DC focuses on nightlife, violence prevention as part of its Independence Day safety approach

D.C. is taking a new approach to July Fourth holiday safety this year, focusing as much on violence prevention as on fireworks safety.

Mayor Muriel Bowser was joined Thursday by Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee, D.C. Fire Marshal Mitchell Kannry and Director of Gun Violence Prevention Linda Harllee Harper on U Street in Ward 1 to unveil some new tactics the District will deploy, along with the more familiar holiday safety messages about fireworks, road closures and summer heat.

This weekend, D.C. will implement multiagency community outreach and engagement efforts, including the deployment of Safety Go Teams, comprised of Violence Interrupters, Credible Messengers, Roving Leaders and other law enforcement and non-law enforcement partners.

“We have almost a dozen Go Teams that will promote safety in community areas that are expecting large gatherings and large fireworks. Residents can expect to see us set up tents with [information about] District agency resources, summer meal sites for students, and Department of Parks and Recreation camp-at-home bags,” said Harper.

The Go Teams are made up of non-law enforcement partners like Credible Messengers and Violence Interrupters and will be out in the communities between 7 p.m. and 1 a.m. on Independence Day, engaging residents to promote safe celebrations.

The District is deploying a new multiagency Night Life Taskforce, led by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, as well.

The pilot task force is the result of collaboration and coordination by numerous city government agencies on a wide range of safety issues.

“The nightlife Task Force has been formed to implement a coordinated public safety response in our nightlife corridors with a goal of decreasing violent crime and nonviolent crime through Labor Day, after which we will assess its effectiveness and impact and impact on crime and disorder,” Contee said.

The initial focus will be in areas with a significant number of night-life venues: the H Street corridor, Connecticut Avenue corridor and the U-Street corridor. The task force will be watching for the type of nuisance behavior that sometimes escalates to violence.

“Every weekend this summer, you’ll see the whole of government in these areas,” Contee said. “They’ll be inside of establishments at times to ensure that patrons are safe and enjoying themselves, and at the same time adhering to appropriate standards of behavior.”

Contee is calling on the night-life establishments to abide by patron capacity limits, avoid over-serving and be prepared to engage with task force members. Outside these venues, he said there will be more traffic enforcement and a visible law-enforcement presence.

“I want to stress again that anyone coming to our city this weekend — or any other weekend — must recognize that our communities demand peace and civility,” Contee said. “Unsafe and illegal behaviors will not be tolerated.”

D.C. police has increased staffing levels to ensure events in and around the National Mall are secure without sacrificing the quality of service to neighborhoods and residents. The department has also been sharing information and monitoring all potential threats to ensure this year’s holiday goes as planned.

Contee said there has been no indication of any specific attacks targeting the District, but stressed the importance of keeping a watchful eye and reporting anything that seems suspicious.
D.C. Fire Marshal Mitchell Kannry put the focus on the more traditional July 4 safety messages: fireworks.

Last year, D.C. Fire and EMS responded to 17 people — adults and children — who were injured by setting off or handling fireworks. The department also saw accidental fires set off by fireworks, including vehicle fires and brush fires.

“In the District, any firework that moves, flies or explodes is illegal,” said Kannry.

As for legal fireworks, Kannry said those can only be purchased from the fireworks stands you see located throughout the District.

But just because a firework is legal does not mean it can’t hurt you.

Kannry advises when using legal fireworks to place them on a firm surface away from combustible structures and stand back after igniting it. He also warns against allowing children to handle any fireworks.

“Even though sparklers are legal in D.C., they burn at 1,200 degrees. For reference, glass melts at 900 degrees, so you can imagine what 1,200 degrees can do to somebody’s skin,” he said.

Other important tips are to keep a bucket of water nearby, and to never touch or pick up a firework that looks like it may be a dud.

The July 4 holiday weather forecast is calling for sunshine and hot temperatures, which makes the mayor’s announcement about city pools that much more welcome. The city is opening six additional pools on the Fourth of July that are normally closed on Mondays.

“We expect people to be out enjoying themselves throughout the weekend …. and we want for D.C. residents in all eight wards to have fun,” said Bowser. “Enjoy your family and friends, but also be safe.”

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