Before she heads to Capitol Hill to talk about the safety of D.C. to a congressional committee, Mayor Muriel Bowser detailed new legislation she believes will fill gaps that exist in the city’s criminal justice policy.
Broadly, the bill increases penalties for illegal gun possession, allows courts to hold previously violent defendants pre-trial, and strengthens the qualifications defendants have to meet for early release from prison.
“The legislation will increase penalties for illegal gun possession. It will also provide greater discretion for the courts to determine who should be held pretrial, including defendants previously convicted of a violent crime, while they await trial for the new violent crime. We proudly, of course in our city, believe in second chances, but we also believe in accountability,” Bowser said at a news conference on H Street, NE.
D.C. police Chief Robert Contee noted that many of the gaps the mayor is aiming to fill are things that most residents would assume are already part of the working policy of those in public safety.
“We, as a city, have a duty to hold violent criminals accountable. It is unacceptable to me that the average homicide suspect has been arrested 11 times prior to them committing a homicide. It is unacceptable that our teenagers in our city have access to illegal guns,” Contee said.
However, the concept of holding repeat offenders in jail before their trials may be legally complicated, said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson in response to the mayor’s legislation.
“It’s easy to say that a person who has been arrested and ought to be held pretrial, that actually works against the constitution which says you’re innocent until proven guilty. That’s just a reality in our society,” Mendelson said.
The legislation also makes strangulation a felony assault, which is often a crime associated with domestic violence. It would increase penalties for crimes against vulnerable adults, such as those with mental or physical disabilities.
In addition to legislation, Bowser issued the Districtwide Review of Violence Reduction Programs order, which requires the multiple agencies that oversee the city’s violence prevention and interruption programs to submit specific plans for how they can run better and accomplish more within 45 days.
Contee applauded the mayor for identifying what is not working in the city’s approach to crime prevention.
“If we’re truly going to experience public safety, this ecosystem that you hear me talk about all the time, it’s not just a cute phrase, it is a real thing that is dependent upon each part of it in order to be successful: the prevention side of things, the enforcement side of things, the accountability sides of things. If any of those pieces are uncoupled, we have gaps in our system. And we have to do all that we can, starting with legislation, and start closing those gaps,” Contee said.
Contee will be leaving the police force this summer to accept a role with the FBI.
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