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The Complicated Factors Of High Violent Crime In DC

In 2023, despite a large violent crime reduction nationally, Washington DC saw its deadliest year in more than two decades, with 274 people killed and a homicide rate that makes it among the deadliest cities in the country. Violent crime also spiked nearly 40 percent in the nation’s capital, driven largely by a surge of armed robberies and carjackings, many of them perpetrated by kids. Just this week, police fatally shot a man who they believe committed or tried to commit at least four carjackings in D.C. and suburban Maryland and also opened fire on two occupied police vehicles in separate locations in a span of less than 10 hours, the Washington Post reports. The rise in murder and violent crime has been horrible for the city’s residents, particularly for victims and family members, and those living in the racially segregated eastern neighborhoods of the city where the majority of homicides took place. And it has become a partisan flashpoint. But experts and analysts say there are several possible factors that make the nation’s capital different from other places, and could help explain why violence surged in DC despite falling elsewhere, Vox reports


One complicating factor is that D.C. is not a state. Multiple law enforcement agencies operate within the city limits, making coordination difficult. Crimes are prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, rather than an elected district attorney, and the U.S. Congress can override laws passed by the DC City Council. Police numbers are down, and they are making fewer arrests. Of those arrested, fewer are being charged.  While House Republicans have assailed DC’s leaders for being “soft on crime,” city leaders passed emergency legislation last summer handing more power to police and prosecutors to go after people suspected of committing violent crimes and the council is working on a larger public safety bill that would expand upon last year’s legislation. “One of the challenges is that, on paper, the District is doing a lot of the things you’d want the city to do,” Thomas Abt, professor and founding director of the University of Maryland’s Violence Reduction Center. “The challenge is in implementation and collaboration.”

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