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Margret Nedelkoff Kellems has been D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams’ public safety adviser for the past two years, the third person to hold that job under a mayor who has had trouble defining his role in the city’s criminal justice arena. The deputy mayor is responsible for keeping watch over the Metropolitan Police Department, the Fire Department, and other emergency services. Kellems now manages the city’s grant program as well. Since Sept. 11, 2001, she has also acted as the city’s security director — lobbying Congress for money to prepare the city in case of another terrorist attack. In addition, she assists with coordinating police response to protests held in the District. With Williams on the verge of running the city for another four years, Kellems sat down with Legal Times Senior Reporter Tom Schoenberg to discuss the administration’s criminal justice record and outline what’s on the agenda. Q: What has the mayor accomplished in the area of criminal justice the past four years? A: The first one that leaps to mind that is really moving forward now is dealing with the folks who are coming out of prison and back into our neighborhoods. Four years ago, no one was talking about this population. The mayor is about to kick off a steering committee . . . whose responsibility will be to oversee our re-entry strategy. Under the D.C. Revitalization Act [of 1997], the federal government assumed responsibility for these folks, and they were frustrated because they couldn’t get the support services they needed — the human services, mental health services, and housing services. Re-entry was not on anyone’s agenda, and now it is. The decline in the homicide rate has been significant. We’re a little ahead this year [compared with] last year, but last year was a historically low year. It was the lowest in 30 years. It has been declining every year in D.C. with the exception of this year so far but, God willing, by the end of the year, we’ll be back under. The mayor is particularly concerned. He gets weekly briefings from the chief [of police] on the homicide situation, the investigations, the closure rates, and what are the root causes of it. One of my favorite passions would be victims services. In Washington there has never been a victims service system and now we are finally putting something like that together. We’ve worked with the advocate community and some of the regular community and government folks to put out a plan. We put out a request for applications and are giving out the first chunk of this money. We’ve really put a lot of energy into building a victim service center here. Q: What is on the mayor’s agenda for a second term? A: We’re really in the business now of not coming up with new ideas, but expanding upon what we’ve got. Mental health and substance abuse are a big part of what we’re focused on now. Substance abuse obviously being one of those root drivers of crime. We now need to focus on how do you break the cycle, how do you connect these people with the social services they need — job training and substance abuse treatment? Q: What is the current state of the community policing initiative? A: It’s very much citywide. Parts of it have been hugely successful, and parts of it we’re still working on. Our community policing strategy has several prongs, but a very important one is community involvement in crime prevention. In some areas, it has taken off. We have really strong [Patrol Service Area] meetings and really strong community involvement. In other areas, it just hasn’t clicked. Sometimes, it’s the fault of police. They haven’t engaged the community yet. Sometimes, they are focused on other things. They may have more violent crime in that neighborhood, and they are trying to address that. In some places, we don’t have an engaged community, and we have not been successful in building up involvement. Q: Does the mayor support Measure 62, the ballot initiative that would mandate treatment for certain drug offenders? A: No. The problem with that, as we see it, is it takes away some of the most critical elements of our existing Drug Court, which is a national model and an extremely successful program. We understand the logic behind it — that you really want to deal with somebody’s substance abuse problem and not just keep incarcerating them and having them come back out. We think we’ve got it in the Drug Court, where we have intermediate sanctions programs and we have strict supervision. Not to mention the cost of it: This sort of unfunded mandate . . . is just not something in this day and age that any jurisdiction can do. Q: Does the mayor support having an elected district attorney for the District? A: His discussion always focused on the accountability of the U.S. attorney. We were not as focused on elected versus appointed. The issue was: How do you get somebody who is accountable to the District? Our position was: We can’t afford it. We’ve never been able to afford it. That’s a state function, and those are exactly the sort of functions the Revitalization Act took away. The mayor always said if the feds want to fund it and we want to find a mechanism to make it accountable, that’s fine. Q: If there was one criminal justice agency or function that is currently in the hands of the federal government that the mayor could have control of, what would it be and why? A: The prosecutors’ office. That’s the one that we think is the most critical piece of the puzzle that we don’t have right now. Q: When will the mayor name a new D.C. corporation counsel? A: Soon. He said something about it on Wednesday [Oct. 30]. They are doing a search to try and find somebody. Q: What is your response to criticism that the mayor has not been supportive of domestic violence programs? A: I understand the frustration, and it’s accurate to say the District has not historically invested in the victims service system and certainly not invested local funds, which is what everybody wanted. I don’t think it is fair criticism to say the mayor has not been supportive. There are domestic violence programs in the [police department] and in the [Office of] Corporation Counsel. And we leverage huge amounts of federal money into victim services every year — not just for domestic violence — but all victims services. If you canvass the advocates, they’ll tell you there’s much more momentum now than two years ago. Q: During the sniper attacks, one thing that became apparent were the number of shootings in the District — about two or three every night. D.C. law, meanwhile, bans the possession of most firearms. What has the mayor done to attack gun violence? A: This is the most recalcitrant problem I think we have in criminal justice, dealing with the number of guns in this city. It’s perfectly illegal to have a gun here, and nobody seems to care about that. We do very strict enforcement. The U.S. attorney is actually very good with us on that. We’re having a gun summit in a couple of months to go over all the new set of strategies. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms are now helping us trace all the guns that come into the city. The answer is: We don’t know. Just outlawing them doesn’t seem to be the answer — not to say that not outlawing them is a good idea. I think it’s certainly right that they are illegal. But when you’re 64 square miles surrounded by the United States, where it’s legal to have guns, it’s very difficult to keep them out.

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