Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie introduced Bill 21-0360, the “Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act of 2016” (NEAR Act) in September 2015. The bill is up for final reading on March 1 and support is needed from criminal justice experts and like-minded advocates.
The NEAR Act is a comprehensive bill that re-calibrates how the District approaches public safety, by not just addressing crime after it occurs, but rather working to prevent crime by treating its root causes in a long-term, sustainable way. The NEAR Act addresses crime in several ways, including using a public health approach that requires the collaboration of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and health and human services agencies.
The NEAR Act will establish an Office of Violence Prevention and Health Equity (OVPHE). The OVPHE is a recognition of the years of research that show that violence is a public health problem. OVPHE will require the city to develop and implement a public health strategy using risk assessment tools, cognitive and family based therapy, and service coordination to combat the spread of violence, including placing clinicians in every hospital’s emergency department to respond to victims of crime immediately and prevent violence from escalating the minute they are brought in.
The NEAR Act also creates an Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE). Based off of the successful Richmond, CA model, the goal of the office will be to identify our teenagers and young adults at the highest risk for committing or being a victim of violent crimes, for participation in a stipend based program involving life planning, trauma informed therapy, and mentorship. The program will require its participants to create and execute a successful life plan, moving them away from the pitfalls of violent crime. Evidencing the potential success of ONSE, between 2007 and 2014, Richmond experienced a 76 percent reduction in firearm-related homicides.