Stakeholders react to $15M in proposed cuts to DC police budget

After weeks of demonstrations, hundreds of citizens offering public testimony and calls to “defund the police,” a D.C. committee that oversees the police department budget has proposed cutting its expected increased funding by $15 million.

It is a blow to Chief Peter Newsham and D.C. police, also known as the Metropolitan Police Department. Members of the D.C. Council have recently been demanding a change in policing and policies that would address how police interact with the Black community and underserved D.C. communities.

Members of the council also disagreed with a leaked video of Newsham declaring to his officers that the council “completely abandoned” them following its passing of emergency police reform legislation.

“We are not only restoring proposed cuts to violence interruption, but adding additional funds,” chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Charles Allen said in a statement. “We are restoring cuts to access to civil legal representation for low-income residents. We are divesting funds from policing and investing in affordable housing and emergency rental assistance.

We are building a new shelter for survivors of domestic violence, repairing recreation centers that provide a safe space for teenagers and seniors alike, and much more.”

The budget, which affects 33 agencies in the city, would also fund a new position for a Gun Violence Prevention Director, restore $675,000 in proposed cuts to violence prevention and intervention contracts with the Office of Neighborhood Safety and reverse the effective elimination of the Cure the Streets program.

“What kind of real shift is this when MPD still has more than $559 million in addition to the mayor’s proposed increase?” said Natacia Knapper, an organizer for Stop Police Terror Project DC. “If you do the math, no matter how you look at it, MPD is getting more of our money added to their budget. This is not what more than 20,000 D.C. residents meant when they testified to the council telling them to defund MPD.”

Speaking exclusively to WTOP earlier in the week, ahead of the committee’s budget recommendation, Newsham expressed concern over what cuts his department could face.

“We were already going into 2021 with a deficit. We were going to see about a $7-million-dollar cut, which would restrict our ability to hire police officers for the first six months of the year,” Newsham said.

The department loses anywhere from 100-200 officers a year to attrition or retirement, according to D.C. Police Union Chair Greggory Pemberton. Citing 600,000 annual calls for help, increasing violence, a growing population and daily demonstrations, Newsham said he doesn’t think he has enough police officers as it is.

“I can say as the chief of police, I am not comfortable right now with all the responsibilities we have here in Washington, D.C.”

If the council and Mayor Muriel Bowser approve the cuts and the four-year term limit for the police chief that is built into the Public Safety budget, it could affect Newsham’s rank, as it is written to be retroactive.

“While this doesn’t provide decision-making power to community members, it does afford the Council and public a real opportunity to assess the efficacy of the Metropolitan Police Department and its leadership. We applaud this step toward increasing MPD’s accountability to D.C. residents,” said ACLU DC Director Monica Hopkins in a statement.

She applauded the cuts but suggested it was enough.

“A sincere commitment to overhauling the role of policing in public safety requires urgent action from the entire Council to finish the work the Judiciary Committee began. This means making greater cuts to MPD’s budget in the Committee of the Whole and reinvesting those dollars in communities by replacing police officers with counselors in schools, expanding funding for mental health programs and substance abuse treatment, ensuring access to quality health care for residents in Wards 7 and 8, and investing in safe and affordable housing,” Hopkins wrote.

After outlining the basics of the budget, Allen closed his release with this sentiment:

“This budget, on its own, will not overcome decades of underinvestment in our Black neighbors. But it is a significant step forward, propelled by the advocacy of thousands of residents who have written, chanted, and marched to demand an end to the status quo.”

The budget now advances to the Committee of the Whole for consideration and a first vote on July 7.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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