Kojo speaks with "Speak No Evil" novelist and D.C. native Uzodinma Iweala about his second novel and how his local upbringing affects his storytelling.
It is one of the most coveted jobs in law enforcement — but also one of the toughest: US Attorney for the District of Columbia. The work includes both high-profile legal cases and low-profile nitty-gritty crime cases direct from DC streets. Kojo speaks with the person President Obama appointed to be the District’s new U.S. Attorney about everything from his approach to the local community to the challenges of prosecuting cases in the post 9/11 world.
- Ronald Machen Jr. United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.
Video From Today’s Show
Ron Machen, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, talks about programs in D.C. that encourage fugitives to come forward, gun exchanges, and more:
Machen talks about the changes he sees in the office from before the 9/11 attacks to today:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. We're joined today by Ronald Machen, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. On any given day, his office might be prosecuting accused Al Qaida operatives, his prosecutors might be building a case against a former star athlete accused of lying to Congress about performance-enhancing drugs or he might be wading into local street violence like last week's drive-by shootings along U Street Northwest. It's a caseload that makes his office unique, over 300 lawyers handling 20,000 local cases and almost 500 federal cases every year. This February, Ron Machen was confirmed as the 55th U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. He joins us in studio. Ron Machen, good to meet you. Thank you for joining us.
MR. RONALD MACHEN JR.Thank you, Kojo. It's great to be here.
NNAMDIOver the last decade, we've seen crime declining across D.C., but this week and this year, we've seen some eye-opening examples of violent and senseless crime, the most recent being, well, this weekend, three murders including one along Harvard Street Northwest last Tuesday, broad daylight shooting along U Street Northwest that left one person dead and others injured, that shooting appearing to be linked to a funeral procession. What, as far as you can see, is behind this upswing, even if it is an upswing? I'm not sure.
JR.Well, Kojo, you're right. Violent crime is down across the city from last year. But whenever it happens, it has a tremendous impact on our citizens and our residents. What we've seen, I think, is that although violent crime in general is down, especially among juveniles, though, there has been a rise in various areas. And there's still a lot of violence associated with gangs. And when that spills out, like you saw, you know, in recent weeks, obviously, it can be pretty devastating.
NNAMDIIndeed it's my understanding that this might be gang related. And you have a gang initiative, so to speak, a special unit in your office that you're creating to deal with gangs. Tell us about the units work and what you want out of it.
JR.Well, it's a great initiative. We have -- our office, again, has over 300 prosecutors. We have 40 prosecutors in our homicide unit. And what we've initiate in our homicide unit recently is a gang unit which will focus on looking at some of the more violent crews across our city and trying to build cases against them to try to take them off the streets as quickly as possible.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number here if you'd like to join the conversation with Ronald Machen. He is U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. You can call us at 800-433-8850. If you have questions or comments, you can also raise them at our website which is kojoshow.org. You can send us an e-mail to email@example.com or you can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Staying with D.C. violent crime for a little bit, earlier this year, D.C. was reeling from one of the worst drive-by shootings in its history. Four people were killed, five wounded, in an explosion of violence along South Capitol Street. It soon emerged that police had asked your office to obtain a warrant for the accused shooter days before the murders, but your prosecutor declined because there wasn't enough evidence. Tell us how that process works.
JR.Well, it's important that people understand the process. A lot of people believe that a case, basically, it ends at arrest. They don't understand that the endgame in any sort of prosecution is conviction. And so the most important thing is we have EFCO obligations. We are unable to arrest individuals if there's not a probable cause to believe that they committed the offense. And so what we do is -- and it's very rare that there is ever a disagreement between prosecutors and police, but what we do is we work with the police to get enough evidence. And in certain in situations, there may be a good faith disagreement about the evidence, that happens, but it's our job to access the evidence that's out there and make the calls. Because, ultimately, the credibility of our office and the credibility of our system will depend upon us once we make that arrest, once the police make that arrest. Being able to continue with the case, prove the charges in court and hopefully have the individual convicted.
NNAMDISpeaking of credibility, you come to this job with a lot of street cred, so to speak. You're known for spending time on the streets and getting to know the local community. Why do you think this approach is important?
JR.You know, it's one of the reasons I wanted to come back to this job. I really believe that, you know, when you have a system like we do, where you have one and a half million children whose parents are incarcerated in this country, you really do have to try intervention and prevention. Arresting our way out of the problem is not gonna be the ultimate solution. Obviously, there are people that when they commit crimes there have to be consequences for those actions. But we wanna try to reach people before they commit those crimes, help improve decision making. And so a lot of the things that you referenced are or our efforts to try to get the people and try to make a difference in their lives before we see him as defendants in our courtrooms.
