Avoid criminal activity for a chance to earn $9,000?
It’s a choice that some Washington residents may be able to make if lawmakers approve new legislation aimed at changing the city’s approach to crime prevention.
Under the proposal, modeled on a similar effort in Richmond, Calif., a new office would be created to identify individuals “who pose a high risk of participating in, or being a victim of, violent criminal activity.”
The legislation seeks funding to cover stipends for about 50 individuals a year, who would be paid to follow a program “involving life planning, trauma informed therapy, and mentorship.”
The plan is part of sweeping anti-crime legislation — the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2016 — that won unanimous approval by the District Council on Tuesday. It will face a final vote on March 1, before heading to the mayor and Congress.
The bill would also establish an office tasked with developing a public health strategy to address violence, a crime-prevention program focused on people in need of assistance and additional police training and reforms.
“The bill that we passed is a comprehensive crime bill that is seeking to target the root causes of crime,” said Kenyan R. McDuffie, the District Council member who introduced the legislation, in a statement on his website. The stipend program, he noted, is just one component of that.
DeVone L. Boggan, who created and runs the Richmond program, has credited it with causing a sharp drop in firearm-related murders in the San Francisco Bay Area city since it was initiated in 2010.
The program has graduated 68 fellows, with 24 others currently enrolled. The participants earn incremental payments up to $9,000 as they complete a “life map,” an action plan created with the help of a city employee.
Mr. Boggan pointed out, however, that the most popular incentive is not the money. It’s the trips, he said.
Successful participants are eligible for “horizon-building educational excursions” that could include a visit to a college campus in the state, or even traveling to London, Paris or South Africa.
The difference between who gets to go where is critical. Those who take trips outside California, Mr. Boggan said, have to be willing to travel with a mortal enemy.
“And oftentimes,” he said, “what they find out through the experience is that they actually like the guys that they’ve been trying to kill better than the guys they’ve been hanging out with.”
The Washington legislation is intended to lay the groundwork for a similar program, Mr. McDuffie said, but the details of how it will operate will be left to a director hired to run the office.
The bill did not specify how large the individual stipends would be, but a city assessment of the program’s cost pegged them at $9,000 a year.
How the city handles the funding of the stipends — right now, the plan is to set aside public money for the program — could represent a touchy issue with potential critics of handing out taxpayer money.
The district’s chief financial officer, Jeffrey S. DeWitt, has raised questions about the viability of the overall crime-prevention bill, estimating its cost over four years at $25.6 million, a sum he said in a filing that the city cannot currently afford.
Mr. McDuffie said he planned to go through the district’s 2016 budget “with a fine-toothed comb” to make sure the funds already allocated to crime-prevention efforts are being spent in the most effective way.
Donations, which Richmond has relied on entirely to fund its stipends, are not outlined in the Washington program, and Mr. McDuffie said any fund-raising efforts would be at the discretion of the program’s director.