DC Council passes police overtime accountability bill

The D.C. Council passed an emergency bill Tuesday that would closely regulate how much money the city’s police department spends on overtime, after overtime costs for recent demonstrations topped more than $40 million.

Emergency legislation remains in effect for 90 days if Mayor Muriel Bowser does not veto it, but Bowser may choose to veto this particular bill as she has spoken strongly against it.

In a letter to lawmakers obtained by The Washington Post, Bowser defended police overtime.

“We do not have the luxury of simply declaring that we will not work to keep our residents, visitors, and businesses safe, that we will not facilitate peaceful First Amendment assemblies and demonstrations, or that we will not support presidential movements when they occur,” the letter said.

The bill would require the police department to send the council an overtime spending report every two pay periods that includes the year-to-date amount spent on overtime.

Police officials would need to justify their overtime spending in the report as well.

It comes in response to Bowser’s decision last month to redirect $43 million in unspent city funds to cover overtime costs during protests in the District.

Council member Brianne Nadeau said during Tuesday’s meeting: “We are not even telling them they can’t spend the money. We are just saying we need to see what you’re spending.”

Tension has been growing this year between council members and the police department.

In June, the council voted to cut $15 million from the police budget, despite objections from Bowser and Police Chief Peter Newsham.

“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 back in June.

The department loses anywhere from 100 to 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.”

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