NNAMDIWe'll get to some more of your community involvement. One -- but one of the things people need to understand is that in most cities, local crime is prosecuted by a local official, either a states attorney or an attorney general, but D.C. is unique in that regard. Our attorney general only prosecutes juvenile crime, everything else your office.
JR.That's right. We -- and actually even with respect to juveniles, we prosecute juveniles 16 years and older who commit serious crimes. Our office, though, is the largest U.S. Attorney's Office in the country. It's set up to handle local crimes. So I have over half of my prosecutors prosecuting nothing but local crimes. And so we are very efficient at those cases, and we do a great job. We take a lot of pride in our local function. Again, it's one of the main reasons I wanted to come back to this position.
NNAMDILet's go to the telephones, and start with Rachelle in Rockville, Md. Rachelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RACHELLEHi. I'm having a hard time conceptualizing what 20,000 cases and 500 federal cases looks like. How does a staff of 300 prosecutors -- how do they manage that? Or how do you, I guess, organizationally structure your office to divide that workload?
NNAMDIFirst, nobody is allowed to sleep.
JR.That's right. (laugh)
JR.He'll give you the rest.
JR.Yeah, there's not a lot of sleep going on. I mean, out people work incredibly hard. We have over 150 prosecutors that do the local cases, and we process over 20,000 cases, so not all of those cases are going to trial. As you know, the vast majority of cases do end up in pleas and so -- and, again, there are a lot of misdemeanor cases there, as well. And there are diversion programs. But they still involve prosecutors doing work processing through the system, so not all of those cases are trials, but we also trial a lot of cases.
JR.And the local cases, where most of our crimes happen, we handle everything from misdemeanors to homicide, so you may have a possession of marijuana, obviously, which somebody could get diversion or they could be in drug court, and then you may have the more serious cases, obviously, the felonies, where there will be a process usually, you know, a much longer process. So we work incredibly hard, but we do, do it, and we've been doing it for a long time.
NNAMDIRachel, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIYou too can call us, 800-433-8850. What's the view from your neighborhood? Is crime going up or down? How accountable do you feel the institutions of D.C. are, and what would you like to see from the U.S. Attorneys' Office? Have you seen prosecutors or police taking part in your community events? 800-433-8850. Or shoot us an email or a tweet, @kojoshow. An e-mail you can send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIRon Machen, how do you expand outreach beyond just attending community meetings and showing at crime scenes?
JR.Well, there's a few things. I mean, one of the things I wanted to do is really take an approach and looking at some of the neighborhoods that have been plagued by violence and crime, and trying to get a positive message out there, trying to associate our office with positive images in times of calm. So they don't only see us in times of tragedy. And so, to that end, you know, there's a basketball league in Barry Farm, the Barry Farm community, the Goodman Basketball League has been around a long time. We organize the halftime show. About a month ago, we had members of a fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity...
NNAMDIThat's your fraternity?
JR.That's my fraternity when I was in school, and we had folks from Bowie State, Maryland, Georgetown. They came and stepped -- I gave some remarks about the importance of staying in school. The program was called Stomping Out Violence, Stepping Towards Success. Education is the key. And we talked about these young folks, African-Americans, young males who are doing the right thing, who are staying in school and being a positive influence on the community.
NNAMDIWhat other roles are found for Omega Psi Phi Fraternity in your job here? (laugh)
JR.Well, I'd tell you it's funny because there are -- I mean, and it's not just Omega Psi Phi. A lot of the historical fraternal organizations do a lot of community outreach, and so a few weeks ago, there was another event where youth were at a college. It was at Bowie State. I was the keynote speaker for that and spoke to them, again, about making good decisions and about our job. One of the things that I think it's interesting is it's important just to make sure that people understand their options in life. And so I try to speak to as many high school kids as possible, as many younger kids as possible, so they understand what options are out there and how they can have a life where they can go to school, not look over their shoulder, be rewarded financially but really have a positive impact on the community. And so we really don't have any limits to the activities we'll be involved in.
NNAMDIA lot of people says, yes, the U.S. Attorney every now and then he could go to a community meeting. Every now and then, one of his prosecutors goes to a community meeting. How many of these kinds of meetings do you and your attorneys go to in an average week?
JR.I mean, it's probably over -- I know it's over 40 a month. Usually, it's a few a week, and it's important you stand how our office is set up, and it goes to what I said earlier about who we're set up to prosecute local crimes. We have seven lawyers, community prosecutors who are out in the districts, so their offices are in the police districts. They know the community. They know the players in the community, both the folks that are, you know, the activists in the community but also the individuals that are committing crimes in the community, all level of crimes. And then we have seven community outreach specialists, and their job is in these districts to work, to try to influence behavior, to try to work on our outreach activities so that individuals understand the legal process, understand what we're trying to do, hopefully, work on some mentoring programs and try to make better decisions.
