The audit finds mixed results in DC’s public health approach to curbing violence

DC is seeing mixed results five years after it began implementing a comprehensive blueprint for a public health approach to criminal justice reform.

DC is seeing mixed results five years after it began implementing a comprehensive blueprint for a public health approach to criminal justice reform.

The Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act, known as NEAR, was enacted by the Council in 2016. On Tuesday, District of Columbia Auditor Kathy Patterson released a report examining the implementation and impact of the NEAR Act. to see if the law has been implemented as intended and what impacts could be demonstrated from its first five years.

Patterson tells WTOP that some aspects of the wide-ranging plan are working well, others need improvement, and some have been ignored.

On the plus side, a nine-month transitional work schedule for people aged 20 to 35 who are considered at risk of committing or being victims of violent crime is promising.

“People who have been involved in the criminal justice system offer them training and subsidized jobs,” Patterson said. “It offers them a way to try to break the path of participating in public violence.”

Another element is the Violence Intervention Program, with contracts with three community organizations to stop violence.

“Violence breakers are deployed in high-violence communities and interact with communities,” said Patterson. “But this will really require a more sophisticated kind of social science study to tell what the impact on violence is – we can’t prove what she has not happened. “

Patterson said the NEAR Act requires DC Health’s Office of Violence Prevention and Health Equity to provide services in local emergency rooms and provide informed trauma counseling and assistance to victims of violence and their families.

“We are the first city in the country, the report notes, that has actually implemented this program in most of our high trauma centers,” Patterson said.

However, not all hospitals with emergency rooms participate in the program, and services are sometimes not available. The audit suggests amending the NEAR Act to state that the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants should oversee a city-wide network of hospital violence interventions that operate during specific and predictable hours.

Police, mental health program has not been established

Despite the requirements of the NEAR Act, Patterson said the Metropolitan Police Department and the Behavioral Health Department have yet to implement teams of police officers and doctors to respond to behavioral health crises.

“This is something that we find, in the audit, was simply ignored as a mandate,” Patterson said. “Failure by the Bowser administration to comply with the law ruined otherwise remarkable results.”

The report from the DC Auditor’s Office includes a response from the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Public Security and Justice. The deputy mayor’s office said police and the health department have proposed an alternative plan to council for team officers with mental health professionals.

The mayor’s office recommendation “would appropriately place responsibility for the development and reporting of behavioral health diversion programs” with the health department rather than the police department.

Although agents have received training to recognize and interact with people with mental health problems, Patterson said the more formalized Community Crime Prevention Team program, required in the NEAR Act, would be more effective.

“It’s really a much more intense partnership between these two agencies,” Patterson said. “It takes a public health approach to say, ‘We want to stop a problem before it becomes a problem.'”

The audit is the first of three, which will continue to track the implementation and results of the NEAR Act, Patterson said.

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