies for all of these things.  At the same time the police officers are often the most visible points of contact in the city.  Therefore Lt. Robinson agreed that she will work on putting together a quick reference list of contact points in other agencies that can handle common concerns, and have that list available for officers to look at and help citizens know who best to contact.  Of course you can also call 311 for most issues.

I really appreciated Lt. Robinson’s engaging attitude.  I believe she is going to work hard for our neighborhood every day.  She is in a learning mode as she gets up to speed on her new command, and you can help her do her job by staying engaged and by communicating.

Welcome to ANC1A, Lt. Robinson!

2016 — First Half Crime Stats

ANC1A – 2016 First Half Stats: Most Crime Down, Guns Up

Dear neighbors, here are the crime statistics for our neighborhood (ANC1A — Columbia Heights and Park View) in the first half of this year, compared to the same time period in the past three years.  The numbers do not themselves tell a full story (behind each number is a very human story, and not every crime is reported) — yet they are a useful starting point for understanding where we are now, and to think about it in perspective over time:

Capture

We can see quite a bit of good news compared to last year:

First Half 2016 compared to First Half 2015

  • Total violent crime is down, including the categories of homicide, sex abuse, and robbery (even if robbery-gun and robbery are added together)
  • Total property crime is down, most notably theft f/ auto and theft/other
  • The overall crime count is the lowest it has been January-February, last few years

There are are also some very concerning trends compared to last year, most notably:

  • Robberies and assaults with guns are up
  • Burglaries are up
  • The homicide rate was not zero, which is the only homicide number to truly celebrate for our neighborhood IMHO.  (Also note that since this analysis is January-June, it does not include a recent homicide July 30, 2016 on 14th Street).

First Half 2016 in multi-year perspective

Looking back a few years helps us gain some additional perspective.  (Please note that every time I mention a year here, I will only be referring to the first six months of that year.)  2015 had a very tough first half of a year, and so did 2013.  In many ways this year, 2016, looks more like 2014.  Across the last several years we see ups and downs across different types of crime, rather than a simple story of improvement or decline.

Last year’s homicide rate stands out as horrible, and this year’s back closer to average.  Despite rising somewhat last year, robberies have fallen in frequency to about half the number reached in a scary 2013.  Both of these reflect movements overall in the right direction.

Unfortunately, looking farther back also highlights that the rise in gun-related activity is not just from last year to this year — robberies with guns are back near 2013 levels, and assaults with guns are higher than they have been at any other first-half of the year in the period.

The uptick in robberies puts us only slightly higher now than the 42.5 average for the period.

What does this mean?

Most simply, these statistics show us that anyone trying to paint either a very rosy or very dismal view of the direction of crime trends in the neighborhood over the past few years is not telling a sufficiently nuanced story.  There are things to celebrate, and also trends to stay vigilant about.

Of course, if we look at a longer historical perspective, we are still in quite good shape.  For example, while DC’s overall homicide rate of 162 in 2015 (full year) was rightfully concerning compared to 105 in 2014, neither is in the ballpark of the 397 experienced in 1996, 20 years ago.

Currently, the gun trend seems particularly concerning, although it is important to keep in mind that with such low base numbers, it is also nothing to panic about.  22 instances of robberies with a gun means that in our whole area across six months, with approximately 24,000 residents in our ANC and many more people who pass through the area, there is a report of being robbed with a gun an average of less than one person once a week.  Yet we can do better, and we should ask ourselves how that better can be achieved.

Stay tuned on this blog for further discussion of highlights to celebrate and lowlights to discuss in our area.

2016 — First Half Crime Stats

Police Fundamentals in 1A

PSAs 409 and 302

The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)’s coverage of the ANC1A area (Columbia Heights and Park View) is divided into two police Police Service Areas (PSAs), 409 and 302.  Here is a good map of this division.

Each PSA has a Lieutenant in charge.   PSA 409 is currently led by Lt. Robinson (michelle.robinson@dc.gov) and PSA 302 is led by Lt. Hodge (mark.hodge@dc.gov).

There is usually a joint meeting between 409/302 for the public, held quarterly at the 4th District Substation located at 750 Park Rd. NW.  The last such meeting was in June 2016, so the next one should be in September 2016.

