D.C. Councilmember Updates GW’s Neighbors on Public Safety

Judiciary Committee chair says community support is key to fighting crime.

D.C. Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie
D.C. Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) addresses Foggy Bottom residents on Tuesday. (Rob Stewart/GW Today)
April 15, 2015

Keeping communities safe requires a strong partnership between police and residents, D.C. Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie (D–Ward 5) told Foggy Bottom residents at the neighborhood’s April FRIENDS meeting.

“Community involvement and activism is so critical to law enforcement,” said Mr. McDuffie, chair of the Committee on the Judiciary, which has oversight responsibility for public safety in the District. “It’s important—not only to respond to crime that occurs, but to help prevent crime—that police officers are armed with as much information as possible.”

FRIENDS, a group formed in 2002 that aims to establish a dialogue between George Washington University and the community, gathers monthly at meetings hosted by GW’s Office of Government and Community Relations.

Mr. McDuffie and Darrell Darnell, senior associate vice president for safety and security at GW, provided an update on public safety and crime statistic trends at this month’s meeting, held Tuesday night at the School Without Walls.

From January to April 2015, overall violent crime in Police Service Area 207—which includes GW and the surrounding Foggy Bottom neighborhood—declined compared with the same period last year, according to records available from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

While the statistics are encouraging, Mr. McDuffie stressed that for the trend to continue, MPD must have support from the community, including institutions like GW.

“I have seen firsthand, as a former prosecutor, how important it is for law enforcement to have the support of the community because we need witnesses,” he said. “I do appreciate the work that is already being done here.”

Since becoming chair of Judiciary Committee in January, one of Mr. McDuffie’s greatest political victories came just two weeks ago when D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Lee Satterfield ordered judges to decide case-by-case whether juveniles should wear arm and leg restraints in court. Mr. McDuffie had led an initiative calling for the end of routine shackling of juvenile defendants during court appearances.

“Now, youth will only be shackled after a judge determines whether they present a threat to themselves of the safety of the public,” he said.

Mr. McDuffie also announced a youth violence prevention forum that he will host April 25 at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast D.C.

“As you all know, we have some concerns here in the District of Columbia with violence occurring among our youth,” he said. “It is something that is near and dear to my heart, having grown up here. I want to make sure we’re putting resources in place that go to the heart, the root causes, of what causes crime among our juveniles.”

The councilmember said he plans to rely not only on a public safety approach to curb youth violence, but also to work with D.C. Public Schools and human service agencies to address the problem.

“We look forward to working with Councilmember McDuffie on these and other issues,” said Britany Waddell, director of community relations at GW.

Mr. Darnell told neighbors at the meeting that GW is close to selecting a GW Police Department chief to replace Kevin Hay, who stepped down from his position last semester. He also reminded attendees that cold weather likely cut down on parties from GW students—along with the recent closing of McFadden’s—but warmer days and the end of the semester are approaching, which may lead to noisy celebrations.

“We’ll be talking with some of the affinity groups and the Greek community, as we normally do, to remind them of what their rules and responsibilities are,” Mr. Darnell said, “in terms of adhering to the student code of conduct, which travels with them, whether they are on campus or not.”

Following the speakers’ remarks, some neighbors raised concerns about public safety in Foggy Bottom, including whether the area is safe to walk alone at night.

“It’s obviously a judgment call. You all know your neighbors better than I do. I always encourage anyone, who is going to walk in any major urban city, to use caution,” Mr. McDuffie said. “I don’t think you need to fear for your safety necessarily, but you have to be mindful and always be cognizant of your surroundings.”