The audit found mixed results in DC’s public health approach to reducing violence

DC has mixed results five years after the start of the implementation of a comprehensive plan for a public health approach to criminal justice reform.

DC has mixed results five years after the start of the implementation of a comprehensive plan for a public health approach to criminal justice reform.

The Neighbor Engagement Results Act – known as NEAR – was passed by the Council in 2016. On Tuesday, the District of Columbia auditor, Katie Patterson, published a report reviewing the implementation and impact of the NEAR Act to see whether the law has been implemented as intended and what impacts can be demonstrated from the first five years.

Patterson told WTOP that some aspects of the comprehensive plan work well, others need to be clarified, and some have been ignored.

On the plus side, a nine-month transitional employment program for people between the ages of 20 and 35 who are believed to be at risk of committing or being a victim of violent crime is promising.

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

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

“Violators are located in high-violence communities and they interact with communities,” Patterson said. “But this one will really take more sophisticated social research to say what the impact is on violence – we can’t prove what is not happened.”

Patterson said the NEAR Act calls on DC Health’s Office of Violence Prevention and Health Justice to provide services in local emergency departments and to provide counseling and care informed about the trauma of victims of violence and their families.

“We are the first city in the country,” said the report, which has indeed deployed this program in most of our high-trauma centers, “Patterson said.

However, not all emergency departments participate in the program and sometimes services are not available. The audit proposes an amendment to the NEAR Act to state that the Victim Services and Justice Grants Office must monitor the city’s network of hospital violence interventions that operate at specific, predictable hours.

Police, no mental health program has been set up

Despite the requirements of the NEAR Act, Patterson said the Sofia Police Department and the Department of Behavioral Health have not yet deployed teams of police clinicians to respond to behavioral health crises.

“This is something we find in the audit, it was just ignored as a mandate,” Patterson said. “The failure of the Bowser administration to comply fully with the law has overshadowed the otherwise remarkable achievements.

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

The mayor’s recommendation “will appropriately assign responsibility for developing and reporting behavioral health programs” to the health department, not the police department.

While staff received some training in recognizing and interacting with people with mental health problems, Patterson said a more formalized community crime prevention team program required by the NEAR Act would be more effective.

“It’s really a much stronger partnership between the two agencies,” Patterson said. “A public health approach is needed to say, ‘We want to stop a problem before it becomes a problem.’

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

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