NNAMDIWhat kind of feedback do you get from your team members when they go to these community events? This kind of work isn't probably what they envisioned when they were in law school.
JR.I find most people enjoy it. I mean, I probably go out four or five times a week to different events. Myself, personally, it's one of the things I love about the job, especially in certain parts of our community where we haven't been as involved in recent years. I find people are very receptive, and they appreciate having the U.S. attorney come out there, talk to them about what's going on with crime, talk to them about how important it is their role in the process, and so it's one of the things that I enjoy most about the job.
NNAMDIWhat are you hearing from the public? Is there anyway to measure how effective this community approach to law enforcement is? Obviously, we're seeing a reduction in violent crime and conceivably that's one of the reasons that we're seeing that reduction. But how do you measure your effectiveness in terms of your community approach?
JR.Well, that's a great question. I mean, there are a number of ways. I think, ultimately, what we want to do is have people understand that the U.S. Attorneys' Office, that the police department, the law enforcement is not the enemy. Well, there's a culture in our communities here, and it's not just in this city. It's in all the cities. I think it goes back to not being a tattletale. It's this anti-snitching culture. One of the things that we want people to understand is people have to be accountable. There's something called good citizenship. You shouldn't let things happen in your community that others would not stand for in their communities, and so we want people to understand that law enforcement is a partner with them in keeping their neighborhoods safe.
NNAMDIIs part of your work educating people about how you pursue cases? Many people feel like a case is over once an arrest is made.
JR.And that's true, and that's a large part of what I do. When I go to these meetings, people will ask, well, so and so was arrested and then they came back out, you know, the next week or the next day. You know, you guys didn't do your job. And no -- you don't understand. He was arrested for X, Y and Z. That's not even an offense where you can hold somebody, or maybe he was arrested but if there wasn't enough, you know, evidence to go forward, there could have been issues there. They have to just understand the whole process, and once they do understand the whole process, I usually find that people are receptive and they're appreciative.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Darhanoo (sp?) in Washington. Darhanoo, your turn. Go ahead, please.
DARHANOOYes. Thank you very much for a wonderful service the police department is giving to the city. Anyway, and I have a gas station in northeast at 12th and Franklin. And we had a lot of crime happen before we get a police help. You know, because of no visibility, the kids will come and take stuff and then they taking it and tell us you stealing it, they tell us, no, we're not stealing it. We're taking it. So they knew that the police will never get there by the time we call (unintelligible) police and they do whatever they wanted to do (unintelligible)
NNAMDIHas there been any improvement in that situation, Darhanoo?
DARHANOOAfter I talked to the City Council and a lot of begging all over the place and called the mayor -- I did all kind of things and the police started, you know, giving us more visibility and the crime is now a little lower after they almost killed one of my employees. But, you know, I think it's -- prevention is better than waiting until the criminal do whatever they wanna do and trying to stop it, you know, (unintelligible)
NNAMDIDarhanoo, allow me to have Ron Machen respond to you.
JR.Well, again, that may be -- it depends. If they're stealing things and they're juveniles, that's one of the cases we would not be able to prosecute. That would go to the D.C. Office of Attorney General and so -- but our role would be to try to intervene, try to deal with kids who are at risk. We speak to these kids a lot. If they were more violent crimes like you said that they almost -- that they injured or almost killed one of your employees, we would handle a case like that. And so, we would work with the police in building a case, and if the individual was over 16 years of age, we would prosecute them in that situation. So, again, we are always gonna be willing to work with you. And the police do a great job. They're responsive as well and they played a role, a big role, in reducing crime, them as well as our guys. So I think this is one of those situations where it seems like there has been an improvement. People are being responsive, and that's a positive.
NNAMDII know that gas station at 12th and Franklin. Darhanoo, thank you very much for your call. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Ronald Machen. He is U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. We are interested in your calls, 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow, or go to our website kojoshow.org. You can ask a question or make a comment there. What suggestions do you have for curbing gang violence in the District? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're having a conversation with Ronald Machen. He is the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. And taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send e-mail to email@example.com. We got this e-mail from Timmy who says, "In 2007, your office participated in a fugitive safe surrender program at a local church. I think that was a great program. Any plans in the near future to hold another such safe surrender day?" I'm sorry. This was from Gerard in Bloomingdale.
JR.Well, you know, I think that's a good idea, and obviously, programs like that -- we had a gun give-back program recently -- those sort of programs are things that I think are always positive. Those are the sort of things we look -- we will look to enhance in the coming months and years.
NNAMDIHere's Jeff in Washington, D.C. Jeff, your turn. Go ahead, please.
