D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a Mayor’s Order recognizing gun violence as a public health crisis and announced the creation of an emergency gun violence prevention center at a situational update on Feb. 17.
The order comes as a response to a spike in gun violence in D.C. last year and establishes the Gun Violence Prevention Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which is part of a new gun violence prevention program known as Building Blocks DC. According to the situational update presentation, while violent crimes from 2016 to 2020 have generally gone down, gun crime trends have gone up. 922 people were shot in D.C. last year, and 198 people were killed. Acts of gun violence and homicides disproportionately impacted the Black community. In 2020, 95 percent of homicide victims were Black, and 160 of the 198 homicide victims were Black men.
“Today we are recognizing the scourge of gun violence for what it is: a public health crisis that requires a whole-government approach focused on people and places in our community,” Bowser said in a statement.
And the trends of increased homicide are continuing. As of Feb. 17, when the program was announced, there had been 25 homicides in D.C., a 14 percent increase from that date in 2020, despite a 28 percent decrease in overall crime.
The EOC has four main goals: focusing on people and places that have contributed most to gun violence, mobilizing the whole D.C. government to respond, creating clear protocols to deal with the situation, and coordinating the development of long-term strategies to reduce gun violence.
Through the EOC, Building Blocks DC engages with those at high risk of being a victim or perpetrator of gun violence. Initial engagement efforts will be focused on those who have been repeatedly arrested for gun-related offenses, victims of gun violence, individuals under the active supervision of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, and people impacted by gun violence. Building Blocks DC is being funded by an initial $15 million investment, with additional funding in the budget for the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.
Through comprehensive data analysis of D.C. using gun-related crime reports from 2020, Building Blocks DC has identified 151 blocks as the most vulnerable. These blocks comprise 41 percent of violent offenses with shots fired in the District, but make up only 2 percent of all the blocks in D.C.
Building Blocks DC is launching the EOC in the Anacostia Historic District within Ward 8, a region of the District that is 91.8 percent Black and home to 18,989 families. The EOC will be staffed by government leaders who specialize in areas of social services, housing, job training, mental health, and more. Linda Harlee Harper, who was appointed D.C.’s first gun violence prevention director in January, will be tasked with creating the team to staff the center.
The update stressed that while being launched in the Anacostia, the EOC is an evolving center that will adapt to the varying needs of each street block and community as it is replicated and expanded.