‘We are in a state of emergency’ — DC’s push to pass an emergency crime bill

(WTOP/Mike Murillo)

The mayor of D.C. and several members of the council are putting their support behind an emergency crime bill that is aimed at curbing a spike in violent crimes in the nation’s capital. The legislation was introduced by Ward 2 council member Brooke Pinto.

“We are in a state of emergency right now,” Pinto said during a news conference and community question-and-answer session at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Northeast.

The session comes as the city reports a 33% spike in violent crime over the same period last year. Crimes considered violent include homicide, sexual abuse, assault with a dangerous weapon and robbery.

“The criminal activity occurring in our neighborhoods is unacceptable,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Among the most recent crimes, the killing of 25-year-old Maxwell Emerson, a teacher from Crestwood, Kentucky, who was killed on the campus of Catholic University on July 5;  and also, the shooting death of Nasrat Ahmad Yar, who was killed while driving for Lyft on July 3. This year, the District has not only seen several young people injured during shootings, but also young people charged with violent crimes.

The bill includes a provision, which would lean in favor of keeping both adults and juveniles, who commit violent crimes, behind bars until their trial. It also would expand the private security camera program in the city.

“I am struck by how important video evidence is to closing cases and to closing them quickly,” Bowser said.

The bill also calls for the creation of a new offense known as “endangerment with a firearm” for someone who fires a gun in public. It would also make arrest warrants extraditable for people who come to D.C. after a misdemeanor crime.

For people who are released from jail with ankle monitors, the bill will allow GPS information collected by Pretrial Services Agency to be shared with the courts, when someone is suspected of another crime while on pre-trial release.

For sexual abuse cases and domestic violence, the bill will extend liability for some sex offenses to contractors of organization. Another will speed up cases involving children who are abused.

Another change the bill would bring is an amendment to the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Act of 2022, which would allow for police to pursue vehicles in situations when public safety is at risk.

“What we’re talking about is ensuring that the police policy is clear and is not being interpreted, which the current state of affairs is that we’re worried that the interpretation could be so limiting, that would disallow them from engaging in a chase,” Pinto said.

Speaking of the bill as a whole, Bowser said she encourages all members of the council to get behind it.

“It includes common-sense solutions to move us forward and closing the gaps that we think are preventing us from holding people accountable,” Bowser said.

Pinto said she spent the weekend working through concerns being express about the bill with her colleagues on the council. Among those asking for more information on the bill, especially when it comes to pre-trial detention, was Ward 5 council member Zachary Parker, who was initially concerned it could result in young people getting criminal records for minor crimes.

“What I can say is that there were many phone calls this weekend, hammering out language making sure that the emergency legislation is in the right place and addresses colleagues concerns,” Parker said.

Parker spoke at the news conference in support of the legislation.

Earlier in the day, council Chair Phil Mendelson said he would vote for the legislation after expressing some concerns about it.

“While this legislation will be useful,” Mendelson said he would like to see more done to increase closure rates.

While both Bowser and Pinto hoped the bill would move forward without amendment, Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen said that while he supports the bill after working with Pinto on it over the weekend, he feels it focuses too much on what happens after a crime.

“Council member Allen is planning to offer amendments tomorrow to ensure the District government is focused on the limited number of people who are most likely to engage in gun violence,” Erik Salmi, a spokesperson for Allen said in a statement. “For the most part, we know who these high-risk individuals are, and our entire government should use every tool we have to prevent them from picking up a gun. But if they make an unacceptable decision to engage in violence, ensure accountability that is swift and certain,” the statement continued.

During his comments on Monday, Mendelson also responded to comments he made last week to FOX5 about the spike crime. He told the station, “You can get away with murder in this city.”

Bowser on Monday called the council chair’s comments last week asinine and said she is watching what he does tomorrow.

“I’m gonna give him the benefit of doubt. Maybe it was after a late dinner or something,” Bowser said.

Mendelson said the comments came because of the case closure rates being seen in the city, something he said goes beyond what city council can do.

“I don’t have a badge to make arrests; I don’t have a badge to investigate,” Mendelson said.

He called on more aggressive prosecutions and a rise in closure rates. Mendelson said he has since reached out to Interim Police Chief Ashan Benedict to explain what he meant by his comments to the TV station last week.

Speaking with the mayor and Pinto on Monday, D.C. police Assistant Chief Leslie Parsons spoke about the work of the department to catch and charge criminals.

“When they commit crimes in our city, you can’t get away with murder here. we will catch you,” Parsons said.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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