This page lays out my research on crime in Washington, DC, across popular and local media, police reports, and academic literature.

Evidence of Rising Crime

DC is clearly suffering from a surge in criminal activity. The data outlining this problem is clear.

  • Violent crime is up 40% this year over last.
  • Carjackings are up 103% this year over last.
  • Total crime in DC is up 28% this year over last, with only a 4% YoY decrease in 2022 to offset that jump. According to FBI data, total crime has decreased nation-wide in 2023 by 4%.

Contributing Factors

The factors typically associated with criminal activity include poverty, unemployment, mental illness, culture and social influences, opportunity for profit, and a lack of law enforcement, education, food, family, or housing. It is worth exploring how each of these has changed in DC to understand the likely proximate cause behind the recent surge in criminal activity.

Major factors in DC include:

  1. The opportunity for carjackings has increased. In July 2022, a TikTok emerged showing how to steal Hyundai and Kia vehicles with a USB cable. Vulnerable cars were manufactured between 2015-2019 and countermeasures were slow to rollout. Youth can copy these techniques. Among juveniles arrested for carjackings between January-September 2023, 41 of the 64 charged were between 12-15-years-old.
  2. The COVID-19 disruption. With schools closed during the pandemic, students joined gangs/crews to connect with each other. This is demonstrated in recent truancy reports, with the last one release on December 12. Additionally, the community has lost significant pandemic social relief programs, including protection from evictions and a stronger food stamp policy. The increase in economic insecurity likely correlates with increased theft and criminal activities.
  3. Law enforcement lacking numbers, enforcement powers, and community buy-in. In my conversations with MPD, the lack of officers was a consistent complaint. Between 2009-2014, MPD staffing remained around 4,000 officers. It dropped to 3,800 in 2015, and is currently around 3,500. MPD enforcement powers have also been limited in recent years. Regardless of the exact reason, we are seeing slow arrest rates and response times.

There are various other contributing factors, such as decreased prosecution rates and increased drug use. Sometimes these factors seem to contradict one another. As one report sums, "Judges too lenient. Police too tough. Not tough enough. Too many cops. Too few. Law enforcement not trusted. Defund the police. Fractured homes. Lack of city resources. Substandard schools. Nothing for kids to do. Catch and release. Substandard arrests. Prosecutors drop cases. Judges set criminals free. Alternative justice. Restorative justice. No justice. No accountability."

Photo: Washington Post

Local Versus Federal Government

In March 2023, Congress "voted to overturn local D.C. legislation for the first time in more than 30 years, as some Senate Democrats joined Republicans in blocking a major overhaul of the city’s criminal sentencing laws." [WaPo] "The bill would, among other things, eliminate most mandatory minimum sentences, allow for jury trials in almost all misdemeanor cases, and reduce the maximum penalties for offenses such as burglaries, carjackings and robberies." [WaPo]

Mayor Bowser had vetoed the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 but the DC Council overrode her vote in January 2023. There were several controversial elements of the updated criminal code, among them "a provision that would allow people charged with misdemeanor offenses to demand jury trials. Though Graves said he does not object in principle, he asserted the proposal “cannot be executed in this jurisdiction in a way that does not greatly increase the time between when a crime is charged and when a trial occurs.” [WaPo] Charles Allen disagreed, pointing out that the policy would be phased in through 2030 and "We’ve got to make sure we have a full complement of judges, but it’s also important that people have a right to a jury...D.C. is an extreme outlier. It’s us and only nine other states where people don’t even have a right to a jury.” [WaPo]

Congress's involvement in the crime debates is continuing. In October 2023, a House Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on crime in DC. This follows two similar hearings on crime in NYC and Chicago. "The deputy mayor for public safety and justice, Lindsey Appiah, is expected to testify, invited by Democrats. Republicans invited two victims of violent crimes, the police union chair and an analyst from a conservative think tank." [WaPo]

Who's in Charge of What?

Source: DC Crime Facts