DC Council committee debating police budget hears calls for defunding

Impassioned pleas to defund the D.C. police were aired during a virtual public hearing held Monday by the D.C. Council committee considering the department’s proposed budget.

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed budget for fiscal 2021 includes $578 million for the police, which would be a 3.3% increase.

Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen, who is the chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, said in a Facebook post announcing the hearing Friday that the panel had “received more than 15,000 written, phone, and video budget testimonials — which is incredible!”

He said that number was “far more public input than ever before.”

Many speakers presented arguments for why the department should get less money.

“More police in our community do not make us safer; in fact, they make us less safe,” said Sean Blackmon, of the Stop Police Terror Project DC. “When we say ‘Defund the D.C. police,’ we’re talking about an intentional reinvestment in community programs like the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement.”

The chair of the D.C. police union, Det. Greg Pemberton, testified on behalf of more than 3,600 police officers. Pemberton pointed out that 66% of the union’s members are minorities, making it a minority-majority union.

“No discussion about the [Metropolitan Police Department] budget can be had without a discussion about manpower and, more specifically, the future of manpower within the department,” Pemberton said.

Pemberton said three particular elements of the emergency legislation passed unanimously by the D.C. Council last week will have a considerable negative impact on hiring, retention and attrition of officers.

The union takes issue with changes related to body-worn camera access, the use-of-force policy and the elimination of collective bargaining rights as they apply to the disciplinary system.

Speaking at the public hearing, Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh questioned goals for the department to have 4,000 uniformed officers.

“I don’t think it’s needed. Especially if we move out of the responsibilities things they shouldn’t have,” Cheh said, giving as examples placing officers in schools or having them take care of very minor offenses or people with mental health problems. She also noted a reduction of responsibilities that formerly included vehicles and parking.

“The D.C. City Council must not increase the budget for MPD,” said Adam Hasz, of Mount Pleasant. “Defund the MPD’s budget, remove police from D.C. schools and use the money divested from MPD to reinvest in community programs.”

He said he wanted the money redirected into organizations such as the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, which is in line for an 11.4% cut in Bowser’s proposed budget.

Ward 1 resident Ashley Badesch called for money to be shifted away from police and toward programs that address the health and wellness disparities that she said threaten the safety of people of color in the city.

“Instead of putting more money into policing, our community needs more funding for substance use treatment, harm reduction programs and access to health care,” Badesch said. “We need more funding for affordable housing, workforce development and social services. We need the budget to reflect priorities of human dignity for all of our residents.”

A committee vote on the proposed police budget is set for June 25. The full council will take a first vote on the matter July 7.

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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