The District reached a grim milestone Monday, matching the homicide count from 2020 with another month and a half still left in 2021. The News4 I-Team has been tracking gun violence across the District, on pace to have the highest number of homicides since 2004. More than 82% have resulted from shootings.
The number of people shot in the District is actually down year over year, but D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee told the I-Team the shootings have been deadlier with increased firepower from long guns and trigger switches.
"I want to get guns off the street and I want to get violent people off the street," said Contee, noting that reducing gun violence is his number one priority.
With some of the toughest gun laws in the country, D.C. police have already recovered more than 1,921 guns this year. The chief calls it dangerous and frustrating work for his officers.
"We've had individuals that we've arrested with a firearm, they get out of prison, and within 24 to 48 hours, they're in possession of another firearm," Contee said.
Of the 1,921 recovered as of Nov. 8, Metropolitan Police Department officers found nearly 788 in Southeast, but no quadrant is immune. The I-Team mapped the entire District and found another high-concentration area along Benning Road in Northeast. That quadrant has seen more than 521 guns recovered.
"It could be based on a tip that comes in from a resident. It could be based on informant information. It could be based on an investigation that we have. It could be based on gunshots that happened last night," Contee said.
But instead of searching entire groups of people they encounter, Contee said his gun recovery unit has shifted to be more intelligence based, which helps build community trust.
"Me losing myself or one of my children, that's my biggest fear," said Shamiyah King, who walks her three kids home from school along Alabama Avenue, a notable hotspot for gun recoveries.
King said that's one of the few activities she and her children do outside. Having lived in Southeast for most of her life, she said she's used to hearing gunfire almost every day.
"This is what I've grown up to; this is what I've known," King said. "But for my kids, no, I don't want them to get used to that. I don't want them to see that and think it's okay."
"Violence doesn't just come out of nowhere," said D.C. Councilman Charles Allen. "We've got to be able to answer those tough questions, be able to hear the answers and then invest in our response to that."
Allen chairs the council's committee which oversees public safety and just budgeted $400,000 for a District-wide plan to combat gun violence. The District hired its first director of gun violence prevention in February.
"Just sending the officer in to go get the gun and then do the same thing tomorrow, do the same thing next week, then we're not doing anything different," Allen said. "One of the things I've been frustrated with in our city is that we have not had just a comprehensive strategy around gun violence."
Contee said that he welcomes the partnership, but that social programs and police can't be the only answer. Contee said criminals who choose gun violence must be held accountable by prosecutors and judges.
"I will ask after these significant gun recoveries, what's this person's status Monday morning? What's this person's status Tuesday morning? And you see ‘released,’" Contee said. "It's very frustrating for the officers. It's very frustrating for me."
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Contee said he met with the new U.S. attorney about a week ago and they discussed the need for tougher prosecutions of people caught with guns. Contee even wants those arrested to stay in jail while awaiting trial. He said that will keep the community safer and send a message that these cases will be taken seriously.
"Take the ones who [are] doing it and give them bigger punishments, that's how I feel," said King. "Something's got to change."
"Kids are getting hurt. Innocent bystanders getting hurt. They need to just cut all this violence away," said Charline Butler, who lives on a quiet street just a block from Benning Road in Northeast.
Butler said she has watched the violence grow.
"When I was coming up, it wasn't no guns," Butler said. "Now, these new generation kids out here, they’re just, you know, it's terrible."
The I-Team found police have arrested at least 10 teenagers for murder in the District so far this year. Twelve teenagers have been killed by gunfire. Police say at least 230 teenagers have been caught with illegal guns.
"We need to start talking to our young people at a younger age about conflict resolution. Many of the violence that we see oftentimes is the result of some petty dispute," said Contee. "I mean, it's mind boggling."
Contee said intervention programs like the police cadet program for high schoolers, violence interrupters and other trusted members of the community who steer teens away from guns are essential.
But so is taking guns off the street. Contee said one thing he can guarantee is guns and bullets his officers seize, won't hurt anyone else.
That's a small comfort for King.
"All I'm trying to do is to protect my children, so that's all I can do. So many kids are dying, so many people dying just by gun violence, period," she said. "Put down the guns, just put down the guns."
Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones. Map created by Nelson Hsu.