D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser responded Monday to criticisms and calls to defund the police that have been made by protesters marching through the District in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis.
She said D.C. has been reforming its police department for nearly two decades.
“We’ve been on the pace of reforming our department for the last 18 years; we’ve had the commitment of wonderful police leadership,” Bowser said. “This department is different than many places in the country because of that steady pace of reform over the last 18 years.”
Bowser’s comments come as the D.C. Council is slated to take up an emergency bill Tuesday, which includes police reform legislation put forth by Ward 6 Councilman Charles Allen called the “Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Emergency Amendment Act of 2020.”
Bowser said the budget she submitted focuses on public safety and added that money for D.C. police has increased slower than for social service agencies.
“We saw a 12% change in investments in (the D.C. police) since 2015,” Bowser said. “DHS, our Department of Human Services, has seen a 75% change. Likewise for schools, both (D.C. Public Schools) and public charter has seen a 40% change. (D.C. Healthy Families), which handles a lot of our health programs, has seen a 21% change. (The Department of Behavioral Health) that handles our mental health programs has seen a 15% change. The Office of Victim Services, in the last five years, has seen a 90% increase in funding.
“So, I just want to be very clear that the budgets that we have sent to the council over the last five years have recognized all parts of public safety, policing, but certainly intervention and opportunity programs,” said Bowser.
Police Chief Peter Newsham echoed the mayor’s sentiment.
“We have been on a path to reform for policing in Washington, D.C., since 2002,” Newsham said, before addressing some of the history of the department.
“For those of you who were here prior to 2002, you’ll remember a series of articles about the D.C. police that came out in 1999, where they painted the D.C. police as using more excessive force, shooting more rounds, poor investigations, everything soup to nuts, which painted MPD in a negative light,” Newsham said.
He added that the U.S. Department of Justice got involved and found a pattern and practice of using excessive force.
After several years, D.C. police came into compliance with an independent monitor, according to Newsham, with the monitor finding that the department “was committed to fair, unbiased and constitutional policing.”
“That is something we are very proud of,” he said.
With the push of defunding police departments across the nation, Newsham issued his concerns of underfunding police.
“I think if you look at agencies that have run into similar problems, underfunding or inappropriate funding would be one of the reasons why they got themselves into that position,” Newsham said.
“Funding is required for training. It’s required for recruitment and hiring of the best people, people who are service-minded and look at this job in that regard.”
The police reform legislation put forward by Allen includes prohibiting neck restraints, or “chokeholds,” prohibits officers from reviewing their body-worn camera footage and aims to increase access to that footage, adds police complaints reforms, expands Use of Force Review Board voting members, repeals D.C.’s anti-mask law and puts new limits on “consent” searches.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson acknowledged the shift in the political climate.
“I do believe that the political climate is different today,” he said. “One of the provisions that I mentioned, I’m going to move as an amendment, has to do with OPC. That’s Office of Police Complaints, access to police records.
“That actually was taken from legislation about 10 years ago, that the mayor, when she was a council member, and I co-introduced that I think has a good chance of passing now. I mean, it’s a fairly simple change, but it makes it clear that OPC has unfettered access to relevant records.”
Mendelson addressed the idea of defunding D.C. police directly.
“I think that when we talk about the demand for defunding the police, we need to be clear what that means. Does that mean really reducing the budget of the police department to zero?” Mendelson said.
“We have to remember that as much as there has been attention on issues of police misconduct, very legitimate concerns about police misconduct, actually some very heinous issues with regard to police misconduct, that police also serve a very important function with regard to crime.”
In a statement, Council member at-large David Grosso said he would be introducing amendments to “demilitarize and reduce MPD.”
While applauding Allen’s legislation, he said, “My concern, though, is that the bill does not go far enough to fundamentally alter the dynamics of policing in the District of Columbia.”
Grosso outlined his four amendments, with the first three looking to reduce the the use of military-style equipment and tactics by the police. The use of tear gas and other chemical agents would be prohibited, a regulation brought up in separate legislation by Council member Brianne Nadeau.
In Grosso’s second amendment, police will be prohibited from using rubber bullets and have limited use of riot gear during demonstrations. Lastly, the council member is proposing that MPD be prohibited in participating in training with organizations “that practice discrimination or with any military or intelligence agency.”
“The final amendment would limit MPD to a sworn officer force of 3,500. D.C. currently has 3,863 sworn officers, approximately 55 per 10,000 residents,” Grosso said. “That’s double the national average and well above other cities of its size or larger. D.C. would still lead the pack of similar cities with 50 officers per 10,000 residents under this new limit.”
Bowser and D.C. police have come under criticism from groups such as Black Lives Matter DC, which accused the mayor of “lip service” to the movement.
“We stand by our critique of the D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser after the unveiling of the Black Lives Matter mural and the renaming of Black Lives Matter Plaza,” the statement reads, in part.
“Mayor Muriel Bowser must be held accountable for the lip service she pays in making such a statement while she continues to intentionally underfund and cut services and programs that meet the basic survival needs of Black people in DC.”
Here is our official statement about @MayorBowser, #BlackLivesMatterPlaza, #DefundPolice and the Black people murdered by @DCPoliceDept she refuses justice for.#DCProtests #DCProtester #dcprotest2020 #DefendBlackLives #DefendBlackLife #StopMPD pic.twitter.com/nlSj2LSf5p
— BlackLivesMatter DC (@DMVBlackLives) June 7, 2020
DC coronavirus cases
The District reported 57 new coronavirus cases Monday, bringing the total to 9,389.
In addition, two more D.C. residents lost their lives to COVID-19. Total deaths stand at 491.
Below are maps of infections by ward, neighborhood and community spread.