Crime center stage as DC Council returns to work

The D.C. Council has returned from the summer recess, and during a hearing of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, the focus was on a bill aimed at combating crime and helping victims.

The committee heard testimony from residents and government officials on four bills, two that focus on how sexual assault cases are handled in the city. The final two called for incentive programs aimed at preventing crime.

“Each of these bills is aimed at addressing issues that we’ve been seeing recently as part of the spike in both violent crime and property crime in the District of Columbia,” said committee Chair and Ward 2 Council member Brooke Pinto.

The “Accountability and Victim Protection Amendment Act of 2023,” among other provisions would make it illegal for someone convicted of stalking from possessing a gun; create a law that would make strangulation a stand-alone felony offense; and require that those accused of sexual assault take an HIV test. It also includes the extending of or elimination of statues of limitations for some serious crimes, such as attempted murder and sex abuse.

Another bill authored by Council member Charles Allen seeks to have police and the District’s forensics division hold on to anonymous rape kit results longer. Currently, the kits that belong to victims who may not be ready to report a sexual assault are held by nonprofit DC Forensic Nurse Examiners.

Executive director of the organization Erin Pollitt told the committee a system to hold onto these kits is needed.

“By our most recent projections. DCFNE will be completely out of storage space for non-reported sexual assault kits by December, if not sooner,” Pollitt said.

D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Lindsey Appiah said that while the mayor’s office stands behind some of the bills, the storing of the rape kits legislation currently does not have its support.

“We are willing to discuss and work with the council on what is practicable and possible, but as it is written, it’s an impossibility for the agency to effectuate. So we don’t support it as written,” Appiah said.

Allen pushed back at Appiah’s comments but said that the Council would like to work with the mayor’s office on the bill.

“At the end of the day, what ends up happening is the victims and survivors of sexual assault are ending up being unable to have prosecution or justice,” Allen said

Other bills discussed included a call for incentive programs — one to help small businesses pay for security cameras, the other to help motorists cover the bill of steering wheel locks for cars.

Several of the bills introduced earlier this year and after the recess also aim to make permanent some of the provisions in the emergency crime bill that expires on Oct. 18.

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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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