JEFFGood morning. I work for one of the law enforcement agencies in the city, and whenever I talk to people who are offenders and are awaiting release and ask them what their plans are when they get out, usually you don't get an answer or the answer is, you know, it's either I don't know or I'm working on this new rap or something along those lines. Have you thought about fostering community outreach in a more organized fashion from the city professional and law enforcement agencies? Because I think if you get some of those good role models -- some of those people who work, make a decent living, pay the mortgage, raise their kids -- if you expose some of these at-risk youth to positive role models like that, that might have an effect as well.
NNAMDII get the impression that's the whole point of the Omega Psi Phi involvement and others.
JR.That is, and that's part of what we do. But one of the things you mentioned which is critical, and it's another initiative of ours, is our offender reentry. And so, obviously, recidivism is a huge problem in this country. And when people come back from prison, they need to -- you know, they need to have homes. They need to have job. And when they -- if they wanna make a change, we have to be able to support them. And so one of the things our office is trying to do is trying to take a more active role in various programs that promote giving offenders a second chance. Obviously, there's a big stick that will go with that carrot. People cannot go back to a life of crime. But when people are interested in making the right decisions, we wanna be there to help support them.
NNAMDIJeff, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIHere's Ted in Washington, D.C. Ted, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
TEDHi. How are you, Kojo?
TEDAlright good. I live on 13 Damask. I lived there for over 17 years, and it was infested with crimes. Like, my car was being broken at least once a week. There were prostitutes everywhere and, you know, it was a zone for crimes, but it's been safe. I haven't had my car broken for, like, over eight years, seven years, and it has worked. I don't know what you guys have done, but it has worked well. So if it has worked well there, did you implement it somewhere else and maybe modify it to the crimes other people are committing?
NNAMDISo Ted, let me get this straight. Your measure for crime in your neighborhood is how often your car is broken into?
TEDNo, no. (laugh) The prostitutes -- not that.
NNAMDII just -- I'm just kidding you. I'm just...
NNAMDIHere is Ron Machen.
JR.Well, you know, those sort of crimes, those quality of life crimes, they're very important to us in our office and they're very important to the Metropolitan Police Department and the other law enforcement agencies that are our partners. And so -- we understand, you know, we can't just focus on the violent crime. We also have to focus on those crimes, prostitution, you know...
NNAMDIAnd that was a high prostitution neighborhood.
JR.Yes, exactly -- theft, and so we do focus on those cases as well, and I'm glad to see that there's been some improvement.
NNAMDIAny other neighborhoods in the city in which you are -- well, I guess that would have to do also with the Metropolitan Police Department taking a similar approach to whatever that has worked in that kind of 13th and Massachusetts Logan's Circle Area.
JR.Well, I think it's all across the city, and so our community prosecutors -- one of the jobs that they have is, you know, they talk -- they meet with the police, you know, every week and they talk about crimes when they see a rise in burglaries or thefts or things like that, -- the non-violent crimes. They do work with them to try to initiate, you know, measures that will be successful in reducing those crimes. And then obviously, you know, once we catch individuals, we have to prosecute them and that's what we do.
NNAMDIHere is -- and Ted, thank you for your call. Here's Julian in Ashburn, Va. Hi Julian.
JULIANHow are you both doing this afternoon?
NNAMDILooks like we're both doing well.
JULIANGood, good. I just relocated from Los Angeles, Calif. in May. I grew up and was raised in Compton, Calif. on Piru Street, and I've spent, gee, 15, 20 years working with youth at risk, suicidal youth gang members, pregnant and parenting teen moms. The way I was partly successful with working -- in working with some of these youngsters was that I would try to create connects with the business community to get these kids to turn into taxpayers essentially, to give them a focus on where you are trying to participate in life. And I'm wondering, are there anything -- and I wanna participate in many ways that I can in my community. Is there anything your office is doing, Mr. Machen or Mr. Nnamdi, that you know of that connects businesses with the youth to give them job skills, to create an opportunity for them to become taxpayers?
NNAMDII can tell you immediately that you probably need to check both with the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, and there are business districts in the city that are involved that you may also want to check with, but I do not know what else Ron Machen may know of.
JR.Well, I mean -- it's a good point, and I think obviously, you want people to understand it’s important to work, to be productive, and obviously the city has a jobs program as well. But one of things that we've done is we have an internship program, so if people are in laws -- it's for law students, but if people are in law school and they're from the community, that's something we're gonna look for and try to give them internships so that they can learn about the legal process, learn what we do. And I think it's important to reward individuals from our D.C. communities with those opportunities.
NNAMDIJulian, thank you very much for your call. We mentioned earlier that violent crime is down in Washington. We're on track for fewer killings this year than any other in the past four decades. Does this give you more opportunity to focus on cases that are still lingering in your files?
