Republican lawmakers seek to block DC police reform

Republicans sharply criticized the D.C. Council during a House hearing Wednesday, charging that the nation’s capital is in the midst of a “crime crisis,” while pledging to block a police reform measure.

The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. James Comer, said the hearing was necessary to examine the troubling rise in murders and carjackings, as well as other issues.

“Crime has risen dramatically, education levels have plummeted, and the city’s finances are in disarray,” Comer said.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, Councilman Charles Allen and the District’s Chief Financial Officer Glenn Lee all testified before the panel.

Mendelson acknowledged there are legitimate concerns about crime in the District, but denied under repeated questioning that the city is in the midst of a crime crisis.

“The number of violent crime incidents in 2022 was 45% lower than a decade earlier,” Mendelson said.

But Republicans continually pressed the D.C. officials, suggesting their approach to crime has contributed to the problem.

“It’s going to get worse,” said Rep. Clay Higgins, R-LA. “The word’s on the street that D.C.’s a good destination (for criminals) because prosecution is virtually zero and crime is rampant.”

Republican lawmakers are seeking to block a police reform bill passed on an emergency basis by the D.C. Council in 2020, following the death of George Floyd, while he was being arrested in Minnesota.

The measure is opposed by the D.C. Police Union and the head of the union, Greggory Pemberton, spoke out against it during Wednesday’s hearing. He blames anti-police rhetoric from some council members, rising crime and the latest legislation for contributing to what he calls a “mass exodus” from the Metropolitan Police Department.

Pemberton said that when he took over the union in 2020, there were more than 3,600 rank-and-file police officers. Since then, he said more than 450 officers have left the department.

At one point during the hearing, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-CO, chastised Allen for supporting budget cuts in the police department.

He tried to explain that he supported diverting some funding to other areas of public safety, but she said, “You are ‘defund the police.'”

Republicans are working on getting a House floor vote on legislation to block the D.C. policing bill, which includes provisions to make disciplinary actions more transparent and to provide more access to police body camera video.

They took a key step Wednesday, as the committee voted to recommend sending the disapproval resolution to the full House.

Congress, with Democratic support, voted earlier this month to block a new D.C. criminal code, which included lighter penalties for some crimes, including carjacking.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is critical of Republicans and the latest attempt at congressional intervention.

“This undemocratic, paternalistic fixation consistently denies their own constituents time, attention and resources that should be used to solve problems for their own districts,” she said in a statement.

Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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