Washington, DC – The DC City Council on Wednesday passed sweeping police reforms in the nation’s capital with a unanimous vote, and on Thursday, the council voted to approve a $15 million budget cut for the city’s police department.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser signed off on the legislation on July 22, WRC reported.
The council voted on June 25 to prohibit Metropolitan Police Department officers from using tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, or stun grenades for crowd control during riots in the city.
The legislation goes into effect immediately but is only in effect for 90 days, at which point the city council can vote to extend it, WRC reported.
The DC Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has said that making such significant changes in a kneejerk manner was a bad idea.
“There is no need for this type of sweeping reform to be completed in such a hasty and unthoughtful manner,” the union said in June. “The Councilmembers are seizing on the public sentiment to impose these changes that will significantly handicap the department for years to come.”
But the city’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety voted to approve a $15 million cut to the police department’s budget the same day they passed the emergency police reform legislation last month, WUSA reported.
The money is supposed to be repurposed for different, non-law enforcement public safety efforts.
The council voted to create a new Gun Violence director position to coordinate the city’s interagency strategy for preventing gun violence, WUSA reported.
Some of the money taken away from the police department will supplement funding for the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) and the rest will go to social welfare programs.
Groups protesting the DC police complained that the reforms and budget cuts discussed in June didn’t go far enough and demanded further steps be taken, WRC reported.
“Let’s be clear. The DC Council doesn’t deserve applause for making changes that Black people in DC and the mothers of people killed by MPD have been demanding for years, such as releasing body camera footage,” the Stop Police Terror Project said. “There was a lot of talk today about having a more robust discussion before making significant changes to the DC police. Except for Councilmember Grosso, we did not hear a clear commitment to dismantling DC’s system of racist police terror. When such a bill passes, we’ll celebrate and not a moment before.”
Both pro-police and anti-police demonstrators held vigils and protests multiple times outside the homes of city council members ahead of the vote, and DC City Councilman Charles Allen was a frequent target.
“The council, like all Americans, is grappling with undoing centuries of layered systemic racism and its permutations throughout our society,” Allen told WUSA after the emergency legislation was passed in June. “There will be no single law or single budget that could possibly provide a single remedy. This is an iterative process just like the way it is to get to where we are today.”
He said the mayor and the committee worked together to cut the police department’s budget.
The budget the public safety committee approved on Thursday was $33 million less than what the police department currently has to work with, WUSA reported.
The DC Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety also voted to limit the term of a Metropolitan police chief to 4 years.
The members of the committee said the chief’s position carried too much power and the top cop should have be evaluated and re-nominated by the mayor four years into their job if there was a consideration to continue the department under their leadership, WUSA reported.
That means that when current DC Police Chief Peter Newsham hits the four-year mark in May of 2021, he’ll need the support of Bowser to continue doing his job.
Ahead of the vote to cut the budget so significantly, both the mayor and Chief Newsham warned the city council that the move was perilous with the city’s murder rate skyrocketing, WJLA reported.
Murders hit a 10-year high in the nation’s capital in 2019 with 166 people killed.
But murders in 2020 were up 21 percent from the same point a year earlier, with 93 people killed by July 7, WJLA reported.
Last year, there were 77 murders in DC during the same time period.