Public Hearing before the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development regarding B22-0111, The Safe Way Home Act of 2017

Testimony of Eduardo R. Ferrer
Legal & Policy Director, DC Lawyers for Youth
Public Hearing before the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development
        B22-0111, “Safe Way Home Act of 2017”
Monday April 3, 2017
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC

Good afternoon Chairwoman Silverman and members of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. My name is Eduardo Ferrer, I am a Ward 1 homeowner and the Legal & Policy Director of DC Lawyers for Youth (DCLY) – a non-profit action tank focused on using data, research, evidence and our experience working directly youth and families to improve DC’s juvenile justice system. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  I will focus my testimony today on our general support of aims of the Safe Way Home Act of 2017 and will offer two broad and two specific recommendations we urge the Council to consider when marking up and voting on this bill.

At DC Lawyers for Youth, we fully support the broad aims of the Safe Way Home Act.  Over the last decade, as we as a country have confronted the rampant harm caused by our over-reliance on policing, prosecution, and mass incarceration, reducing violence via a public health approach that includes prevention and mitigation as opposed to just reaction has ascended as a leading framework to effectively, humanely replace our past failed approach.  Yet, in the District of Columbia, we are still at the starting line when it comes to fundamentally restructuring our approach to crime and replacing it with a public health strategy.  Our efforts to intentionally build a public health approach locally began in earnest with the passage of the NEAR Act,[1] which I urge this Council to ensure is fully funded and implemented, and continued with the Mayor’s Safer, Stronger DC Advisory Committee Report from May 2016,[2] whose recommendations will hopefully be supported in the Mayor’s upcoming budget.  The provisions of the Safe Way Home Act that seek to direct funds to community-based violence intervention programs, increase employment, and keep youth safe so that they can attend school further build upon our local efforts thus far to adopt an intentional public health approach.  For this reason, because the Safe Way Home Act is not only consistent with but also fosters a shift to a public health approach to violence reduction in the District, we generally support the goals of the Safe Way Home Act.  

Nevertheless, I have two broad recommendations and two specific recommendations I would urge the Council to take into consideration during your deliberations on this bill. 

First, I would urge the Council to work with the Mayor to develop, devise, and fund a multi-year comprehensive, coordinated, and cohesive citywide public health approach to reducing violence.  This means intentionally implementing broad, community-wide strategies at all stages of a person’s life, implementing targeted case-by-case interventions for families and youth in crisis, and intervening with effective, evidence-based programs to mitigate the impact of violence when it has already occurred. While the programs described within the Safe Way Home Act would contribute to a public health strategy to reduce violence, I would encourage the Council to expand the bill to require the Mayor and Council as a whole to work together to develop a comprehensive plan, not a piecemeal approach, to implement a public health strategy that includes prevention, mitigation, and intervention efforts.  Specifically, I would urge the Council to do the following:

  1. Hold a public roundtable in the committee of the whole to hear public and executive testimony relating to the creation of a comprehensive public health approach that shifts our focus from an overreliance on policing and incarceration to meaningful investment and support in the resident of the District.  This public roundtable should kick off a series of meetings in the community in each Ward to provide for ample opportunity for residents to provide feedback.  
  2. Draft, pass, and fund a comprehensive bill based on the feedback received that lays a strong foundation for a broad, coordinated public health framework for reducing violence in the District with specific timelines and metrics that would define success. 
  3. Develop and fund an outside, apolitical entity to conduct research, monitor the efforts, and make recommendations as to how the efforts underway could be improved.  Examples of such an entity include the Washington State Institute on Public Policy (WSIPP)[3] and the former DC Crime Policy Institute (DCPI).[4] 

Under this scenario, the Safe Way Home Act should sunset in a shorter period of time (i.e., one or two years) and the goals and funding for the Safe Way Home Act would get folded into the larger public health strategy legislation.

Second, the breadth of the language used in the Safe Way Home Act could be read to overlap with the efforts outlined in the NEAR Act, potentially creating redundancy or cannibalizing funds that could be more effectively used to scale up efforts outlined in the NEAR Act.  I would urge the Council to clarify how the Safe Way Home Act and the NEAR Act complement each other or potentially conflict with each other.  Again, while we support the goals of the Safe Way Home Act, we also support the goals of the NEAR Act and would like to see the aims of both realized.  Again, this likely speaks to the need for a comprehensive plan, not a piecemeal approach. 

Third, the legislation targets resources based on Police Service Areas or Wards depending on the provisions.  We would recommend that the bill be amended to target the resources instead to specific ANC Single Member Districts (SMDs).  As the Council is aware, SMDs represent areas of approximately 2000 District residents, and, as such, are much smaller than PSAs or Wards.  Allocating resources in this manner will enable a more sophisticated and targeted allocation of the resources. 

Fourth, and this is a small point, but as someone who runs a non-profit organization, I urge the Council to reconsider the artificial limitation on administrative expenses outlined in the bill.  While I understand and agree with the rationale for such a limitation in light of the history of some of the grant-making organizations in the District, such a limitation may make the administration of grants appropriated in the bill infeasible.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  I am available to answer any questions. 


[1] Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act of 2015, http://lims.dccouncil.us/Legislation/B21-0360.

[3] “WSIPP’s mission is to carry out practical, non-partisan research at the direction of the legislature or the Board of Directors. WSIPP works closely with legislators, legislative and state agency staff, and experts in the field to ensure that studies answer relevant policy questions.” Washington State Institute on Public Policy, http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/About

[4] The District of Columbia Crime Policy Institute (DCPI) was an institute previously established at the Urban Institute in collaboration with the Brookings Institution with funding from the Justice Grants Administration.  DCPI was a nonpartisan, public policy research organization focused on crime and justice policy in Washington, DC. DCPI’s mission was to support improvements in the administration of justice policy through evidence-based research.  A sampling of reports published by DCPI can still be found on the Urban Institute website: http://www.urban.org/search?search_api_views_fulltext=%22dc%20crime%20policy%22.    


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