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Why Were 67% Of D.C. Arrests Not Prosecuted Last Year?

As Washington, D..C., grapples with rising crime and increasing attention from Congressional Republicans over public safety issues, a startling statistic emerged: last year, federal prosecutors in D.C.’s U.S. Attorney’s office chose not to prosecute 67 percent of those arrested by police officers in cases that could have been tried in D.C. Superior Court, reports the Washington Post. That figure, first reported on the substack DC Crime Facts, nearly doubled from 2015, when prosecutors declined to prosecute 35 percent of such cases. The increased number of declined cases has frustrated city leaders who are already under a national microscope from members of Congress over crime fighting. This month, the Senate joined the House in rejecting an overhaul of the city’s criminal code, in part because it called for reducing penalties for certain crimes, including carjacking.


Matthew Graves, the Biden administration's U.S. Attorney in D.C., said his office was continuing to prosecute the vast majority of violent felonies. He said prosecutors were declining less serious cases for myriad reasons, including that the city’s crime lab remained unaccredited and police body-camera footage was subjecting arrests to more scrutiny. Police Chief Robert Contee said his officers were not to blame. “I can promise you, it’s not [the police department] holding the bag on this,” Contee said. “That’s B.S.” The U.S. Attorney’s office in D.C. is unique nationally, handling local crimes as well as federal cases in U.S. District Court. Compared with a local prosecutor’s office, a 67 percent declination rate is high. For example, in Wayne County, Mi., which includes Detroit, the prosecutor’s office reported declining 33 percent of its cases last year. Prosecutors in Philadelphia declined 4 percent and prosecutors in Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, declined 14 percent. "Of course we are concerned,” Contee said. “We believe every person we arrest should be off the streets.”

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