DC lawmakers hear from public on police reform bills

D.C. lawmakers are deciding what bills to craft out of a hefty police reform report issued last month.

Charles Allen, chair of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, opened the hours-long public hearing Thursday discussing the bills up for consideration and the need for a new approach to public safety in the District.

“This overreliance on law enforcement at the expense of building up prevention and social services not only exacerbates racial inequity and fuels mass incarceration, but it fails to prevent crime and does a disservice to those who protect and serve,” Allen said. “There are other ways forward, and our entire country is joining the District in rethinking the status quo. This was the challenge put to the Police Reform Commission, and I’m grateful for their service and hard work to bring these recommendations to the Council.”

One of the dozens of community members weighing in on legislation proposed out of the commission’s recommendations was Charles Brown, the father of Kyon Hylton-Brown who was killed in traffic on his scooter while he was being followed by police.

“I ask you to please pass this bill so we can get the police reform the city needs,” Brown said.

The four bills being considered include reforming police pursuits; addressing white supremacy bias; officer searches of empty vehicles; and reforming threat assessments.

“I think it will be useful for the public to hear and to better understand what the recommendations are of the commission, and then it is on us to further refine them and implement them,” said Council Chair Phil Mendelson of the work needing to be done out of the public hearing.

Christina Lopez, who sat on the reform commission advised council members to trust the evidence-based recommendations.

“Violence interruption programs, outreach and community investment are more effective at reducing gun violence, than simply adding more police,” she said. “People are dying. We cannot be timid and we do not have time for cynical political games We need to invest in what works, not  what sounds good to people who haven’t taken the time to educate themselves.”

One of the recommendations is for the council to create a deputy auditor for public safety.

Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George expressed her support of an independent investigator to review policing decisions.

“The D.C. auditor is well-positioned to meet both of those requirements of being thorough and independent. I’m grateful that Chief Contee also recognizes the importance and urgency of assessing MPD ties to hate groups, and look forward to working with him the D.C. Auditor, and my council colleagues to implement this law if it is passed,” said Lewis George.

Some members of the public expressed the desire to see police officers out of schools, while others say School Resource Officers are a needed resource for kids in communities who face violence on a daily basis.

“We’ve become a society that has become overly reliant on the police and expecting them to solve problems and provide solutions they are not equipped for,” ANC Commissioner Trupti Patel testified.

In a statement, the DC Police Union called many of the opinions expressed in the hearing “unrealistic and detrimental.”

They blamed legislative hearings similar to this as the reason why officers have left the department in recent years, saying they have a “chilling effect” on police.

The union also said this loss of law enforcement is the reason for an increase in violent crimes in the District.

“The villainizing and demonizing police officers through rhetoric and misguided legislation needs to stop so police officers can so their jobs and prevent violence from proliferating in the District,” the union said.

The bills being considered by the council now are below:

  • B24-0094,  the “Bias in Threat Assessments Evaluation Amendment Act of 2021”
  • B24-0107, the “Metropolitan Police Department Requirement of Superior Officer Present at Unoccupied Vehicle Search — No Jump-out Searches Act of 2021”
  • B24-0112, the “White Supremacy in Policing Prevention Act of 2021”
  • B24-0213, the “Law Enforcement Vehicular Pursuit Reform Act of 2021”

WTOP’s Zeke Hartner contributed to this report. 

Megan Cloherty

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

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