Crime, conspiracies, new officers; DC police chief Newsham talks initiatives

Police Chief Peter Newsham tweeted statistics on Tuesday showing the reduction in D.C. crime compared to this time last year. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Three months ago, D.C.’s murder rate was shockingly high — up 35% from 2018, which was a year that also saw a double digit increase in homicides. But as the summer approached, a time when conventional wisdom says crime typically goes up, numbers show that violent crime in the District has started to recede a bit.

The city recorded its 84th homicide Wednesday, putting the pace just slightly ahead of where the murder rate was at this time last year, though overall violent crime is down slightly from a year ago.

“You know, you have a city this size, to have [84] homicides at this point of the year is not something that we’re pleased about,” D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said.

“We would like to see that number be a lot lower.”

He said efforts by the police department and other city agencies have helped the summer crime initiative have a positive impact. In addition, focuses on what he calls “repeat violent offenders” and those who traffic in illegal guns to the city are also helping.

“The other piece of this is we’ve been talking pretty regularly to our criminal justice partners to try to impress on them what this gun violence is doing to our city,” Newsham said.

“To the extent that they play a role in helping us ensure that there are consequences that change behavior of those folks who are involved with illegal firearms — I think that message is starting to sink in with some of our criminal justice partners.”

The District also plans to highlight efforts and relationships with the federal government to curb illegal guns. A news conference on the matter had been set for Tuesday, the same day Virginia lawmakers gathered in Richmond for what turned out to be a brief session focused on firearms.

The outcome of that special session admittedly left Newsham disappointed.

“Laws in Virginia can really impact gun violence in our city,” said Newsham. “Virginia is the leading source state for illegal guns into the District of Columbia,” so he’s still hopeful that some sort of significant change will eventually be implemented and “assist us in stopping the illegal flow of firearms into the District of Columbia.”

Conspiracy theories

Wednesday marked the anniversary of the day Seth Rich was shot and killed in Bloomingdale.

Rich was employed by the Democratic Party at a time when the Russian government was engaged in a misinformation campaign aimed at influencing the 2016 election, and despite a significant amount of evidence suggesting otherwise, conspiracy theories about his murder persist to this day.

But even though his murder remains unsolved, Newsham said the investigation hasn’t been hampered by any of the politically motivated sideshow drama.

“What I always think about is the families,” Newsham said. “I think the Rich family has been unbelievably gracious in one of the most tragic circumstances that a family can have.”

“I think that they get frustrated when they see those types of conspiracies and misinformation being put out there. I’m very empathetic to what they’re going through as a result of this so anybody who’s involved in this behavior — pushing out these conspiracy theories or putting out misinformation — I would ask them to think about how that impacts the family.”

He said the case has been turned over to a cold case squad that will chase down any new leads that gets generated, though he said right now there’s been no new developments in this particular case.

D.C. police looking to hire

D.C.’s Police Department is also holding a recruiting fair this Saturday at the city’s police academy in Southwest.

“Right now we’re hiring between 250 and 300 officers every year and that’ll be for the foreseeable future,” Newsham said. “We’re going through a retirement bubble where we’re losing a number of officers through attrition.”

“We’re trying to find people with the right disposition and the right intellect to be able to become police officers,” he added. “If anything has changed in the 30 years that I’ve been doing it, it’s policing itself, and particularly here in Washington, D.C. We’re a service agency. We spend the majority of our time helping people.”

He said the right candidate is someone “with integrity, of course, a person who’s sharp-minded and a person with the right disposition,” Newsham said. “We don’t want someone who’s going to come out here and mistreat people.”

“Anybody who is interested or even thought about a career in policing, we’re hoping they’ll come by and take a look and see what we do here at MPD.”

The recruitment fair runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is being held at 4665 Blue Plains Drive SW.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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