The Washington D.C., City Council has taken steps to approve an innovative new program called Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR), to combat violent crimes through diversion programs that provide potential offenders with public services.
“The NEAR Act would create two new D.C. government offices. The first would be the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, which would identify those ‘at high risk’ for committing violent crimes and recruit them to a program that connects them with jobs, training, counseling and other services that seek to address the root cause of violent crime,” Youth First Initiative reported.
The Office of Violence Prevention and Health Equity, the second proposed office, would identify at-risk populations and provide them with appropriate services to discourage violence.
“The idea behind it is that we have the means to identify the leaders in these communities – the negative leaders – and work to support them in heading in another direction,” said Daniel Okonkwo, executive director of DC Lawyers for Youth (DCLY). “It’s saying, ‘The problem is that you need a job? OK, we’ll help you find one. And we’ll give the support you need to help you keep it together.’”
The NEAR program has developed several approaches to achieve its goal of violence prevention:
Identifying at-risk populations and provide them with services that target root causes of violence
Launching a public education campaign on the impact of violence and strategies for diffusing and resolving conflict
Placing counselors and social workers in police departments and hospitals to address the needs of victims and survivors of crimes to reduce retaliatory violence
Assist police departments with identifying potential improvements to police training and procedures
Calling for more transparency and increase in data collection on police stops, frisks and use of force incidences
“In my memory, this is the first time we’ve had a bill that aims to deal with crime by looking at the root causes rather than a law-enforcement-based solution, and which asks, ‘How can we solve these problems systematically and long term?’ ” said Okonkwo.