Neighbors Train to be Ambassadors of the Law

The Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act (NEAR Act) was passed in March of 2016 to “reduce crime and increase access to social services,” by providing resources to anyone involved in crime. But before the Council passed it unanimously advocates rallied behind the bill, testifying at hearings in support of the legislation, and when it was left without full funding after it was passed advocates organized to deliver thousands of signatures to in support of its funding.

In October, the measure received full funding at the start of the city’s fiscal years. Now, members of the grassroots organizations instrumental in the passing and funding of legislation are training hundreds of everyday residents to become ambassadors of the bill to ensure its full implementation through “NEAR Act Ambassador” trainings in various parts of the city.

Black Lives Matter D.C., ACLU D.C. and Stop Police Terror Project (SPTP) began hosting the trainings in November to educate residents about the measure and empower them to urge city officials to fully implement it.

“From there, folks who got trained fanned out and became advocates for full transparent implementation of the NEAR Act in their own communities,” said Gregory Montross, an organizer with SPTP. “Really, folks got involved in whatever way they feel most comfortable with.”

The meetings, held in various wards throughout the city being with organizers sharing basic information about the NEAR Act and answering questions. Then, participants separate into groups based on their ward and discuss action plans they believe work best for their neighborhood.

While participants are encouraged to reach out to city representatives and get friends involved, the group is working on passing a model resolution in Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) throughout the city that call for the full implementation of the NEAR Act.

“ANC are a unique neighborhood elected body that has some formal authority in D.C. government on things like zoning and liquor licenses, but then it has strong persuasive authority on anything,” Montross said.

Among their largest concerns: lack of communication and transparency from the government on updates concerning the bill’s implementation.

The group has passed the resolution in at least one ANC, and has it pending in several more. They hope the resolutions will create a sense of urgency for government officials to update them on the status of the NEAR Act’s implementation.

“All of us have come to this through many different realms, but we are by no means any experts on this. In fact, we honor collaboration and this whole entire this is a multipronged effort by many people,” said Hasan Bhatti with SPTP.

“The traditional approach to violence prevention… has been more police, with more military-style equipment arresting more people for a wider variety of things,” said Zach Weinstein, who thinks the NEAR Act could address “over-policing.”

One resources established under the NEAR Act is the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE), which houses several the bills programs, and is charged with the task of engaging individuals determined to a high-risk participant or victim of crime.

The Office of Violence Prevention and Health Equity (OVPHE) within the D.C. Department of Health to conduct a public information campaign and place social workers in hospital emergency rooms in the city to offer counseling.

“But as happens in D.C. all too often there’s a fight to get something passed, and there’s a fight to get something implemented,” Weinstein said.

But city officials say implementation is in progress.

“ONSE is currently in the final stages of hiring individuals to work as violence interrupters and community outreach specialists by early March,” said a spokesperson for the Office of the City Administrator.

The office received more than 300 applications for five positions— two violence intervention specialists who will work with community members at risk for becoming involved in a violent crime and three community outreach specialists that will include a Spanish bilingual position.

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Tatyana Hopkins – Washington Informer Contributing Writer

Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her to just tackle one. The recent Howard University graduate is thankful to have a job and enjoys the thrill she gets from chasing the story, meeting new people and adding new bits of obscure information to her knowledge base. Dubbed with the nickname “Fun Fact” by her friends, Tatyana seems to be full of seemingly “random and useless” facts. Meanwhile, the rising rents in D.C. have driven her to wonder about the length of the adverse possession statute of limitations (15 years?). Despite disliking public speaking, she remembers being scolded for talking in class or for holding up strangers in drawn-out conversations. Her need to understand the world and its various inhabitants frequently lands her in conversations on topics often deemed taboo: politics, religion and money. Tatyana avoided sports in high school she because the thought of a crowd watching her play freaked her out, but found herself studying Arabic, traveling to Egypt and eating a pigeon. She uses social media to scope out meaningful and interesting stories and has been calling attention to fake news on the Internet for years.

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