An independent agency of the Washington, D.C., government on Monday determined that the city had made little progress in curbing the district’s crime spree. 2023 was the deadliest year on record in the city, with violent crime more generally reaching a 25-year high. The Jan. 29 report is an annual summary of gun violence in particular. While the national homicide rate has hovered at around five deaths annually per 100,000 residents, D.C.’s was over six times the national average in 2022, reaching 33.6 deaths. 

Despite being an arm of the D.C. government, even the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council highlights the most tried and true, effective means for cutting down on crime: prosecution and imprisonment. Its report states that “the vast majority of individuals … involved in homicides and shootings” had previously been “not just arrested, but also prosecuted.”

Founded in the 1980s, the council is described on its website as a vehicle for information sharing, a means by which to “facilitate interagency and cross-system policy committees and work groups,” and a place for “interagency cooperation.” Essentially, the council allows the D.C. criminal justice agency heads to convene, collect data, and advise.

By the council’s published review, approximately 78% of homicide victims and suspects were known to the criminal justice system at some point “prior to the incident.” Moreover, by the time an individual is arrested for homicide in the District of Columbia, “most … had been arrested about ten times for twelve separate offenses by the time of the homicide.” Put simply, whether the purpose of the “system” is rehabilitation or appropriate punishment, it isn’t working. 

At some point, it is no longer about the individual prosecutor but office policy. Ten different attorneys reviewing cases of those with prior criminal histories will not all independently determine to drop or reduce charges unless their office mandates they do so. If the policy is to catch and release, prosecutorial discretion is effectively removed, and their hands are tied.

A homicide suspect in D.C. has, on average, had 6.9 prior criminal cases “disposed” of — meaning not resulting in a conviction. The study goes on to add that “an analysis of these cases shows that, on average, more than half of the prior cases were dismissed.” 

Ironically, on the final page of the report, the council makes many recommendations for the Metropolitan Police Department but none for the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office, the D.C. Superior Court, or the D.C. Attorney General’s Office, all of which are the ones dismissing nearly 70% of the cases for violent individuals, emboldening them to become murderers. 

One of the three offices in D.C. that prosecutes crime will hopefully take an additional lesson from this report. In order to reduce violent crime in the district, the data show that the most effective route is to extend prison sentences. Or, at the very least, stop dismissing cases and releasing criminals back onto the street. 

How many arrests does it take for an individual to believe there are meaningful consequences for decisions they make? Apparently, in our nation’s capital, the answer is “at least seven.”