As D.C. residents call for local officials to do more to curb gun violence, the District’s new attorney general is clarifying the role his office plays in prosecuting violent crimes.
As he settles into his new role, D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb spoke to WTOP about the city’s crime situation and the fact that many of the cases involve children. The District had seen seven homicides so far in 2023 as of Monday, which is two more than in the same span of time last year.
“Any time you have a young person, a victim of gun violence, killed by gun violence, it’s a tragedy,” Schwalb told WTOP.
As the city’s elected prosecutor, Schwalb said there are some misconceptions about the role his office plays in the criminal justice system. For one, the office only has jurisdiction over crimes in which juveniles are the accused — all adult cases fall under the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the federal prosecutor for the city.
“Too many people don’t really understand that because we are not a state, we have only partial control over our criminal justice system,” Schwalb said.
Schwalb said said a move toward statehood would be beneficial, because it would give voters and not the federal government the choice of who prosecutes local crimes.
“I think in the long run, that’s what we in the District of Columbia should be aspiring … to have greater control over our own criminal justice system,” Schwalb said.
But for now, he said, his office will remain focused on juvenile cases.
“We have an obligation to prosecute juvenile criminal cases … when we have the evidence to make our burden of proof, particularly with gun cases and violent repeat offenders,” Schwalb said.
Schwalb said prevention is another important part of his office’s work, which includes the Cure the Streets violence interruption program. The program puts violence interrupters in target neighborhoods to de-escalate conflicts through mediation.
Both D.C. police and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office run similar programs, and Schwalb said he hopes to facilitate communication between them in the future.
“What we can be doing is make sure that communications between the different groups are dialed-in and focused,” Schwalb said. “This is better with a clear message and mandate from senior leadership — from the mayor, from the attorney general and from the (chief of police) — that this is a high priority.”
As for what his office can do now to help bring down crime in the future, he said his focus is on the civil work his office does to address the root causes, which he said can include housing instability or persistent economic inequities. The other focus is on going after people who take advantage of consumers, seniors and workers.
“All of that is core to our civil jurisdiction that I think helps us get to creating a society where it’s less likely for crime to occur,” Schwalb said.