Access to illegal guns driving up first-time youth crime for firearm related offenses in DC: chief

D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee says that the number of youth introduced into the criminal justice system with firearm crimes as a first offense is going up, and that access to illegal guns is to blame.

"Of the young people that we've arrested last year - a lot of them - their first offense, their first introduction into the criminal justice system, has been a firearm related offense," Contee told FOX 5 Thursday.

"That is a very staggering thing," he said. "While we have arrested less young people over the past couple of years, the numbers that are introduced into the criminal justice system with firearms as a first offense. That number is going up."

Contee said the department continuously works to remove illegal guns from the streets of the nation’s capital. "We have to make sure that - as a city - we're doing everything that we possibly can to make sure that illegal guns are removed off the street. I can assure you, the Metropolitan Police Department is doing that."

In 2022, he said over 3,000 illegal firearms were confiscated - over 800 more than the previous year.

In addition to access to illegal guns - youth accountability issues also factor into the rising numbers, he said.

"We have a lot of incredible, amazing, intelligent young people in our city that are doing very, very, very well. But we also have a pocket of young people that are not doing so well," he said. He added that the city needs to ensure that opportunities are given to its youth population at the same time they are being held responsible for their actions. He spoke about the issues a day after a 15-year-old was charged with murder in a triple shooting that left a woman dead in the southeast.

Contee says he supports D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's position on the controversial criminal code overhaul. Earlier this week, the D.C. Council approved the massive overhaul of the District's criminal code in a 12-1 vote, overriding Bowser's veto.

"I have been very public about my objection to several things within the criminal code reform," he said. "While there are several things in that that look good - reforms that need to take place - there are also things in there that are not good in terms of the accountability - ensuring that we have accountability when violent crimes happen in our city.

He said he’ll continue to lobby city council and the community regarding crime code reform. "I don't believe leave that all hope is lost, and hopefully over the course of time people will understand that changes need to be made."

"There are certainly laws in place that will be in place as a result of this, but i'm hopeful that people will see the error of some of these ways and will reflect on this and make the changes that are needed."

Adding to the difficulty of policing the city – an inadequate number of officers.

"Right now we are at a serious deficient in terms of the number of officers we have," Contee said. Currently, Contee said the city has 3,483 officers – down over 300 since he became chief in 2021.

Incentives, like a $20,000 signing bonus, are being offered to try and boost those numbers.