After DC passes 200 homicides, police union head blames council

For the second year in a row, the District of Columbia has surpassed 200 homicides, something that hasn’t happened in 20 years. And as 2022 winds to a close, the head of the District’s police union says the D.C. Council is at fault.

D.C. surpassed 200 homicides Thursday night; there were 226 last year. The last time D.C. saw back-to-back years with more than 200 homicides was 2002 and 2003, when the numbers were 262 and 248, respectively.

In 2012, the city saw just 88 homicides, and 104 in 2013.

Gregg Pemberton, who chairs the union, said that around 2014, the council began passing measures that “prevent stops based on reasonable suspicion,” or have “had so much work and liability to the police officer that they’re discouraged from engaging in that.”

He called such changes “anti-police” and “pro-criminal legislation,” and said such measures discourage officers from performing “really the bread and butter of reducing crime, which is what officers do between calls in terms of patrolling neighborhoods, getting out and talking to citizens, doing business checks, interacting with the neighborhood and making sure that they’re actually doing physical, visual patrols.”

Pemberton said there were more than 3,800 police officers of all ranks in April 2020, and that the total is now between 3,300 and 3,400.

“These provisions have driven a lot of our police officers out of the agency,” said Pemberton. “The message that’s received by the rank and file police officer is that the city doesn’t want them engaging in … responsible, proactive police work. They want them sitting in their cars, sitting on the corner, and just telling citizens that they’re around. That’s the message that’s received and that message is carried through the command staff all the way down to police officers.”

That’s led to “tragic violence in some of our most vulnerable communities,” Pemberton added.

The D.C. Council’s police reforms are often passed unanimously, which he said renders Mayor Muriel Bowser powerless to reject some of them.

“I think the mayor has a much more reasoned and measured approach about this,” Pemberton said. “She seems to come down on the side of the citizens,” whom he claimed want more police and “more accountability for criminals” in polling.

WTOP has reached out to representatives for Bowser and Council Chair Phil Mendelson, as well as Ward 6 representative Charles Allen, who has chaired the council committee that oversees public safety and who has drawn some of the strongest criticism from the union.

Homicides are likely to be down this year over last year, but Pemberton said that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 156% jump between 2012 and 2021.

“People seem to be taking victory laps about a reduction in crime. I think it’s really repugnant to have crime go up 150-some percent and then somehow high-five each other when it comes down single-digit percentiles. That’s not where we need to be.”

Allen responds

D.C. Council member Charles Allen was singled out for criticism in a statement from Pemberton earlier Friday; in a statement this afternoon, he pointed out that the council instituted a $20,000 recruitment bonus for new officers, Chief Robert Contee III’s full budget request for personnel and expanded the police cadet program.

He also mentioned the overhaul of the District’s criminal code, which he said will increase penalties for carrying enhanced weapons and “making it easier for MPD to intervene in cases of repeat stalking.”

“What’s really going on here,” Allen said in the statement, “is that the [union leadership] doesn’t like legislation the Council unanimously passed almost three years ago that prohibits them from negotiating their own discipline policies during collective bargaining. That’s pure and simple about keeping bad apples on the force, not protecting and serving like our officers want to do.”

He added, “It makes me terribly sad that the hardworking men and women of the Metropolitan Police Department have such lackluster representation,” and that “what residents want is their leaders to be united in ending gun violence and for officers to help them in their time of need.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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