DC Attorney General on juvenile carjackings: There's a problem
WASHINGTON - The D.C. Attorney General discussed juvenile carjackings on Wednesday, telling FOX 5 when you look at the big picture; violent juvenile crime in the District has actually decreased, according to cases presented to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) by police.
However, there is still an issue with an unprecedented number of D.C. youths being arrested for carjackings.
When asked toward the end of his interview with FOX 5 about the people victimized by juvenile carjackings who want answers, Attorney General Karl Racine told reporter Stephanie Ramirez: "Let me tell you something, I don’t read the newspaper nor obsess on watching the news. I talk to residents of the District of Columbia. And here’s what they know: They know that with every crime incident where there is a victim, that my heart bleeds. Stephanie, our office, and I meet with every victim of violence, okay? Including families who’ve had people killed. So, Stephanie, it’s not about what you think from FOX News or what a newspaper says. It’s what the residents of the District of Columbia and the victims who we meet with every day. They know where we stand."
"Where’s the disconnect?" FOX 5 asked toward the beginning of the interview with the Attorney General. "Well that’s a great question, Stephanie," the Attorney General said. "And I think that you as an enterprising reporter can understand that crime and politics, unfortunately, have been married to the hip for far too long," he replied.
This jab was one of several taken at D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in our virtual interview with the AG on Wednesday. Mayor Bowser is running for a third term. The Attorney General endorsed one of her opponents last year. The Mayor previously criticized D.C. courts and the Attorney’s handling of juvenile carjacking and armed youth offenses in the District.
About two weeks ago, D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee III noted D.C. police had over 420 carjacking incidents reported last calendar year with around 150 arrests. Nearly 100 of those arrests were identified as juveniles.
"You do the math, where are the other cases?" Racine said over Zoom.
The Attorney General confirmed the number of youths referred to their office for carjackings in FY2021 nearly tripled compared to the year before – "So there is no doubt there is a carjacking and kids problem," the AG said. However, he and his office argue the problem is not with their prosecution.
The Office of the Attorney General told FOX 5 they only prosecute juvenile cases of crime where they have "strong evidence" and that in FY2021:
- OAG prosecuted 86.8% of gun possession matters presented to us (138 of 159)
- OAG prosecuted 70.3% of carjacking cases presented to us (111 of 158)
- OAG prosecuted 60.9% of matters involving crimes of violence (excluding carjacking) presented (181 of 297)
On Carjackings, the OAG’s office told FOX 5:
- In FY2021, only 7% (8 juveniles) of 108 children who were charged with carjacking had a previous carjacking charge
The OAG updated some figures Wednesday night, telling FOX 5 just 14.8% of the 108 youths arrested for carjacking last year reoffended, meaning 85.2% did not.
What we still can’t get direct answers to is what programs the juveniles prosecuted last year were directed to whether charged for Carjacking, Armed Robbery, or Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle charges? Where were they that enabled them to re-offend in some situations?
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D.C. Superior Court referred FOX 5 back to OAG on questions regarding whether juveniles were ordered held or released.
There are other parts to this puzzle.
A spokesperson with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice told FOX 5 in FY 2021, 54 youths were committed to DYRS, an office that falls under the Mayor’s purview. She confirmed DYRS did release juveniles committed to them last year.
"Four youths were committed for armed carjacking, one of whom is currently receiving DYRS services in the community and three are in secure placements. There was one youth committed for armed robbery, but is no longer committed to the agency," the spokesperson confirmed via email.
Of the remaining 49 youths, FOX 5 was given the following breakdown:
· 23 Secure Placement
· 3 Out of State Group Home
· 12 Receiving Services in the Community
· 11 No Longer Committed
We were also told the duration of commitment is determined by court order, and it’s not immediately clear whether any of these juveniles re-offended.
Both the Attorney General’s Office and D.C. Police have task forces operating (and expanding) to harden up their cases and prosecutions against juvenile violent crime and carjacking suspects.
Where D.C. leaders differ is on how they define "accountability."
D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee told FOX 5 on Wednesday of the nearly 100 juveniles D.C. police arrested for carjacking last calendar year, 24% had at least one prior carjacking arrest, 9% had a motor vehicle theft charge and 41% had a prior UUV charge, which Chief Contee said is essentially a stolen auto charge used when the victim is unable to identify the juvenile suspect in the carjacking incident.
The Chief told FOX 5 he is not against restorative justice and wants all parts of the system to work together, however, he did say he feels juveniles involved in gun offenses should be held until trial.
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"You know what I hear from residents? What I’m hearing is that they expect accountability. They don’t expect that person to be roaming the streets of the District of Columbia in the form of a group home, in the form of ankle monitoring or whatever type of restriction or curfew, whatever it is we’re going to put in place to make sure this person is not out there committing crimes. I don’t think the average community member expects that," Chief Contee explained.
"We are arresting, and we are prosecuting, then where is the problem?" he added.
The Attorney General doesn’t agree. He did previously express he wants more juveniles to go through restorative justice as part of being held accountable. The Restorative Justice Program is an alternative to juvenile prosecution, meant to address the root causes of why the juvenile is committing certain offenses – and only if the victim permits it.
To those blaming restorative justice as part of the juvenile crime problem, the OAG told FOX 5 of the 631 juvenile cases filed in FY2021, only 27 or 4% of those youth offenders were assigned to go through a full restorative process. Racine said just two of the youths involved were charged with carjacking.
FOX 5 also asked the attorney general, what’s it going to take for his office and the mayor’s office to be on the same accord when it comes to violent juvenile crime?
"Let me just say to you, the disconnect here is that crime is the tip of the iceberg. And we see the iceberg. And we must absolutely be attentive to it – the tip. We’ve got to go out there and make sure that kids who commit these offenses are in fact prosecuted and go through the process and system and get the kind of services that they need so that they get on the right track. The real problem, in the District of Columbia, is what is below the iceberg," said Racine, pointing to family instability, family dysfunction, poverty, and lack of services and public recreation.
"Does that fall under the Office of Attorney General?" Racine asked. "Leadership is never about falsely blaming others, instead of taking responsibility for real issues that our city has."