The D.C. mayor and the police chief Wednesday stressed the need for additional recruits for the police department and increased community engagement with both violence-interruption programs and police in order to combat violent crime in the District.
In a Wednesday news conference announcing the arrest of a suspect in connection to the fatal shooting of 6-year-old Nyiah Courtney, Mayor Muriel Bowser said while overall crime rates in the District decreased in 2021, the number of homicides has risen.
“We saw shooting incidents escalate last year during the pandemic. This year we’ve continued to experience an unacceptable level of gun violence,” Bowser said. “While we’ve actually seen a slight dip in where we were with gunshots, those gunshots have proven to be more fatal.”
Bowser said she has authorized D.C. police to utilize all available overtime in order to increase police presence in areas of the city hardest hit by violent crime. She also said she would be requesting more funds for D.C. police to hire officers in 2022.
“We have called on the council to make sure they fully fund the needs of the Metropolitan Police Department,” Bowser said.
Bowser pointed to a cut of $15 million in the 2021 budget for the police department as a reason why the department’s hiring has slowed dramatically. On average, the department hires and trains 250 new recruits per year, compared to 42 recruits hired in 2021.
“I will be sending an additional $11 million supplemental budget request to the council this week to allow for the hiring of 20 new officers in FY21 and 150 new officers in FY22,” Bowser said.
Bowser also repeated the call for D.C. statehood, saying the federal government plays an outsized role in administering justice for crimes committed in the District.
There are currently 12 vacancies on the D.C. Superior Court — which must be filled via presidential appointment and Congressional approval. Bowser called for an expedited effort to fill these vacancies.
Police Chief Robert Contee said D.C.’s entire criminal justice system needed to be analyzed to see if it was serving the community by removing violent offenders from the streets.
“We have an opportunity to look at our criminal justice system — the system is more than just courts,” Contee said. “It’s an opportunity to see if the system aligns with what our community’s expectations are … Do our sentences align with what we think they should be when individuals do certain things in the community?”
After a fatal shooting on July 22 claimed the lives of two people, Contee issued a harsh criticism of the D.C. court system, saying that a large backlog of cases was allowing violent offenders to return to the community.
Bowser pointed out that there were around 10,000 cases in the pretrial phase in the District, and Contee said around 500 of those were felony cases.
Chief Judge of D.C. Superior Court Anita Josey-Herring defended the court by pointing out that the criminal division conducted nearly 9,000 arraignment and presentment hearings since the start of the pandemic.
WTOP’s Dick Uliano contributed to this report.