Northern Va. prosecutors hope Youngkin violent crime task force focuses on root causes

Elected commonwealth’s attorneys in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties said they hope Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s violent crime task force aims to get to the root cause.

Youngkin announced Monday he and Attorney General Jason Miyares, both Republicans, are creating a task force to come up with strategies to reduce violent crime.

Commonwealth’s attorneys Buta Biberaj, of Loudoun County; Amy Ashworth, of Prince William County; and Steve Descano, of Fairfax County, told WTOP they were unaware a task force was being assembled until Youngkin’s news release Monday.

All three prosecutors are progressive Democrats.

“I would love to be a part of it,” said Ashworth. “I certainly have ideas about how we can address violent crime, and I’d love to share that with the governor and the attorney general.”

By noon Tuesday, in response to a WTOP inquiry, representatives with Youngkin’s office said they were assembling the names of task force participants from Northern Virginia.

“If the task force is going to address a community crisis, you need the community to be represented there,” said Biberaj. “That should include the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office; it should include law enforcement; it should include faith-based groups and school systems.”

Biberaj said she hopes the task force will address the root causes of violent crime: ” A lot of times, it’s a matter that there’s instability in the home, in opportunity, in mental health, and drug use — so if we start addressing the root cause, then what we may end up doing is actually having solutions rather than just having conversations.”

Descano, who spars regularly with Miyares on social media, said he hopes the task force “actually gets to the real drivers of crime — mental health issues, substance abuse disorder, guns easily available on our streets, and lack of good housing and jobs.”

“But, if at the end of the day if this task force only looks at punitive, mass incarceration-type policies that have failed us for decades, it will be a failure,” Descano said.

In the Monday news release, Youngkin said his administration “will take a comprehensive look at how we can address the rise in violent crime by providing more law enforcement resources, creating alternative and after-school activities for children, and addressing the fear that results in witnesses failing to show up for a criminal hearing.”

Ashworth agreed with the importance of helping young people stay out of trouble. “Creating alternative and after-school activities for children — I am 100% on board with that,” she said.

Even in Virginia’s current political climate, Ashworth said, there’s room for common ground with the administration-led task force: “I think the people of Virginia want them to actually focus on violent crime and not make this a political thing.”

“All elected commonwealth’s attorneys want to see more resources devoted toward the investigation and prosecution of violent crime,” she said. “Violent crime encompasses a lot of areas, like domestic violence, and sexual assault — it’s not just murder and manslaughter.”

Despite his political differences with the Youngkin administration, Descano said he hopes “people like me” will be part of the solution. “In my mind, an ideal task force would bring in people from a whole array, and really have people work together, to find common ground and move forward. And that is what I hope this is.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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