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Critics Question Value of D.C.'s 'Safe Passage' Program

Amid an alarming surge of youth violence, one of Washington, D.C.'s most well-known efforts to protect students on their commutes to and from school faces questions about its mission and effectiveness, the Washington Post reports. The city's Safe Passage Safe Blocks program was recently expanded. But some students, parents and school leaders have doubts about whether the people it posts outside schools in high-crime neighborhoods are making communities safer. “There’s a growing frustration, and growing weariness and a loss of patience,” said Dan Davis, who leads the city’s Office of the Student Advocate. “We see young people, it feels like every day, becoming victims of gunshots. Those are people’s friends, their classmates, their neighbors.”

Andre Jamar Robertson Jr., 15, died in an October shooting near Aiton Elementary School and, more recently, a 6- and 9-year-old were shot and injured while exiting a Metro bus. The program first launched in 2017 to help address concerns about student safety, including threats of violence, intimidation or harassment around schools. The city issues grants to community organizations, which then place adults from the neighborhood, like ex-security officers, parents or concerned residents, along specific routes. The 160 workers are tasked with keeping a watchful eye out for danger while welcoming students into school or sending them off in the afternoons. The city spent $4.3 million to expand Safe Passage last fiscal year. In total, there are 52 campuses that are part of the program this year. It can be difficult to assess how big a difference the program has made. Paul Kihn, D.C.'s deputy mayor for education, says reports from schools have been "generally positive." Officials test other metrics, including the number of violent incidents before and after school involving youth, and self-reported data from Safe Passage workers about how often they mediate conflicts between students. But those factors still don’t completely explain whether communities are getting safer, Kihn said. “It’s very, very difficult, given the range of factors involved in community violence, to be able to look at those kinds of measures to see whether things are ticking up or ticking down,” he said.


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