Erin Palmer’s Plan for Safe, Stable, & Secure Communities

All DC residents deserve safe, stable, and secure communities.

We know the safest communities are the ones with resources and stability. As long as people’s basic needs remain unmet — things like secure and stable housing, healthy food, high-quality healthcare, and economic security through education and employment — our city will not be as safe as it could be. Making our communities safer will require sustained, intentional investments in violence prevention and intervention in communities that have faced longstanding disinvestment, including trauma-informed support for communities impacted by violence. We must focus on preventing and intervening — and not just reacting — to violence to address the root causes of violence and strengthen our communities. Concentrating our efforts on reacting to violence has cost DC billions of dollars and failed to result in safer communities. DC residents broadly support investing in support for our neighbors and violence prevention and intervention to keep our communities safe.

Regardless of the government service, it is not enough to set it and forget it. Whether it is violence prevention, police, or other emergency responders, the DC Council must be committed to sound, data-driven, coordinated efforts for our city. As DC Council Chairwoman, I will lead the Council in following the facts and the science, whether it’s public health-based approaches to violence prevention and intervention, time studies that make sure we are using police efficiently and well, or pursuing truth in a crime lab with oversight and accreditation.

My commitment to working to support communities as a measure of violence prevention is rooted in my professional background and personal experiences. In 2012, I had the opportunity to work with a group of psychologists, social scientists, and neuroscientists on an amicus brief in a case before the United States Supreme Court about how sentencing youth offenders to life without parole sentences constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the 14th Amendment. These scientists had studied youth brain development, finding that young people are substantially affected by their environments and susceptible to peer pressure, as well as “virtually certain to mature and evolve with support and proper environmental influence.”

The important work of this group of scientists showed a correlation between delinquent behavior and trauma, including witnessing assault or murder, being threatened with a weapon, or being forced into sexual acts; a correlation between delinquent behavior and a violent home life; and that frequent exposure to threatening or violent environments strains youth brain development and further impairs impulse control. The research also demonstrated that interventions, including teaching youth new ways to process information, can reduce delinquent behavior. I appreciated working on this brief at a time when I had just had my first child and was learning the process of caring for another human and the importance of stability and security in my child’s life.

Community safety is at the top of people’s minds with many residents similarly recognizing the importance of stability and security in preventing violence. It’s why 82% of people who responded to a recent Washington Post poll support “[i]ncreasing funding to build economic opportunities in poor neighborhoods with higher crime” and 63% of people who responded support “[h]aving outreach workers try to resolve disputes between residents who might use guns” as measures to reduce crime. Meeting basic needs and investing in violence prevention and intervention efforts are important measures to improve safety.

Institutional accountability is also central to keeping our communities safe. We know sometimes people need help in critical situations, but emergency response isn’t always about force. It is about rapidly ensuring that our neighbors get the urgent response and care they need. Dispatching police to a situation they aren’t needed in — like a medical emergency, a mental health crisis, or a fire — overburdens police and keeps the right care from the right person at the right time. That is why I have consistently focused on our emergency systems, like the Office of Unified Communications, to ensure that our neighbors are getting the help they need. We also know that the police are not the only responders to violent crimes and when we investigate we must always seek truth, not just be satisfied with arrests. That is why reforming our closed Department of Forensic Science and continual abysmal case closure rate must be a DC Council priority.

Below I outline three critical areas for safe, stable, and secure communities:

  1. Meet Residents’ Basic Needs as Rights. Secure and stable communities are safe communities. Yet, every map of DC is the same. Whether we are talking about housing stability, access to healthy food, high-quality education, patient-centered healthcare, or community safety, we are seeing the results of decades of chronic disinvestment. Consistent, values-based leadership can correct for this chronic disinvestment and make us safer.
  2. Meaningfully Invest in Violence Intervention. Gun violence in DC cost the city almost $1 billion in 2021 alone. And that’s just the financial cost, not to mention the trauma that ripples through communities. Preventing violence is paramount, and it requires meaningful investments that meet the scale of need to keep our communities safe. It also requires targeted and coordinated efforts based on data — and DC Council oversight is essential.
  3. Demand Accountable Public Safety Agencies that Serve DC Residents. DC residents have emergency needs, too, and they have the right to have those needs met effectively and well. That means police who are accountable and in service of the community, emergency response systems that are smart and effective, and a justice system that works in pursuit of the truth, not just a headline. Strong leadership can correct for years of failures in delivery of emergency services.

A safer and stronger DC is possible. It requires values-based leadership dedicated to meeting people’s needs and supporting our communities — leadership that won’t lean into fearmongering and failed tactics that worsened mass incarceration with devastating impacts in the 1990s. We can use data and facts to double down on the programs that work and save lives. It’s time for new energy, vision, and compassion to keep our communities safe.

