Mayor Bowser declares public emergency for DC amid juvenile crime crisis, opioid epidemic

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WASHINGTON - D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has declared a public emergency in the District and says her office will utilize new tools to combat two critical issues plaguing the city: the ongoing opioid crisis and the rise youth violence.

Bowser’s office says the public emergency declaration will allow the D.C. government to "respond more efficiently and urgently" to these two problems by authorizing "expedited procurement, the disbursement of funds, and the activation, implementation, and coordination of mutual aid agreements between the District and federal, state, or local jurisdictions, as appropriate."

"Although each of these urgent situations are, to some extent, geographically concentrated, the nature of the two emergencies demands city-wide responses," a release from Bowser’s office read.

<div>A bag of evidence containing the synthetic opioid fentanyl disguised as Oxycodone is shown during a press conference led by U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott at the Fresno County Sheriffâs Office on Aug. 19, 2020. (Craig Kohlruss/Fresno Bee/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)</div>
A bag of evidence containing the synthetic opioid fentanyl disguised as Oxycodone is shown during a press conference led by U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott at the Fresno County Sheriffâs Office on Aug. 19, 2020. (Craig Kohlruss/Fresno Bee/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

D.C. OPIOID EPIDEMIC

When it comes to the opioid crisis, new data shows that between 2018 and 2022, fatal opioid-related overdoses in the District have more than doubled, from 213 to 461. And in 2022, 96% of these fatal opioid-related overdoses were from fentanyl.

As part of the emergency declaration, D.C. agencies including the Department of Behavioral Health, D.C. Health, and D.C. Fire and EMS will be required to input suspected non-fatal overdoses into a common data tracking system. The goal is to strengthen responses by strengthening internal information sharing.

Bowser’s office says this will "provide a complete picture of opioid-related fatal and suspected non-fatal overdoses as they occur," to help District leaders identify hotspots and deploy outreach teams and harm reduction support to them.

D.C. JUVENILE CRIME CRISIS

When it comes to cracking down on juvenile crime, D.C. residents have been calling for action from city leaders and the Metropolitan Police Department for months, if not years.

The mayor’s emergency order notes that in the first nine months of 2023, there were 458 arrests of juveniles for robbery, including carjacking, homicide, or assault with a dangerous weapon — a 10% increase from 2022. Data also shows that juveniles represent about one-third of the total arrests for carjackings this year, coming in at a staggering 151. FOX 5 asked for clarification on this data.

According to D.C. Police’s carjacking dashboard as of Monday, juveniles accounted of 66% of the carjacking arrests, with 863 carjackings reported so far this year.

Additionally, the Mayor’s Office says from January to October of this year, 97 juveniles have been shot — 15 fatally — and in just the last five weeks alone, five kids on court-ordered electronic monitoring have been killed.

"This number alone tells us that we have to provide more intervention for kids who are in trouble," Bowser said during a press conference Monday. "To that end, this public emergency will allow us to increase capacity more quickly and efficiently across the continuum of placements for kids that are ordered by judges into care."

Bowser says the District is looking to immediately secure more spaces for placements and address capacity issues within the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services at both the Youth Services Center secure facility and youth shelters.

Part of the order will help speed up construction at the detention center to add ten new beds. It will also incentivize private providers to open additional shelter homes, group homes and shelter beds.

Another measure in the emergency order calls on the Deputy Mayor for Education and D.C. police to establish Safe Passage roving teams to reduce school-based violence, as well as deploy "additional Public Safety Go Teams, which shall be community-based, non-law enforcement public safety teams made up of credible contacts including violence interrupters, credible messages, Safe Passage workers and roving leads to serve District neighborhoods most impacted by youth crime."

In response to the Mayor’s Order on procurement, Georgetown University's Juvenile Justice Initiative Policy Director, Eduardo Ferrer, wrote in a statement:

"While increasing capacity at detention facilities might seem like a direct solution, it is fundamentally just another reactive measure that will do nothing to prevent harm or provide kids with the services they need to thrive.  True prevention lies in engaging DC's youth through education, community support, counseling, and proactive programs that build on their strengths and address their needs before they become system-involved.  We must shift our energy from bandaids that focus on controlling and confining youth to long-term solutions that nurture and empower them."

When asked about adding more public safety measures and still not seeing a decrease in crime, Bowser said, "We are just going to keep pushing on all fronts, and we know that as the ecosystem itself corrects, there are more accountability measures, that prevention efforts take hold, it will – it will drive down numbers. We will get there."

Not enough space in DYRS facilities became a front-page issue about three weeks ago when news broke that a 15-year-old girl was arrested in connection with a Northeast D.C. carjacking and fatal crash had actually been released from DYRS custody just days before ultimately because there was not enough space at one of the shelters for girls.

Councilmember Trayon White, who oversees the committee that monitors the District’s juvenile detention facility always raised concerns about overcrowding and not enough staffing at YSC.

In a juvenile hearing Monday morning, a D.C. Superior Court Judge discussed holding the D.C. government in contempt of court, noting the lack of bed space at DYRS shelters for girls was a serious issue the judge brought up about a year ago.

 "I mean, we can talk about numbers and otherwise, certainly, if you look over time, the agency has expanded and taken away from bed space, as necessary. We do that based upon population and also being good stewards of the resources we have," said Lindsey Appiah, D.C. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice. "Over the past six months, right like by and large for most of those months, there has been no shelter waitlist for girls."

Appiah claims not enough shelter space for girls did not become a greater issue until October when four youths were placed on a wait list.

Meanwhile, Bowser says this is a community effort and while the city works to do its part, those charged with caring for these at-risk youth need to step up as well.

"Again, I need to emphasize how much the community needs to come together on this issue of young people involved in crime," Bowser said. "We need parents and caregivers to make sure they know where their teenagers are and what they’re doing. If you need help with your child, you need to reach out."

The order will remain in effect for the next 15 days.