JR.It does. I mean, when I was in the office before, I was in the homicide unit. I was in a specialized unit that focused on cold cases, and so that's been a passion of mine in the offices. We have created a cold case unit in our homicide unit while the number of homicides is down, and we are focusing on bringing a lot of those cases, and we've had a number of successes. This year alone, we've had three significant cold cases. One, a 20-year-old murder that was solved, another 20-year-old murder that was solved, and then a 11-year -old murder where we didn’t have a body but we got a conviction based on DNA. And so those cases are so important to the community because people have to understand, if you commit these crimes, it's not gonna end. Even if you think you've gotten away, you haven't. We're gonna keep fighting. We're gonna keep fighting for the families, keep fighting for justice, and hopefully everyone will be held accountable at the end of the day.
NNAMDIWhen you were in the office before prosecuting homicides, the U.S. Attorney at the time was Eric Holder. He, of course, is now the U.S. Attorney General, your boss once again. You seem to like working for this guy.
JR.I do like working for him. (laugh) He's a great person, great lawyer. He hired me in the U.S. Attorney's office. He started our community prosecution approach in D.C. and he's a great attorney general. I mean, a lot of the directives that he has given us and has laid out for us are new, they're creative. And it's a pleasure to work for him once again.
NNAMDIThis is a guy who, upon the completion of the primary in the District of Columbia, walks over to the Wilson Building to congratulate who is likely to be the next mayor, Vincent Gray, as I guessed proof that he continues to be involved in this community. But more importantly, when you left the office in 2001, 9/11 hasn't -- had not yet occurred. How has that office changed, within your memory, between the time you left in 2001 and the time you came back in this year?
JR.Well, it's changed dramatically. When I was in the office before, we didn't have a dedicated national security unit. Now, we have 17 prosecutors and seven other support staff doing nothing but national security cases. We have a dedicated unit, one of the most active cases in the country. We just recently, last month, had a complaint against Hakimullah Mehsud, who's one of the biggest terrorist on the planet right now. He was responsible for the New York Times Square attempted bombing, responsible for the murder of seven U.S. citizens in Afghanistan last year. And so, we have cases all over the world and these cases are tremendously important. You have to do your very best to try to get these cases right and they take a lot of time. And we have great prosecutors, very dedicate prosecutors that work night and day to try to keep this country safe.
NNAMDIAnd I guess you have to up your subscriptions to foreign policy magazines at this point so you can keep track of what's going on. On to Robert in Washington, D.C. Robert, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIHi, Robert. It's your turn.
ROBERTHow's it going?
NNAMDIIt's going well.
JR.Hey, Robert. How are you?
ROBERTI'm doing well. I had a question for you about -- early in the show, you talked about basically the people in community who may not support the police department, or the prosecutor's office because of the stop snitching movement which definitely has this -- has some negative effects in our community, I do not support. But in terms of, like, now violent crimes, how would you respond to a person in the community who has come to see the prosecutor's office and the local police department as, I guess, part of a machine that does nothing but target poor people, process poor people and destroy lives of poor people?
NNAMDISome people feel that the institutions of government are stacked against poor people in general and indigent defendants in particular. Ron Machen?
JR.Well, again, in our office, I tell you, we don't target individuals based on social economic status, race or anything else. We -- our mission is to try to keep this city as safe as possible. And so, you know, most of the people that we are protecting -- most of our victims are poor people. So I think when people, again, understand the process, understand what we do, that notion is quickly dismissed. We have a, you know, we have a victim witnesses assistance unit that does nothing but try to work with individuals, try to help them if they can't financially, emotionally -- individuals who have been victims of crime. And the overwhelming majority of those people are poor folks. So, again, you know, crime victimizes poor people, and our job is to try to keep community safer. And so I think when you learn more about what we do, probably would not have that belief.
NNAMDIRobert, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIOn to John in Capitol Heights, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNYeah. Good afternoon. Listen, 23 years on the street in D.C. I'm listening to the gentleman talk. I was on the street. I work with juveniles. They don't trust the police. They don't trust the prosecutors, because when they see them do something wrong, there's no redress for them. They don't see the policeman being put on trial for abuse like they should. Prosecutors get away whatever they want to get away with. So, therefore, they don’t trust the people who's supposed to be policing them to protect them if they come to them when they see them do something wrong and can walk away from it. That's number one.
NNAMDIWell, John, before you go any further, 23 years on the street in what capacity? What did you do?
JOHNI was a street police when I was a youth service officer. That's all I did. For 17...
NNAMDIYou work for the Metropolitan Police Department?
JOHNYes, I did.
