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District Wire

No one really knows why D.C.’s violent crime rate is up this summer

D.C. is experiencing an uptick in violent crime this summer that has local officials scratching their heads. Mayor Muriel Bowser blames the increase partly on synthetic drug use, while Police Chief Cathy Lanier rejects the notion it’s part of a ‘Ferguson effect’ and has vowed to address the sale of the drug.

D.C. councilmembers and neighborhood leaders have held meetings across town to discuss public safety in recent weeks. For the AU community, the issue hit home when 2013 alumnus Kevin Sutherland was killed aboard a Metro train on July 4.

District, Measured, a blog from the city’s Office of Revenue Analysis, found a 20 percent increase in gun crimes from last year. That overall increase has been driven by the number of summer gun crimes, which stands at 428 as of July — almost 100 more cases than each of the last three individual summers.


(Graphs courtesy District, Measured)


Gun crime hasn’t increased in every neighborhood, however. Findings show increases in Petworth, NoMa, Capitol Hill and H Street, and areas east of the Anacostia River.

The findings can’t explain what’s behind the rise in gun violence in those neighborhoods, but they do give context to the trend. Poorer communities, like ones east of the Anacostia River, and others going through rapid economic change, like NoMa, H Street, Petworth, are facing more trouble. In contrast, the number of gun crime incidents in wealthier neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park — like Tenleytown, Cleveland Park and Georgetown — have either stayed the same or decreased from 2014. 



An Urban Institute analysis shows that despite this summer’s surge in crime, violence in the District continues to drop since the 1990s. Aggravated assaults and robberies continue to decline overall, although they remain persistent in some pockets of D.C., particularly in some Northeast and Southeast neighborhoods.

City says synthetic drugs contribute to crime

This nationwide crime trend led to major city police chiefs — including officials from Baltimore, St. Louis and Chicago — to hold a summit last Monday, which Lanier attended. From the meeting came several recommendations including reducing recidivism, creating better detection tests for synthetic drugs and building trust between police departments and communities, WTOP reported.

Synthetic drugs, which are often referred to as “synthetic marijuana” and illegally sold in city liquor stores and gas stations, have been linked to a number of crimes. To combat sales, the city toughened penalties on establishments that sell the drug in July, giving District police the power to shut down first offenders for 96 hours and fine them $10,000.

The city warns that the drugs, sometimes sold in packaging with pictures of cartoon characters, cause side effects that more closely resemble PCP than marijuana. They can cause a person to become incoherent, disorderly and aggressive, the D.C. Department of Health says.

“It’s nothing like marijuana,” Bowser said at a press conference today. “It’s a contributor [to crime]. We don’t want people using synthetic drugs; it’s causing significant health effects, [and] it’s causing a big impact on our Fire and Emergency Medical Services to respond to calls for synthetic drug overdoses. It’s putting a significant strain on all of our infrastructure.”

cdil@theeagleonline.com


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