D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday that she had no plans to defund the police department, despite calls to do so around the city and across the country in response to George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
“What we submitted [in the 2021 budget] is what we think is needed for public safety — not a penny more, not a penny less,” Miss Bowser said at a press conference with D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham.
Last month, Miss Bowser presented her revised $8.5 billion budget for fiscal 2021. It allocates more than $540 million to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) — a $45 million increase over the previous year.
“The budgets we have sent to the council over the last five years have recognized all parts of public safety: policing but certainly intervention and opportunity programs,” the mayor said Monday, noting a smaller percentage increase for the police department compared to other agencies.
She pointed out that MPD’s budget has grown by 12% since 2015, when it received more than $483 million. Comparatively, the Department of Human Services’ budget has seen a 40% increase, from $233 million in 2015 to more than $407 million for 2021.
In addition, the Office of Victims Services and Justice Grants has seen its budget grow from $20 million in 2016 to more than $39 million in 2020 — a 90% increase, Miss Bowser said.
Meanwhile, Chief Newsham attributed the department’s notorious use of excessive force in the 1990s to a lack of proper funding, adding that sufficient funds are necessary for recruiting the best people and providing training in implicit bias, cultural competency and de-escalation techniques.
“To the extent that any legislation moving forward helps us with accountability with improving our police department, our ears are wide open,” Chief Newsham said.
On Tuesday, Council member Charles Allen, Ward 6 Democrat, is to introduce emergency legislation calling for a number of reforms in the police department, such as improving access to body worn camera footage, allowing the Office of Police Complaints to initiate an investigation even if a complaint was not filed, and limiting the use of neck restraints.
Miss Bowser said she largely supports the bill and will discuss with Mr. Allen any changes she thinks are needed.
Chief Newsham said many of the reforms in Mr. Allen’s Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 are already in the department’s general orders.
And the D.C. Police Union tweeted Monday that the legislation’s language “erodes many of the rights that police officers in this city are currently afforded and creates a dangerous path to unchecked violence in the District.”
Mr. Mendelson said he expects the legislation will be approved and plans to add amendments that would prohibit police discipline from being a negotiating matter in collective bargaining agreements and the hiring of officers from other jurisdictions who have a history of misconduct.
Although serious concerns have been raised about police conduct, police serve a key role in dealing with crime, Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat.
“What the Council is going to look to do is look at whether additional dollars can be found for increasing alternatives [to police] which you know is something the council initiated with the NEAR Act to look at non-traditional police strategies toward reducing crime and responding to crime,” he said, adding that lawmakers will look to the police budget to fund those alternatives.
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