JOHNIn 3rd District, I walk the street. I had youth services home. That's all I did. That was my whole job. I talk with them. I was -- many times, I have to buy them something to eat. I met a young man telling me -- I was on the bus coming to work. He got on the bus. He's just got out of a jail. He hated to go back to his neighborhood because he knew he was gonna have go back into crime. It's the only way to make a living in that city. I was gonna ask the prosecutor, I heard him mentioned it very briefly. He knows the problem. If you really understand the problem, you need to get the city administrators to start talking about the problem these young people are having as far as jobs, job skills, night education, apprenticeship programs. The problem is there's nothing for them to do. So when the guns and drugs come in and they turn on each other, shoot each other, then they become the problem. But these are young people who don't have anything to do in the city after school hours and all during the summer also. That was a case where a young girl -- I'll never forget it. She was a state's witness for the prosecutor. They put her in a hotel for two weeks. She testified, get out of the hotel and got killed because of her testimony. They don't forget stuff like this.
JOHNWhat goes on is for their concern. Thank you.
NNAMDIJohn, allow me to have Ron Machen respond.
JR.Thanks, John. First of all, we don't tolerate police misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct. I don't tolerate that. The chief of police doesn't tolerate that. I will tell you, we have two attorneys in our office who do civil rights cases. They -- the overall majority of their cases are cases of alleged police misconduct. We currently had -- have two police officers, unfortunately, that have, you know, been arrested in connection with serious crimes in the last year alone. And so it's definitely not tolerated. But the overwhelming majority of police officers, the overwhelming majority of prosecutors, not just in D.C. but across the county, do the right thing and work tremendously hard to keep you and your family safe.
JR.I will tell you, witness intimidation is something. I know that's a problem. It's something we offer a lot of services to witnesses. We don't tolerate that. If you ever wanna see one of our -- my prosecutors get extremely upset, you try to intimidate one of their witnesses. That's something we will not stand for and we will aggressively go after individuals who engage in that sort of conduct. And the final part of your question is the same thing we’ve been talking about as how do we get this kids vested in their futures, understanding a long-term vision of success, not a short-term vision of success. I think obviously there's programs we need. The kids ultimately have to make a decision. And I know it's difficult. I know there are a lot of distractions, but I think one of the things that's really critical is to go out there and talk to them. If you take that short-term vision of success, if you just try to get a quick dollar and engage in legal conduct, there's only two ways that's gonna end for you. And at the end of the day, you know, you could lose your life over just, you know, dollars, over nothing versus staying at school, doing the right thing, and actually being a positive productive member of society. So we're trying to do everything we can do to get out there and give that positive message.
NNAMDIGot to take another short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. If not, you can still call us at 800-433-8850, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, where you can ask a question of Ron Machen or you can make a comment. You can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Ronald Machen. He is the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. I'm taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Ron Machen, tell us a little bit more about how your office works with D.C. Police Department and your own relationship with Chief Cathy Lanier.
JR.Well, you know, I met Chief Lanier right when I got into office. And I think she's been effective. I think she's a passionate law enforcement chief of police who cares about the community. I think her detectives do a fine job and we work very well with them. Like I said, the overwhelming majority of our cases, we -- there's never any sort of disagreement. We work in unison. And when we do have disagreements on those rare occasions, we work through them. But we -- it's a close partnership and...
NNAMDIThere's probably going to be -- there will be a new mayor in the District of Columbia starting next year. In all likelihood, that's likely to be Vincent Gray. We don't know if Cathy Lanier will stay on as police chief. But does it make a difference? Does the culture of a police department a change? Does its relationship with the prosecutor's office change depending on who is leading that police department?
JR.Well, I think it can change. You know, obviously, there's gonna be a new mayor and that's his prerogative to determine who he wants as a chief of police. And, obviously, I think, if the mayor -- the mayor will make a good decision. I mean, you know, if Mayor-Elect Gray, if he has that job, then he will make a great decision there. But there can be a difference obviously. There are times in our history where our office did not get along as well with the chief of police. And I think when you see that happen like anything else, you know, you have to work to try to bridge the gap. You have to work together, and we got to make sure everyone is on the same page.
NNAMDIWe've been following an interesting conversation on Twitter, @dgred and @jdland have been discussing a report by the website neighborhoodscout.com. It compiled data from 17,000 local law enforcement agencies and compiled a list of the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. They found that the neighborhood around Navy Yard in southeast D.C., around L Street and 9th Street Southeast, is the ninth most dangerous in the country. Most people might say there are more dangerous neighborhoods in D.C. But how would you gauge our crime problems compared to the rest of the country?
JR.Well, I think crime is down here tremendously. And I'm not aware of that report. I'm not sure how accurate that report is or what they use as factors in coming up with their list. But we've done a good job of bringing crime down. Obviously, when I was in the office before, in the mid to late '90s, we had 400, 500 homicides a year. Today, I believe we're 97, and we're almost in the middle of October. So while it's 97 too many, obviously, we've made progress and we're gonna continue to keep doing that.
