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Community Engagements

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia Community Outreach Programs

     A. The Community Engagement Section

     USAO-DC has long believed that a problem-solving approach to law enforcement and criminal justice is essential for reducing crime, enhancing public safety, and improving the quality of life in the District of Columbia.  Our Community Engagement Section connects with stakeholders to understand the needs and gaps in services within our local communities.  This community-based strategy enables USAO to connect and work directly with residents, local businesses, non-profit organizations, and other community stakeholders to develop a comprehensive approach to fighting crime in the District.  Our current strategy focuses on building bonds of trust between the Office and the community, enhancing public safety through education, and encouraging community participation in the criminal justice system.  The Community Engagement Section implements this strategy through the community outreach programs, youth engagement, and re-entry initiatives. 

     B. Community Engagement Programs

          1.  Project Safe Neighborhoods

     Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is a nationwide initiative that brings together law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and community leaders to identify the most pressing violent crime problems and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. USAO-DC convenes the PSN Task Force meetings to combine and focus efforts for effective strategies and provide community support in areas such as prevention and re-entry. The PSN Task Force community meeting is held quarterly to allow agencies and local programs that target violent crime to work together collaboratively and support existing programs to create safer communities.

          2. The Hate-Bias Task Force and Affinity Group Outreach

     The Office makes consistent efforts to reach the various diverse affinity groups living in the District.  These efforts are facilitated through our Hate-Bias Task Force.  The USAO-DC Hate-Bias Task Force is a collaboration of agency and community partners in the District who focus on addressing the needs of the various affinity groups in the city and combating hate/bias-related crimes. In addition, the Task Force, in an effort to educate the community about the criminal justice system and to develop bonds of trust between these communities and law enforcement, has conducted a number of outreach programs.  USAO-DC hosts a quarterly meeting of the Hate-Bias Task Force at which, among other things.


External Affairs Specialist Melanie Howard delivers opening remarks at the USAODC Hate-Bias Task Force meeting at the Reeves Center.

          3. The Clergy Ambassador Program

     The mission of the Clergy Ambassador Program (CAP) is to formalize a working relationship between our Office; the clergy of Washington, D.C.; and community leaders.  The goal of the Community Engagement Section is to form a partnership that will promote trust and mutual respect between law enforcement and the community.

     The CAP is open to all faith-based and community leaders.  Participants attend a quarterly meeting where area scholars and practitioners conduct presentations to the clergy ambassadors about various topics geared towards fostering dialogue between the community, clergy, and law enforcement.  The presentation topics include getting involved in policymaking, trauma-based care, human trafficking prevention, active shooter training, assessing clergy privilege under the law, and understanding the inner workings of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.


Assistant U.S. Attorney Anita LaRue speaks during an active shooter training during a Clergy Ambassador Session

          4. Senior Seminars

     The Community Engagement Section has developed two important but distinctly different senior seminars -- the “Financial Crimes Against Seniors” seminar and the “Elder Abuse and Exploitation of Vulnerable Adults” seminar – that are conducted at senior dwellings and at senior programs throughout the City. The “Financial Crimes Against Seniors Seminar” is frequently presented in partnership with the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking; the U.S. Postal Service; and the D.C. Office of the Inspector General.  These presentations are designed to educate and increase awareness of financial scams such as advance-fee loan scams, telephone scams, home lending and foreclosure rescue scams, and how-to-get-rich-quick scams.


Community Outreach Specialist Christopher Wade and Assistant United States Attorney Douglas Klein present to senior citizens on fraud and scams. (Photograph was taken pre-COVID-19 pandemic.)

Participants in senior seminars also are provided with a guide to resources and helpful agencies in the event that they become victims of abuse.


Community Outreach Specialist Donice Adams and Supervisory Outreach Specialist Baretta Francis partner with MPD Officers Merhai and Evans after a presentation on elder abuse with residents from the Georgetown Senior Center.  (Photograph was taken pre-COVID-19 pandemic.)

          5. Domestic Violence Presentations

     Domestic violence seminars are designed to educate community members about the signs of domestic abuse.  The Seminar encourages citizens to report domestic violence while simultaneously providing information about the various resources that USAO-DC and other local agencies provide to victims-survivors of domestic violence.  Specifically tailored presentations are available for focus groups, including teens and re-entrants. 

          6. Child Abuse Awareness and Infant Fatality Prevention

     In order to address the protection of the youngest members of society from trauma, accidents, and death, the Community Engagement Section (along with the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department) provides seminars that address child abuse awareness and infant fatality prevention.  The topics covered include the prevention of infant trauma, shaken-baby syndrome, and bed-sharing/rollover deaths.  Smart and safe choices in caregiving and creating safe sleep environments are emphasized during the presentations. 


The planning team from various agencies and Community Outreach Specialists Baretta Francis and Lenney Lowe and External Affairs Specialist Melanie Howard meet to create the Infant Fatality Prevention Presentation and Symposium.

          7. “Know Your Rights” Forums

     The Community Engagement Section hosts numerous police-community forums that are designed to improve the law enforcement/community relationship.  During these forums, the importance of getting to know local police command staff by attending community meetings; calmly asserting rights during a police encounter; and understanding how to lodge a formal complaint against an officer is explained.  These forums are conducted in conjunction with MPD and provide community participants an opportunity to learn important safety strategies and express their concerns.

