Thomas Abt, director of the Center for the Study and Practice of Violence Reduction (VRC) and associate research professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, spoke before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance on Thursday, October 12.
At the hearing, “Victims of Violent Crime in Washington, D.C.,” Abt shed light on how D.C. crime statistically compares to the rest of the country, the challenges the city uniquely faces compared to other jurisdictions, and potential solutions within Congress’ control.
“While violence is falling in most cities around the country, that is unfortunately not the case here in the District. As of this past Tuesday, violent crime is up 40% compared with the same time last year, and up 30% compared to the same period in 2019, before the pandemic began,” he explained alongside survivors and witnesses of such crimes, who also testified.
While acknowledging that it is difficult to find a concrete answer to the question of what’s keeping crime in Washington, D.C. from slowing, Abt called attention to the complexities created by the area’s federal structure. He specifically mentioned the unique challenges that arise from the jurisdiction being jointly administered by more than 20 law enforcement agencies, by prosecution being split between the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Office of the Attorney General, and by the President appointing, and Senate confirming, judges.
To that end, Abt said better communication and collaboration can go a long way.
“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. If individual players do not play well together, the team will not succeed,” he said.
Abt also called for specific actions from Congress, including amending the Privacy Act of 1974, which currently prohibits federal agencies from disclosing criminal information to local agencies, to enable better information sharing. He also called on Congress to appropriate funding for D.C.’s crime lab (the Department of Forensic Sciences) and external research, support the crime lab’s accreditation—which it has been without since 2021— and, to reduce vacancies in D.C. court positions, pass the District of Columbia Courts Judicial Vacancy Reduction Act with a 60-day Congressional review period and the removal of the requirement that forces the Senate to hold 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.
What likely would make headlines was Abt’s last plea, something he called on the committee to do over a year-and-a-half ago: For Congress to dedicate $6 billion in federal funding 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 in closing. “It’s about emphasizing evidence over ideology. It's about bringing people together, not pulling them apart.”