Meet Residents’ Basic Needs as Rights:

Meeting people’s basic needs honors the dignity of our residents, corrects for chronic disinvestment in communities, and prevents violence. Every map of DC is the same, a pattern of continued disinvestment in Black communities and systemic racism in every part of our government. DC residents want the same things — safe and stable housing; healthy food; high-quality public education; equitable and patient-centered healthcare; good-paying, stable jobs; high-quality and well-maintained parks and playgrounds; and safety in our communities. Building a safer city means not only ending patterns of discrimination but actively providing more resources to right historic wrongs. We know that stable and secure communities are safe communities, and that we must work intentionally and diligently to correct for historic neglect and disinvestment.

The Council can meet residents’ basic needs and ensure strong communities by:

Meaningful Investments in Violence Intervention:

Consistent with national priorities and best practices, we must invest meaningfully in violence intervention to reduce violence and lessen its impacts. For too long, our focus has been on reacting to violence, and we know that has an extreme cost, both financially and in terms of the trauma endured by our communities. We must target resources toward the neighborhoods experiencing the highest rates of violence and the small number of high-risk individuals. We must use oversight to ensure that our diverse programs are coordinated and work well together, and double-down on the most successful among them. For too long, employment programs have focused on photo opportunities for politicians and not ensuring meaningful opportunities for those in our communities. Every dollar in these programs is precious and must provide opportunity to our neighbors, which requires dedication to ensure they work well and effectively.

Every person who is harmed by violence is a beloved family member, friend, and neighbor, and the trauma impacts all of us. We must invest heavily in robust trauma-informed services, especially for our children, young adults, and families to help heal the deep wounds in our communities. I’ve talked to so many community members — many of whom are Black women — who care for and carry the weight of violence in our communities. They deserve our support and the opportunity to heal.

The Council can meaningfully support violence intervention in our communities by:

  • Continually centering community voice in conversations and policymaking around violence prevention and intervention, particularly those impacted directly by violence, including through a more coordinated approach to public engagement at the DC Council and by making participation in DC Council proceedings more inclusive and accessible, as detailed in my DC Council Accountability Plan;
  • Timely assessing and implementing the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform’s citywide Gun Violence Reduction Strategic Plan, specifically:
  • creating community resource hubs for a safe, positive, helpful, and caring environment to share resources from government agencies and community based organizations
  • increasing and enhancing the use of data and implementation of a comprehensive, coordinated, citywide gun violence reduction strategy
  • launching regular shooting reviews and coordination, including intervention services
  • increasing the number of violence intervention workers and enhancing training and support for these workers
  • increasing funding for DC’s hospital-based violence intervention program (HVIP), ensuring hospitals are adequately staffed to operate the HVIP program 24/7, and making sure HVIP staff are able to earn a salary on par with other DC violence intervention workers
  • prioritizing very high-risk individuals for government funded services and incentives
  • ensuring every youth and adult released from custody is paired with a Credible Messenger — neighborhood leaders, experienced youth advocates, and individuals with relevant life experiences who can provide support, and
  • empowering and sustainably funding community-based violence intervention organizations to build capacity and skills to meet the scale of the issue with services and ensure they are paid a living wage;
  • Engaging in consistent, thorough, and dedicated DC Council oversight to streamline and coordinate violence intervention efforts that exist within several agencies (Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, Hospital-Based Violence Interruption Program, Cure the Streets, Roving Leaders, Credible Messengers Initiative, Office of Gun Violence Prevention, Deputy Mayor of Public Safety and Justice) that do not necessarily share information or work together cohesively and that contract and subcontract services, as well as using data to inform those efforts;
  • Funding robust trauma-informed services, especially for our children, young adults, communities impacted by violence, and people who work in the field of violence prevention, that are accessible and culturally-specific and include traditional and non-traditional healing therapies;
  • Reversing the $11 million cut in funding for supports and services for survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, and gun violence by increasing funding for Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants so that they can provide nonprofits with adequate funding for services to support survivors of crime to meet huge increases in requests and need for such services;
  • Rapidly expanding employment and entrepreneurship programs such as the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement’s successful Pathways Program, a transitional employment program that decreases involvement in the criminal justice system and improves employment, education, and training outcomes, and Georgetown University’s Pivot Program, which empowers returning citizens to start and run their own businesses;
  • Supporting and moving forward the the Record Expungement Simplification to Offer Relief and Equity (“RESTORE”) Amendment Act to significantly expand the eligibility to seal or expunge publicly available criminal records for DC residents and reduce employment and housing barriers for those who were arrested but not convicted, convicted of a crime that has been decriminalized, or who have served their time and are returning home;
  • Working to reduce deaths from drug overdoses in our communities by implementing research-based overdose prevention facilities in DC and conducting vigorous oversight of our opioid harm reduction plans to prevent misuse and waste of money intended to save lives;
  • Expanding funding for the District Department of Behavioral Health’s Community Response Team to meet need and exploring national models for successful non-police emergency mental health like the Denver STAR program and the Chicago CAHOOTS program (with proposed federal funding via legislation co-sponsored by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton) and recommending best practices through use of my proposed Council legislative research service;
  • Ensuring adequate funding of programs and oversight of relevant agencies to address neighborhood blight with a racial equity lens, including litter and dumping, abandoned cars, property maintenance conditions that allow crime to fester (e.g., broken access doors, poor lighting, unsecured vacant units), and vacant units and properties, including through increased oversight capacity, as described in my DC Council Accountability Plan; and
  • Engaging in coordinated oversight across government agencies like the District Department of Health and the District Department of Behavioral Health to meaningfully address community safety as a public health crisis, including through increased oversight capacity and nonpartisan institutionalized support, as described in my DC Council Accountability Plan.