NNAMDIHere is Thor is Washington, D.C. Thor, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
THORHi. Thank you. I have a question about nuisance properties. I recently moved to a neighborhood in Ward 4. And there's one house that's been really -- in the neighborhood that's been a real problem. Some of the long-term residents have told me that it's been a problem for years, and they really haven't been able to do anything about it. It's -- the people who live there are renters and, apparently, it's a section 8 rental. And so they're trying to hold their owner accountable. I recently spoke to a local activist and he said that he had a contact in the district attorney's office and that she had opened the file to declare this a nuisance property. And if that's the case, what does that mean? What does that -- what's the procedure to follow, and what can the citizens do to continue applying the pressure?
JR.Well, it's a good question. Nuisance abatement issues are usually handled by the office of attorney general. However, I will tell you this -- and if you wait till after the show or maybe you can contact the producer and give us your name and number -- you can contact our community prosecutor, our local community prosecutor who can put you in contact with somebody at the office of attorney general who can help you out and educate you a little more on the process. But obviously, if there's property that's being used to harbor criminals or to engage in misconduct, to basically hurt the image of that neighborhood, there are various actions that can be taken.
NNAMDIWe also got a posting on our website from someone who said, "There's an abandoned house at the corner of S and 14th Street Southeast. Every time I see the young men trespassing, I call trespassing, I call 6D. Now I have a hit out on me, threats, vandals on my property. My problem is I'm not afraid of them, and I don't know how to back down." Better learn. "I'm asking, begging, screaming for help. Commander Contee is a jewel, and he's doing the best he can with what he has." Thor, what I'll do is put you on hold, and we'll get your numbers and pass them on to the staff of Ron Machen. And the number for the U.S. attorney's office, by the way, is 202-514-5600.
JR.Actually, Kojo, it's 7566. 514-7566.
JR.That's the general number.
NNAMDI202 -- I mean, do this again. 202-514-7566. That's 202-514-7566. Harold in Washington, go ahead, please. You're on the air.
HAROLDYes. I wanna say hello there. And you have a great guest on this morning, Kojo. I'm here in the city, and what I'll wind up seeing here working at the at-risk youth and young adult level is the massive unemployment of the black middle class. And the problem that just happened here in D.C. probably practically happened in every major city in this nation. And what you'll wind up seeing is the socioeconomic impact of that. The problem will be going up. Murders will be going up. It's inevitable. The social structure that was there for it to try to get that population on the right track is in itself having problems because of the massive socioeconomic chaos that's going on now.
NNAMDIBut, Harold, the economic -- the financial meltdown is over a year old. It's almost two years old, and we're still seeing a decline in crime. Why do you feel it is inevitable that it will be going up again?
HAROLDBecause the -- it's pretty much the sweet potato pie theory. The pie is shrinking, but yet you have many people that are in need. And it's inevitable that crime will have to go up to compensate for the fact that -- the massive unemployment.
NNAMDIRon Machen, is that something your office anticipates?
JR.We don't anticipate that. I don't think it's a given that crime has to go up. And I think, Kojo, as you said, crime has gone down, and we're actually -- I think we're headed in the right direction as far as the economy. And we actually expected crime to be much higher in the last few years than, I think, we would expect it to be right now looking forward.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Harold. Here is Bill in Hagerstown, Md. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BILLYes, sir. I just wanted to ask a question. Last Wednesday, I was helping my daughter move on 7th and M Street. And we were in and out several times, but in one short period of time, somebody crashed in the window of our car and stole items out of the car. When we called the police, they said they don't come for that type of crime, but someone would call me back and I could file a police report. I'm just wondering if that's a normal procedure.
NNAMDIRon Machen -- I should point out to you that Ron Machen is the U.S. attorney. He handles prosecutions. He does not handle police call-backs, but he may know something about the procedure.
JR.Well, yeah. And I can tell you, if, you know, Cathy Lanier was here, she would probably tell you that they do handle those cases. There are priorities, like anything else. And so -- but those cases are arrest-generated cases that they would bring to our office, and we would prosecute them. So, again, if you wanna give us your name and your number, I can have one of my community prosecutors for that area of the city contact you about the incident.
NNAMDI202-514-7566 is the office for the U.S. attorney. But, Bill, I'll also put you on hold so you can pass your number on as we talk to John in Washington, D.C. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHi. I have two related questions, and they relate to the enforcement that we were talking about before. And my questions are, where do we present evidence to the U.S. attorney regarding corruption in District agencies, specifically ABRA, DCRA and DDOT?
JOHNABRA is the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration.
NNAMDIDCR is the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and DDOT is the District of Columbia Department of Transportation.
JOHNGood. You've been here for a while.
JOHN(laugh) Okay. And the second question was -- is related. I understand that four years ago that the FBI was investigating DCRA. Has that investigation led to any prosecution?
