DC Police Union says reform has hurt the department

The D.C. Council has taken steps to create more accountability in policing with recent police reform legislation, but the city’s police union says some of those changes have made it harder for officers to do their jobs.

Gregg Pemberton, chair of the D.C. Police Union, said that while he agrees with a majority of the provisions in the bill and does not oppose the release of some evidence in certain use-of-force cases, the release of officers’ names to the public is cause for concern.

“Officers whose names have been released have become the subject of some pretty serious threats,” said Pemberton.

He also believes changes to the disciplinary process eliminate the system altogether, leaving many officers reluctant to engage and resulting in rising crime.

Pemberton said since the new bill went into effect about 10 months ago, 313 officers have retired or resigned. According to MPD, the department has 3,623 sworn members as of Tuesday — approximately 3,300 of which are rank and file, according to Pemberton. Pemberton said fewer than those numbers would be what he calls “catastrophic” for the city.

“We don’t like the idea that the city council wants to put their own employees in that environment in the name of accountability,” added Pemberton.

The number of officers who’ve departed the service has been roughly the same for years, according to police data.

For 2021, as of April 27, 102 sworn members separated (67 resigned) and 76 members retired.

In 2020, 153 sworn members separated (116 resigned) and 162 members retired.

In 2019, 157 sworn members separated (103 resigned) and 176 members retired.

The 313 officers who have retired or resigned since the legislation went into effect is a reflection of 10 months-worth of data. Pemberton said 12 months of data will mean higher numbers.

Acting Police Chief Robert Contee said at a news conference Monday that the reduction in the numbers is a concern.

“We’ve been talking about a shrinking workforce for some time. Now, this is not the first time that this has occurred. And I would strongly say that it’s something that we need to continue to not just watch, but it’s something that eventually we must act on in terms of making sure that our force is at the strength where it needs to be.”

“Every year, we lose officers to resignation, retirement, termination, even, we lose officers to that, certainly, we want to make sure that our officers who are out here doing the job that they are properly supported with the resources that they need,” Contee said.

Contee also said the department is not “at an all time low in terms of morale.”

Council member Charles Allen has since responded to Pemberton’s claims: “Police officers should not be able to negotiate their own discipline behind closed doors … holding public employees accountable by taking discipline off the bargaining table, while preserving due process protections, strengthens trust in government.”

WTOP’s Will Vitka contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the number of current officers provided by D.C. Police is the same as the data provided by the D.C. Police Union.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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