DC Council passes crime bill, gives police green light for high-speed chases

On a 12 to 1 vote, the D.C. Council passed a bill on Tuesday that supporters said would help address a spike in crime across the nation’s capital.

Homicides are up 17%, and violent crime overall has risen 33% when compared to the same time last year, according to police figures.

“Most crime is committed by repeat offenders,” said D.C. Council chair Phil Mendelson. “A robber robs more than once; shooters unfortunately shoot more than once, or commit other violent offenses more than once.”

The most controversial part of the legislation would make it easier for judges to hold people in jail pending trial when the court finds that they have likely committed a violent crime.

“These changes will provide courts with more direction and flexibility to hold individuals who may be contributing to repeated instances of retaliatory gun violence,” according to the bill.

Council member Janeese Lewis George, the only lawmaker to vote against the bill, voiced opposition to that.

“There is no credible evidence that pretrial detention would make D.C. safer,” Lewis George said. “This change would come with very real harm of putting thousands of D.C. residents in jail unjustly before they have had a trial.”

The legislation creates a new felony offense for firing a gun in public and allows the mayor to expand an existing program that reimburses residents who purchase security cameras for their properties.

“We have seen so much unimaginable loss in our city,” said Council member Christina Henderson. “I’m not just talking about the loss of life, but for many residents the loss of feeling safe just doing basic things.”

911 mistakes

A bill passed unanimously by the D.C. Council on Tuesday would require the city’s 911 call center to publicly post data regarding mistakes and calls that are dropped.

“This bill would make sure that the information is readily available,” said Council member Zachary Parker.

The Office of Unified Communications, which operates the center, has often come under fire for delays in sending out ambulances, as well as mistakes made such as sending emergency crews out to incorrect locations.

According to the bill passed by the council Tuesday, the OUC would need to publish call data on its website on a “monthly basis.”

The data would include “descriptions of errors, number of shifts operated under minimum staffing levels, average and maximum call to answer times, average and maximum answer to dispatch times, number of calls in the queue for over 15 seconds, number of calls dropped following a queue time of over 15 seconds and the number and type of 911 misuse calls,” according to the legislation.

Car chases

The D.C. Council voted unanimously to approve a bill that would essentially allow D.C. police officers to engage in high-speed car chases.

It was in response to concerns from the police department that, under current rules, officers have a no-pursuit policy.

“We are not aware of any jurisdiction in the United States that has a no-chase policy,” Council member Brooke Pinto said.

The bill clarifies that the police department can authorize officers to engage in pursuits when necessary.

The legislation retains “strict limits on pursuits,” allowing them only where the fleeing suspect has committed a crime of violence or poses an imminent threat to public safety and where pursuit is necessary and can be conducted in a way that mitigates the risk of injury to innocent people.

Falcicchio investigation

The D.C. Council unanimously passed a bill that would require D.C.’s inspector general to hire outside counsel to investigate sexual harassment allegations against Mayor Muriel Bowser’s former chief of staff John Falcicchio.

Until now, only the mayor’s legal counsel has been investigating the allegations.

Council members said there should be an independent review as well.

“We have a responsibility to support victims, protect workers and restore public trust,” said Council member Brianne Nadeau.

Falcicchio resigned earlier this year when the allegations first surfaced.

Two city employees have accused him of sexual misconduct.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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