Attorney General Schwalb’s Four Pillars: Prioritizing Public Safety and Hopeful Kids

DC Attorney General Brian Schwalb
5 min readJan 19, 2023

On January 2, 2023, I took the oath of office as the second independent, elected attorney general of the District of Columbia. As a candidate for this office, I engaged in a year of intense listening — listening to the concerns and aspirations of residents across the District. Our neighbors share an immense pride in the promise of our nation’s capital, and many also have creative, insightful ideas about how that promise can be shared more equitably. These conversations have formed the foundation of the four core pillars that will guide the work of the Office of Attorney General under my leadership:

  1. Prioritizing public safety and hopeful kids
  2. Promoting equity
  3. Standing up for democratic values
  4. Building on the institutional excellence of the Office of Attorney General

I will address each of these pillars in a series of pieces over the coming weeks. First, I am sharing my thoughts on how we can and must improve public safety by supporting our kids and ensuring that all kids in the District grow up healthy, hopeful and successful.

Protecting Public Safety

Everyone in the District, no matter where they live, deserves to feel safe in their neighborhood, whether they are walking the dog, going to school, pumping gas, or shopping for groceries. As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, communities across the country — urban, suburban and rural — are facing public safety challenges, including an epidemic of gun violence.

We must work collaboratively, across government agencies and community organizations, to ensure we protect people from the trauma and instability that crime and violence perpetuate. This includes both holding people who commit crime accountable and doing all we can to prevent crime from happening in the first place.

The Office of Attorney General plays an important role in holding people accountable for crimes committed in the District, but because we lack statehood, it is a more limited role than elected prosecutorial offices play in states with full rights and autonomy. Criminal law enforcement in the District of Columbia is different from everywhere else in the country because the alleged offender’s age determines which office has jurisdiction over the case: the elected DC attorney general handles juvenile crimes (i.e. crimes committed by youth younger than 18), while the federally appointed US Attorney prosecutes almost all crimes committed by adults (there are some adult misdemeanor crimes like reckless driving that OAG prosecutes).

Under my leadership, OAG will continue to prosecute cases involving juvenile violent crime whenever we have constitutionally acquired and sufficient evidence to prove our case. Where the risk to public safety is low, we often look first to diversion, which can get kids the mental health, counseling, dispute resolution skills and other services they need to get back on track. We do this because we know that minimizing a child’s penetration into the criminal justice system leads to better outcomes, less trauma, less recidivism and, ultimately, a safer city. However, given the devastating impact of gun violence, we do not offer diversion in gun cases; rather we charge (or “paper”) all gun cases and, whenever a gun is used in a crime, we ask the Court to detain the young person. This is because sometimes a child needs to be removed from the community for a period of time, to protect the community and the young person from further harm.

But it is critical to recognize that prosecution is a response to crime after it has occurred. To truly make our communities safer, we must stop crime before it happens. This means we must identify and address root causes of crime, disrupt cycles of violence, and dismantle discriminatory and illegal practices that perpetuate poverty and inequity in DC.

Cultivating Hopeful Kids

Data shows that young people who have access to stable housing, healthy food, mental health resources, and safe places with structured activities during and after school are less likely to commit crimes and are far more likely to lead healthy, productive, hopeful lives. Hopeful kids are safer kids — both to themselves and those around them.

The vast majority of kids in our city are successfully growing up — they have enormous and diverse talents and interests; they are gritty and resilient; they are engaged in and care about social justice. They are on pathways to greatness. OAG cultivates, elevates, and celebrates young people by welcoming them into our office as interns, by recognizing kids who have overcome challenging circumstances, and by giving youth outlets to share their stories. All of that critical work to cultivate hopeful kids will continue under my leadership.

When thinking about ways we can best support youth, I can’t help but think of one of my mentees who was 15 years old when he was shot and paralyzed for nearly 18 months. Thankfully, after a lot of hard work and perseverance, he recovered, and last spring, he graduated with a degree in business.

At a Wizards game last year, I asked him why young people in our city are shooting at each other. He said, “Brian, we don’t know how to use our words.” The elegance of his wisdom is in its simplicity: too many kids don’t have the tools to resolve conflicts using their words and, with guns so easily accessible, resort to violence to solve a problem or a settle a disagreement. Truth be told, I learn as much or more from him as he does from me.

We fail our children when we don’t teach them how to make good, healthy choices, including how to resolve conflict with their words. Of course we need to teach academics in school, but just as important, we need to equip kids with the social and emotional tools they need to navigate conflict, avoid tactics of violence, and ultimately, steer clear of the criminal justice system.

As we do that important work of setting up our kids to thrive, we also need to keep in mind that kids are biologically hard-wired to take risks and make mistakes. That is how they learn, grow and individuate themselves from their parents. But too many kids in the District don’t have the privilege of making mistakes and being able to learn from them without risking their liberty or their lives. OAG, under my leadership, is committed to making sure all kids in DC have a safe place to grow.

That’s why I believe we need to have some honest and tough conversations around the concept of accountability. People frequently look to law enforcement to hold offenders accountable — and they should. But accountability is a multi-faceted concept, not a one-way street that applies only after a young person falls into the justice system.

Make no mistake: We must hold kids who break the law accountable. But elected officials, community leaders, government agencies, and families must also be held accountable for the realities facing kids across the District. We must all answer for the systemic failure to end cycles of violence and trauma that are deeply impacting our kids. We are the adults in the room — and we need to step up.

When we take seriously our responsibility to support kids across the District, we will reap the benefits of a system that nurtures hopeful, healthy kids, making DC, in the long run, the safer, kinder and more prosperous city we all want and need it to be. After all, our future is in their hands.

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DC Attorney General Brian Schwalb

Dad, listener, 3rd gen Washingtonian. Committed to independence, safety, democracy, and shared prosperity in DC.