Accountable Public Safety Agencies that Serve DC Residents:

Keeping our communities safe means our government agencies must be performing efficiently, ethically, and in service of our communities. We’ve seen the devastating impacts of an Office of Unified Communications that fails to timely respond to calls for service. In my own neighborhood, two people died when DC’s 911 center delayed a response to a fire by more than four minutes. We’ve seen delays, inability to close cases, and taxpayer expense resulting from the sloppy legislative drafting that resulted in a crime lab that has lost its accreditation. We’ve seen repeated calls for a staffing study for the Metropolitan Police Department after a limited assessment found that police officers spent a smaller portion of their time on calls for service than other comparable cities. Despite a current Council Chair who regularly takes credit for the work of the Police Reform Commission and its report and recommendations, we’ve seen little to no movement on those proposals. Commitments to better safety must be consistent, clear, and based on principles and not on polling. The DC Council can focus on data, process, and oversight to better ensure the safety of our communities.

The Council can make sure government agencies are performing well and keeping our communities safe by:

  • Using data to determine the number of police necessary to keep our communities safe by acting on the findings and recommendations of the Office of the DC Auditor with regard to police officer utilization where the DC Auditor recommended an audit in 2017 after preliminary findings that DC police officers were spending less time helping residents than officers in other cities;
  • Implementing a racial equity framework for gun violence prevention proposed by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy and others to ensure policymaking related to violence prevention does not contribute to or exacerbate existing racial and public health inequities, and recognizing that Black residents are disproportionately affected by police violence and community violence;
  • Shortening 911 and 311 response times by calling on the DC Auditor’s Office to continue their planned follow-up audit of the Office of Unified Communications, holding hearings on and considering legislation related to the Auditor’s findings and recommendations, holding a hearing and full Council vote on the proposed Director of the Office of Unified Communications, and requesting re-examination of the Office of the Inspector General’s 1998 report on hiring and compensation for emergency dispatchers;
  • Implementing standards, training, and objectivity requirements for examiners at the District’s failed Department of Forensic Science (crime lab) and engaging in robust oversight to correct for legislative and oversight failures that led to the crime lab’s loss of accreditation to ensure a truly independent, objective, and expert-led crime lab;
  • Acting on the Police Reform Commission’s detailed, 259-page report with 90 recommendations that would “lead to far greater investment in services and supports to address the root causes of crime and disorder, both individual and systemic” through consideration of data and hearings, unlike the current Council Chair;
  • Ensuring implementation of a deputy auditor for public safety within the DC Auditor’s Office and engaging with and acting in response to recommendations put forward, so that they are not ignored like much of the work and recommendations of the DC Auditor’s Office more broadly, as recommended in my DC Council Accountability Plan;
  • Conducting oversight over the lack of discipline for Metropolitan Police Department officers who engage in verified cases of police misconduct, as raised by the Office of Police Complaints, and ensuring that our police department is ethical and accountable;
  • Engaging in oversight regarding repeated lawsuits alleging harassment and discrimination at the Metropolitan Police Department and the DC Housing Authority Police by demanding accountability from our Chief of Police and ensuring that we are doing more to promote a safe work environment for women police officers; and
  • Working collaboratively with both the Mayor and the Attorney General on violence prevention and intervention, and community safety matters more broadly, to repair division among various entities that damages our collective and coordinated approach to ensuring we have safe communities.
Erin and neighbors.

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Erin Palmer

Erin Palmer

Candidate for DC Council Chairwoman