If you have a notably positive or negative experience with your local police, I recommend contacting your Lt. by email.  When you reach out to your Lt., please feel free to cc the Chair of the 1A Public Safety Committee, currently Dan Kornfield (danielkornfield@yahoo.com), and your ANC Commissioner.

Our local officers should absolutely be held accountable for their interactions with citizens.  Please also remember to say a sincere “thank you” when you have a positive experience, or just say “thank you for your service, I really appreciate it” when you pass an officer on the sidewalk.  Please keep in mind that the police put their lives on the line for our safety, and often work night shifts or in uncomfortable weather, and too rarely get thanked.  Even if an officer behaves in a frustrating way, they still deserve to be addressed respectfully — as do each of us.

Underneath the Lt., each PSA also has three Sergeants, which lead the three shifts (morning, evening, and night).  If you tend to have a particular issue in your area during roughly the same time of day or night, you may want to ask your Lt. which Sergeant you should be in touch with to report the patterns that you are seeing.

Calling 911

Whenever you have something to report that you have recently seen/experienced, please call 911.  In DC, 911 is not just for active emergencies.  Even if the event is basically over, it is worth calling, because MPD uses 911 stats to help determine which areas to patrol more intensively.  If people do not call, MPD will not have a record of regular activity even if a lot is going on in the area.  If you contact the police by email about any criminal or suspicious activity, tell them (truthfully!) you have first called 911.  If you do not, they will generally ask you to do that first. 911 is also the best way to get hold of Fire/EMS.  If you have a general request for city service (e.g. can someone please remove this rusted bike body from that street sign in front of my house) then you should call 311.

Finally, it is worth knowing that 911 is not actually run by the police, it is run by the Office of Unified Communications, which in turn contacts other agencies, such as police and fire.  Therefore if you experience a breakdown in communication, it could be on the side of OUC or MPD.  Generally speaking, response to serious events is quite rapid.  If you do not get a sufficient response in the form of police showing up, first call 911 back, and later contact your local police leadership.  It is your choice whether or not to leave your name and phone number when you call 911, but it is highly encouraged, since a dispatcher can then call you back to put you in touch with an officer approaching the scene (the dispatcher and officer communicate via radio).

 

Police Fundamentals in 1A

Monthly Meetings

 

Dear neighbors,
 
On a monthly basis there are meetings of the Public Safety Committee for Columbia Heights and Park View (ANC1A) for one hour, often at the ANC 1A office at 3400 11th St NW Suite 200 (above Kangaroo Boxing Club). Generally we are meeting the third Wednesday of each month at 6pm.  Everyone who lives or does business in the area is welcome!
 
Look forward to seeing you there, and feel free to refer other interested persons to me as well.  Also please let us know if you cannot make it to the meeting but have something you want to express to me or to the group.  You can verify this month’s meeting time and place or contact the Committee at 1APublicSafety.DC@gmail.com
 
Preliminary AGENDA.  Please let me know if you would like to add anything.
  1. Introductions around the room
  2. Review of last month’s crime stats
  3. Update on 3 priorities for 2016: Block Organizers and Clean-Ups, Public Information Blog, Youth Activities
  4. Open discussion on additional neighborhood concerns and potential activities
  5. Conclusions and next steps
Monthly Meetings

What’s This Blog For?

Welcome!  The purpose of this blog is to serve as a public information center on public safety issues for people who live and/or work in Washington DC’s Columbia Heights and Park View neighborhoods.  It also offers an opportunity for citizens, if they chose, to get involved in supporting safety in the neighborhood.  It will cover:

  • News and updates on current events of public concern and reasons to celebrate
  • Analysis, questions, proposals for improvement, and calls to volunteer action
  • Background context for understanding our public safety environment, such as how the MPD is organized, how they relate to other DC agencies, etc.

The blog is maintained by the Public Safety Committee of the neighborhood’s local representative body, ANC1A (http://anc1a.org/).

Here is a map of the geographic area in focus for ANC1A and for this blog — it is the area inside the purple lines:

1Amap

You will notice that ANC1A is divided into 12 sub-areas.  Each of these is a single-member district represented by an elected ANC Commissioner.  You can find your Commissioner’s contact information here: http://anc1a.org/cms.html

If you have any questions or would like to submit a post, please contact us at 1APublicSafety.DC@gmail.com.

What’s This Blog For?