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Most People Arrested in DC Don't Get Charged, Data Reveal

Washington, D.C., police officers in front of the Capitol / Getty Images

Two-thirds of people arrested in Washington, D.C., never receive criminal charges, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Of the 15,315 arrests D.C. police made in fiscal year 2022, the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to prosecute 67 percent of them. That percentage includes 8,238 misdemeanor arrests and 2,023 felony arrests. The report comes as the city council recently withdrew its controversial criminal code revision, which reduced penalties for illegal gun possession and carjacking, among other offenses, after congressional Republicans and President Joe Biden signaled they would overturn the legislation, citing the city's skyrocketing crime rates. Democrats who support the new code bemoaned Congress's resolution as "an absolute travesty" for the cause of D.C. statehood.

A spokesman for the attorney's office attributed the trend to unreliable forensic testing of evidence and police body cameras, the Washington City Paper reported:

"First, because the district's Department of Forensic Sciences evidence lost its accreditation, we often cannot secure the drug testing, DNA, and firearms testing we need to successfully prosecute these offenses," according to the [U.S. Attorney's Office]. "Second, we have, in the last few years, been able to incorporate body-worn camera [footage] into our charging decisions, which allows us to identify challenges before we charge. As a result, we are seeing fewer charged cases being dismissed by courts."

[The Metropolitan Police Department] outfitted its officers with body cameras by the end of 2016, which roughly coincides with the current trend in disparities between arrests and prosecutions. Body camera footage, in particular, has the potential to reveal flaws in police work that could diminish the strength of other evidence in a case. The Washington Post recently reported that as many as 90 gun and drug cases have been dismissed from D.C. Superior Court in the past two years after serious questions arose about the veracity of [police] officers in the Seventh District.