Public Safety is Central Focus of Council’s First Fall Meeting

 

In its first meeting since returning from its summer recess, the Council turned its full attention to the public safety crisis that has afflicted the District in recent weeks.

The response was two-pronged: the Council introduced its own initial legislative plan to respond to public safety concerns, and also voted on a supplemental budget request from Mayor Bowser which included public safety initiatives.

The Council’s legislative response builds upon the epic ten-hour hearing held last Wednesday, on the Council’s very first day back after its recess. From 5:00PM to 3:30AM, nearly seventy public witnesses, as well at the Chief of Police, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, and Department of Health Director testified before the Council’s Judiciary Committee, and eleven of the Council’s thirteen members.

Council’s Proposed Public Safety Legislation

The proposed legislation, co-introduced by eleven members, focuses on solution-oriented approaches that target the human services failures that can later trigger crime. The measure includes the following components:

  •  Creating of an Office of Neighborhood Engagement and Safety, tasked with identifying the youth most likely to engage in crime, and strategizing how to help them avoid that fate
  • Providing the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice with grantmaking authority, so that grassroots neighborhood groups can be engaged to identify risks, intervene to avoid crime, and communicate to all relevant parties
  • Collecting data on stop-and-frisk and use-of-force data to provide an accurate picture of police tactics, and ensure that communities are properly informed about these tactics
  •  Establishing a Community Crime Prevention Team Pilot Program which would embed human service agency personnel with police, so that services are better coordinated and crossover issues like homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse can be more effectively addressed
  • Requiring annual training in proper avoidance of profiling, use of force, and community policing techniques

Mayor’s Supplemental Budget Request

Also addressed at the meeting was a proposed supplemental budget request that was presented to the Council by the Mayor last week. The request addressed additional revenue that had come in during the current fiscal year, and that needed to be expended quickly, prior to the completion of the year on September 30. Higher than expected tax revenue, as well as a lucrative settlement with Expedia, were mostly cancelled out by a labor settlement with the Fire and Emergency Management Services Department, and a large past Medicaid overpayment that had to be repaid to the federal government.

Once these large, recent, and somewhat unexpected revenues and expenses were reconciled, approximately $23 million in excess revenue that needed to be spent prior to September 30 remained. The Mayor proposed spending those funds to address the summer’s public safety crisis. Among the Mayor’s proposals were:

  • $2.8 million for 2,800 additional body-worn cameras for police, which, when combined with past allocations for this purpose, will mean all officers will have one
  • $2.5 million for the redaction of body-worn camera footage, to ensure privacy when police video is requested via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
  • $500,000 to refund individuals and businesses who install anti-crime video cameras in their homes/businesses
  • $3.7 million to allow retiring police officers continue to work in the Department of Forensic Sciences without losing their pensions
  • $4.3 million for operational improvements at the Department of Forensic Sciences
  • $300,000 for additional testing for synthetic drugs
  • $4.5 million to extend summer employment of 20-24 year olds to a year-round program
  • $1.5 million for Department of Park and Recreation front desk employment personnel
  • $1 million for safety improvements at recreation centers
  • $1.2 million for mini-grants of $25,000 in five high-crime police service areas
  • $800,000 for a Department of Public Works job training program

When this request was initially provided to the Council, numerous councilmembers felt that inadequate detail had been provided. After substantial outreach by individual councilmembers and the Chairman to the Mayor’s office, extensive further details were provided. Reassurances were also provided regarding data that would subsequently be gathered and analyzed to address the effectiveness of the proposed programs. In the end, the Mayor’s proposed supplemental budget passed by a unanimous Council vote.

 

Additional Measures Addressed

Among other higher-profile measures passed at the meeting were a limitation on the allowance of rent control hardship petitions, and approval of a planned mixed-use development at 965 Florida Avenue, NW.

Introduced at the earlier Committee of the Whole meeting were measures that:

  • Seek to limit teen suicide
  • Mandate a police force of 4,000 or more
  • Repeal a proposed licensing of physical fitness trainers
  • Require future DC police, fire, and schools personnel to live in DC
  • Seal records of those convicted of sex trafficking while under coercion
  • Provide parking near fire houses for fire personnel
  • Provide menstrual products in homeless shelters and jails
  • Create a pilot mobile hygiene bus for the homeless
  • Create a climate change commission
  • Increase DC’s unemployment insurance payments to match Maryland’s levels
  • Extend solar energy incentives through 2023
  • Allow for unused prescription drug donation
  • Teach safe sleeping practices in Wards with higher SIDS rates
  • Ban divorced spouses from creating barriers to their spouse’s remarriage
  • Rename and repurpose the Emory Recreation Center
  • Encourage quicker payment of contractors by the DC government
  • Provide better enforcement of DC’s language access law
  • Remove from office ANC commissioners who miss three straight monthly meetings
  • Eliminate outdated audits that the DC Auditor is required to perform

For a full list of all votes taken at the meeting, click here.