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Amid 40% Surge in Violent Crime, D.C. Faces Unique Challenges, UMD Gun Violence Expert Tells Congress

Researcher Calls for New Laws, $6B Anti-Violence Investment

By Rachael Grahame ’17

metropolitan police officer stands at Washington DC crime scene

A police officer surveys the scene at an August double shooting in Southeast Washington, D.C. A UMD expert on gun violence told members of the U.S. House this week that the federal government can take steps to fight the District's soaring violent crime rate.

Photo by Kyle Mazza/Sipa via AP Images

Better collaboration between the more than 20 law enforcement agencies in and around Washington, D.C. could help address the district’s skyrocketing violent crime rate, as could a major investment in anti-violence strategies, a University of Maryland gun violence expert testified on Capitol Hill.

Thomas Abt, director of the Center for the Study and Practice of Violence Reduction and associate research professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, spoke Thursday to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance.

Violence is falling in most cities around the country, but not in the District, he said, testifying alongside other experts, crime survivors and witnesses. As of this past Tuesday, violent crime was up 40% compared with the same time last year, and up 30% compared to the same period in 2019, he told legislators.

At the hearing marked by partisan bickering, Abt said the city faces unique challenges when compared to other jurisdictions, but potential solutions are within Congress’ control. He pointed to complexities created by the area’s federal structure and the wide array of agencies with jurisdiction in the district—demanding communication and cooperation.

“If there's one thing I know after more than 25 years in this field, it's this: Reducing crime and violence is a team sport,” he said. “If individual players do not play well together, the team will not succeed.”

[An End to the Bleeding: UMD Researchers Partner With Knoxville, Tenn., on Data-Driven Approach to Reducing Gun Violence]

Abt called for specific actions from Congress, including amending the Privacy Act of 1974, which prohibits federal agencies from disclosing criminal information to local agencies. He also called on Congress to appropriate funding for D.C.’s crime lab and support the crime lab’s accreditation—which it has been without since 2021—as well as to fill vacancies in D.C. court positions and to remove the requirement for Senate hearings on nominees.

“None of these actions are likely to garner headlines, but they would make a difference in terms of safety for D.C. residents,” Abt said.

Abt also reiterated his plea from an earlier hearing in March 2022: that Congress dedicate $6 billion to communities’ rollout of evidence-informed, anti-violence strategies.

“Then, as now, we must remember that when it comes to violent crime, it’s about solving a deadly serious problem, not winning an abstract argument,” he said. “It’s about emphasizing evidence over ideology. It's about bringing people together, not pulling them apart.”



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