          8. Criminal Justice Presentations

     In an effort to enhance understanding of the complexity of the criminal justice system and the role of the prosecutor, the Community Engagement Section offers several presentations. The “The Justice League” presentation highlights the differences between USAO-DC and the D.C. Office of the Attorney General.  The “Criminal Justice Overview” provides insight into Superior Court criminal procedures, starting from presentment/arraignment to guilty plea or trial to sentencing to collateral review to post-conviction review.  The “Role of the Prosecutor” explains charging standards, prosecutorial priorities, the various bases for declination or dismissal of a case, and plea bargaining.  Finally, “Jury Is a Duty” explains jury service, provides a history of jury duty in America, and explains the importance of each citizen accepting this duty when called to serve. 

          9. Re-Entry Engagement

     USAO-DC has sought to be a leader in the Justice Department’s efforts to support the re-entry of previously convicted individuals into the community upon the termination of their incarceration. We recognize that returning citizens face serious obstacles to success, such as obtaining employment and housing, and that reducing recidivism requires community-wide collaboration. Accordingly, the Section has educated recently released individuals about the negative consequences of violating the terms of their supervision, especially committing gun and violent offenses, during Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency’s (CSOSA) Mass Orientations and Community Resource Days.

     D.  Youth Engagement Programs

     In an effort to foster positive decision-making and bolster positive youth outcomes, USAO-DC has implemented various youth engagement programs.  The goal of these programs is to encourage youth in our community by developing leadership skills, engendering understanding of the justice system, promoting conflict-resolution skills, and increasing career development through interactive programs and learning opportunities specifically developed for youth and young adults.

          1.  Annual Youth Summit: “Breaking the Silence on Youth Violence”

     For more than a decade, the Community Engage Section, along with numerous community partners, has spearheaded an anti-violence Youth Summit thematically based on “Breaking the Silence on Youth Violence.”  The Summit historically has drawn hundreds of youth – including during its more recent hybrid in-person/virtual platform.   Over the years, the Summit has focused on topics including alcohol and substance abuse prevention, mental/emotional health maintenance, human trafficking prevention, sexual assault awareness, Internet safety, gun violence reduction, and bullying deterrence through allyship. The Summit concludes with an educational entertainment segment that reinforces the positive messages of the Summit.


Over 600 students gather for information on safety and awareness at the annual “Breaking the Silence on Youth Violence” Youth Summit.  Photograph was taken pre-COVID-19 pandemic.

          2.  USAO-DC Leadership Academy

     The USAO-DC Leadership Academy is a mentoring program that fosters students’ exploration of careers in law and law enforcement.  Students from across the District who are in grades 8 through 12 are eligible for the Academy. The program helps to build youth leadership through interactive learning and service projects.  Students attend bi-weekly mentoring sessions in which they have an opportunity to interview guest speakers from various professional careers and participate in interactive legal enrichment.  In addition, students participate in community service projects which, over the years, have included supporting veterans, homeless shelters, and senior citizens.  The USAO-DC Leadership Academy continues to meet in a hybrid in-person/virtual format on a bi-monthly basis. Alumni of the Academy serve as ambassadors by serving as mentors and inspiring younger students.


External Affairs Specialist Melanie Howard and USAO-DC Leadership Academy students during a mock trial exercise.

          3.  Project L.E.A.D. (Legal Enrichment and Decision Making)

     Project L.E.A.D. is a legal enrichment program that partners USAO-DC attorneys and support staff with D.C. elementary and middle schools. Through this program, the Community Engagement Section seeks to shape good decision-making skills and teaches components such as law, conflict resolution, critical thinking, and accountability.  During the academic year, mentors meet with students in the classroom bi-weekly for an hour to implement an interactive curriculum designed for student participation.  The program culminates in a mock trial that allows students to assume the roles of judge, jury, and attorneys.  The program has been enhanced to continue on a hybrid in-person/virtual platform and currently is implemented in 10 schools throughout the District.

          4.  Youth Court Council/Restorative Justice Program

     The Youth Court Council is an initiative to support restorative justice programs in District schools.  The Youth Court Council is an opportunity for schools to expose students to restorative justice concepts and critical thinking about solutions to problems and potential recommendations to the school administration.  The Youth Court Council is a peer-driven group that aims for fair review, discussion, and deliberations in connection with school-generated matters.  School administrators receive peer recommendations from participating students for purposes of improving student life and the school environment.  The Youth Court Council utilizes restorative justice best practices from a student perspective to help implement positive changes. 

          5.  Youth Motivation Program

     The USAO-DC Youth Motivation Program is designed to expose youth to the inner workings of the criminal justice system and motivate positive outcomes.  The program includes a visit to the courthouse where students watch a court hearing, meet with a judge for a question-and-answer session, and hear a presentation by an MPD homicide detective, USAO-DC assistant U.S. attorney, and/or the U.S. Attorney.


Students from Gallaudet High School participate in a Youth Motivation Program at D.C. Superior Court with Officer Myra Jordan-Wheeler from MPD Deaf and Hearing Special Liaison Unit. 

          6.  Internet Safety Presentations

     As a part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood Initiative, the Community Engagement Section provides Internet safety presentations to the community.  The presentations are designed to inform not only youth, but parents, educators, senior citizens, and caregivers about the dangers and risks of the Internet.  Our presentations are aimed at establishing an awareness of all of the dangers lurking online.  Internet safety presentations for youth are designed to create an atmosphere that encourages them to have a dialogue with trusted adults in their lives about their online behavior.  We also explain the perils associated with sexual predators, cyber-bullying, sexting, and social networking. 


Updated October 11, 2023