Some Context for Crime in D.C.

The context is 67 percent of those arrested aren’t prosecuted (boldface mine):

In fiscal year 2022, which ended in September, the USAO received 15,315 arrests from police working in D.C. and declined to prosecute 10,261, or 67 percent of them. That figure includes 8,238 declined misdemeanor arrests (72 percent) and 2,023 declined felony arrests (53 percent).

The discrepancy points to a major gap in how two of the primary law enforcement entities in D.C.—police and prosecutors—view the strength of evidence against people arrested in D.C., and the gap has gotten wider in recent years, according to an analysis by Joe Friday, a local crime blogger.

The USAO’s declination rate has steadily increased since fiscal year 2016, when federal prosecutors declined 31 percent of arrests. In fiscal year 2020, the Trump-appointed USAO declined 48 percent of cases.

According to the feds–and we’ll return them in a bit–tough on crime Mayor Bowser’s executive branch is fucking up again:

“First, because the District’s Department of Forensic Sciences evidence lost its accreditation, we often cannot secure the drug testing, DNA, and firearms testing we need to successfully prosecute these offenses,” according to the USAO. “Second, we have, in the last few years, been able to incorporate body-worn camera [footage] into our charging decisions, which allows us to identify challenges before we charge. As a result, we are seeing fewer charged cases being dismissed by courts.”

MPD outfitted its officers with body cameras by the end of 2016, which roughly coincides with the current trend in disparities between arrests and prosecutions. Body camera footage, in particular, has the potential to reveal flaws in police work that could diminish the strength of other evidence in a case.

(When it comes to the Department of Forensic Sciences, the Council isn’t blameless either).

That said, let’s remember that the citizens of the District no control over its prosecutors (or judges):

D.C. is unique in that the federal government controls most of its local criminal justice system, including prosecution of adult crimes. That means the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who is appointed by the president, rather than a locally elected or appointed prosecutor, reviews arrests made by police in D.C. and files criminal charges in D.C. Superior Court.

I’m not sure I’m going to take the federal prosecutors at their word, but, at least regarding the policing and crime lab, this is a massive failure of governance. There are very few currently elected officials in the District who deserve re-election.

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