DC Council approves $14B budget, splits money intended for new police officers

After days of back and forth, the D.C. Council on Tuesday landed on a compromise regarding the mayor’s request for money to hire more police officers.

Mayor Muriel Bowser asked the council to take $11 million from infrastructure investments in the $14 billion budget for fiscal 2022 to fund hiring and ease overtime pressures at the Metropolitan Police Department.

After a debate, the council split the $11 million: $5 million for D.C. police hiring and $6 million to violence prevention programs.

The overall budget passed unanimously.

“People have to be safe, and they have to feel safe, and there’s a crisis in our District about people worrying about whether in fact they are safe, so I think this is needed,” Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh said.

She referred to D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee’s testimony, in which he said an increase in officers will help fight a rise in crime as the department sees more attrition and retirements among officers.

“Chief Contee said we need more detectives. We need to have more officers so that we don’t burn out the officers we have with overtime. And in particular, we need police visible to the public,” Cheh said ahead of the vote.

At-Large Council member Elissa Silverman supported a split, saying Bowser’s proposal “isn’t about public safety for all residents.”

“For her proposal, the mayor proposed this increase in reaction to national media attention on shootings outside Nationals Park and [on] 14th Street, where CNN correspondents dine,” Silverman said. “You know, more police might make Jim Acosta feel a little safer at Le Diplomate, but it’s not going to stop the shootings anywhere in this city, and especially where they happen the most.”

A day earlier, Chairman Phil Mendelson tweeted a breakdown of the funding to violence prevention programs from the $6 million reallocated from future infrastructure plans.

Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie pointed to data that show more officers doesn’t historically show a correlation in a reduction in violence

“Because we had – what? — 3,838 officers in 2015, and we still had 162 homicides. We had 3,815 officers in 2017, and we had 116 homicides. We had 3,796 officers in 2020, and yet we had 198 homicides, and already this year we’ve had 114 homicides. So, let’s not pretend that hiring more police officers is going to stop someone hell-bent on getting a gun to resolve a dispute, and killing someone. Because that’s not the reality,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, Bowser warned against the move.

“Right now, we’re running our police into a lot of overtime, and if we’re not careful, we’re going to break the department,” Bowser said.

Bowser called the budget “transformational” for the community and an investment in a more equitable D.C.

“By combining federal and local funding, we are able to make historic investments in our city’s greatest challenges — with more than $400 million for affordable housing; more than $200 million to expand opportunity, reduce gun violence, and ensure we have a strong, sustained police presence, which is why I made a proposal based on what Chief Robert J. Contee said he need, and Council stated that they are only willing to do half of what he requested,” Bowser said in a statement.

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Megan Cloherty

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

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