In the wake of gun violence and police brutality being as obvious and perhaps more openly contested than any other time in recent memory, the DC Council has been hard at work in their efforts to reduce the volume of both.
The Council made significant strides toward police reform in June, beginning just a week after the police killing of George Floyd on May 25. The first action taken was a bill authored by Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen. The bill, called the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Emergency Act, passed unanimously in the Council and seeks to enact sweeping changes in the Metropolitan Police Department.
The bill includes a prospective ban on the use of “neck restraints,” or chokeholds, which follows heated discussion by protestors and lawmakers following Floyd’s death. This is an expansion of the department’s discretion on disciplining officers accused of the “serious use of force” or criminal activity, which is achieved by doubling the time the department has to discipline an officer from 90 to 180 days. It also includes a restriction on the department’s ability to acquire and use military equipment and weapons, expanded access to body-worn camera footage in events of officer-involved death (which follows a similar initiative authored and passed months earlier by Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White), among numerous other reformative measures.
The DC police union was unequivocally opposed to the bill, going so far as to refer to it as a “disservice to the citizens of the District of Columbia,” and to accuse the Council of “seizing on the public sentiment to impose [changes] that will significantly handicap the department for years to come.”
Later in June, the Council agreed to join a long list of American cities that have chosen to defund their police departments this year. In discussion of changes to the budget for 2021, the Council unanimously voted to reduce funding for the MPD by $15 million. They also voted to reinvest some of these funds into the instatement of a new municipal position, the Director of Gun Violence Prevention, who will work to halt the District’s steadily increasing violent crime rate.
In May, prior to the Council’s proposal and approval of the reductions, Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed a budget that included a 3.3% increase in funding for the MPD. She said in a June interview with NPR that her budget “doesn’t fund [the MPD] a penny more than we need and certainly not a penny less.”
The Council’s decision to reduce the department’s funding echoes police budget reductions of $1 billion in New York City, $150 million in Austin, Texas and Los Angeles, California, $120 million in San Francisco, California, $22 million in Baltimore, and several other amounts in several other cities.
The Council’s 2021 budget also includes initiatives aimed at expanding access to specialty medical care and affordable housing, as well as creating more job opportunities for transgender and gender nonconforming District residents.