JR.Well, first of all, we have a public corruption unit that's very active. If he has specific allegations, again you can -- we can -- you can give your name to the producer and your number and we'll have somebody from our office contact you. As far as the case that you just referenced, again we can't really talk about pending -- any pending cases. I'm not actually familiar whether -- what the exact matter that you're talking about. But if you, again, give me more information...
NNAMDIJohn, tell me a little bit about the corruption in one specific department that you're talking about, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. What are you talking about?
JOHNWe have had a real problem with a bar -- a nightclub that opened -- a 220-seat nightclub that opened up next door to our condominium. We have a voluntary agreement with them, which end -- what that is...
NNAMDIYou're talking about 18th Street Northwest.
JOHN19th -- 22nd and P.
NNAMDI22nd and P. Okay.
JOHNOkay. And we have a voluntary agreement with these folks. And the voluntary agreement is part of a liquor license, which is negotiated between the affected neighbors and the establishment.
JOHNAnd yet we have had absolutely no success in getting ABRA CRA to enforce the provisions.
NNAMDIAnd you think that that's the result of somebody involved in corruption?
NNAMDISpecifically what kind of corruption? Bribery?
JOHNWell, I think the ABRA investigators are being paid off according to, well, former president of the District of -- Dupont Circle Citizens Association. He's also a former member of the ANC.
NNAMDIThese are very serious allegations, John. And would you like for me to put you on hold so you can pass your number on?
JOHNI would love to.
NNAMDIOkay. John, I'll do that as we speak with James in Washington, D.C. James, your turn.
JAMESGood afternoon to you, gentlemen. You're good program as usual, Kojo. And, Ron, I haven't heard you mention anything about parental influence or guidance. And before you respond, let me also respond to the gentleman about crime going up, having it be inevitable. I would caution people, or at least one, to have people think about the power of their words in eliminating choices that people have. People always have choices.
NNAMDIYou don't want the people to create self-fulfilling prophecy.
JAMESExactly. Exactly. So but speak to the parental influence, and if you could briefly, about how you -- well, this is the only way to put it. I think that sometimes young black men have a deep self-hatred so that we can't get beyond taking care of each other as you have no regard for another human being much less somebody that looks like you. So I don't know in what term you wanna take it, but I'll listen to you off the air.
NNAMDILet me have Ron Machen address that. Ron.
JR.Well, parental influence is huge. I mean, everyone recognizes that. Right now, we have too many young folks who are raising themselves, who don't have respect for themselves or for anyone else. That's why we're out here with this intervention and prevention, why we engage in so many manner and youth decision-making activities. That's why we started a recent faith-based initiative so that we are working with various faith-based leaders. We started out east of the river. We're talking to them about trying to create town hall forums to discuss some of the challenges facing our communities, especially our young people, how we can be more involve in being stronger role models for them.
JR.It does start at home. And you are at a significant disadvantage if you don't have parents serving as strong role models. We all understand that. But again, there are tremendous success stories of individuals who didn't have that guidance, that supervision, but still manage to turn away from some of the temptations that are in our society. And so we need to have more people understand, you can do it. There's organizations that will help you make the right choices. And we got to support those.
NNAMDIJames, thank you for your call. And Ben in Rockville, Md. You're on the air, Ben. We only have about a minute or so left. But please make your question or comment brief.
BENSure. In, I believe, Mississippi, when it comes to sentencing for crimes, the judge is now required by law to be informed to the cause of the state of the various sentencing options. For example, three years of probation will be $6,500, three years of incarceration will be $110,000. Does the guest think that that is appropriate or it has a place for it in D.C. politics -- in D.C. criminal sentencing?
NNAMDIThe factoring in the cost of the sentence...
NNAMDI...to the state of the sentence?
JR.Well, you know, again, I think there -- that is done by, you know, by the bureau of prisons and by the city administrators. I think they do look at a cost. But our job, quite frankly, is to make sure justice is served. And I think, you know, from my standpoint, we wanna advocate for the proper sentence based on what's right for the victims or what's right for the community. I don't think -- I don't envision as starting to kind of do a cost-benefit analysis and looking at the monetary cost of incarceration. It is something that have -- we have to pay attention to. But once you reach, you know, the core system, once you are convicted of a crime, we have to determine what's the best sentence and what will serve the interest of the community and advocate for that sentence.
NNAMDIBen, thank you very much for your call. We got this tweet from @tomwells. "Dr. Andrew Schiller's team at neighborhoodscout.com are idiots." Now, I have to go on NBC News to explain. Tommy Wells is the council member representing Ward 6 in the District of Columbia in which the -- where that 9th and L Street Southeast location is. Ron Machen, thank you very much for joining us.
JR.Thank you. Thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIRonald Machen is the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. Good luck to you.
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