Some D.C. area officials are responding with dramatic budget cuts while others are ignoring growing outcries to defund police.
In the District, Mayor Muriel Bowser wants to slice $36 million from the police budget, while 35 miles to the north, Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott wants to boost law enforcement spending by $28 million.
Other jurisdictions are looking to stand pat. Montgomery County, Maryland, has approved a $283 million police budget, an increase of less than 1%, for the next fiscal year. Calls to “defund” and “abolish” police along with protests over police brutality and racism swept the nation last year in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Big budget cuts, however, may have unintended consequences. D.C. officials bowed to the demands last year and slashed nearly $15 million from the police budget, and the city ended 2020 with 198 homicides — the highest recorded in 16 years.
Metropolitan Police Department crime data as of Tuesday shows the trend continuing. The number of homicides in the city is up 23%, from 66 to 81, during the same period last year.
“Violent crime is out of control in the District,” D.C. Police Union President Gregg Pemberton said last month. “Homicides have hit records not seen in decades; innocent people are being shot in their own yards, shootings and carjackings are now ubiquitous and permeate every neighborhood in this city.”
Mr. Pemberton said more than 300 rank-and-file officers have left the Metropolitan Police Department since last year, leaving the force with fewer than 3,300 officers — the lowest number in decades.
Although Miss Bowser, a Democrat, wants to cut millions of dollars from the department, she suggests adding 135 officers and putting $41 million toward non-police gun prevention and public safety initiatives.
D.C. Council member Janeese Lewis George, Ward 4 Democrat, told The Washington Times on Tuesday that she is skeptical of the mayor’s proposal.
“This budget simultaneously removes responsibilities from MPD such as responding to mental health calls and minor traffic crashes but asks to hire dozens of new officers anyway. That’s not consistent with reimagining public safety or what our communities are calling for,” Ms. Lewis George said in an email. “We cannot keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.”
Council member Brooke Pinto, Ward 2 Democrat, said in an email Tuesday that the budget “is a good first step towards relieving MPD of some of their responsibilities that take them away from the areas where they’re most suited to serve.”
The D.C. Council is scheduled to hold public hearings on the public safety budget proposals on Thursday and Friday.
During a virtual town hall meeting in April, resident Kari Nye urged the mayor “to please refrain from increasing [the] budget. Better yet, cut it significantly.”
Resident Elizabeth Rossi said Baltimore should put money toward “community-centered programs that will actually address public safety and community concerns” rather than resources “that will be used to police already-overpoliced communities.”
The additional funds, however, are “mandatory costs,” said Calvin Harris, communications director for Mr. Scott.
“The existing costs have gotten more expensive, as they have in many of our agencies,” Mr. Harris said in an email Tuesday. “This is being driven by personnel costs, such as pension costs, health care, prescription drug coverage, and workman’s compensation.”
He said the proposal does not include new functions or programs for the Baltimore Police Department and that Mr. Scott is creating a task force to review ways to reduce the budget over the next five years.
Michael Mancuso, president of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, said last month that nearly 300 officers had quit the city’s police department since last year. He told The Times on Tuesday that the budget bump is not enough to “keep officers from staying in the BPD or [coming] here as a new recruit.”
“Working conditions are deplorable, and nothing in the budget addresses those issues, either,” Mr. Mancuso said. “So, in the end, the Baltimore Police Department will continue to lose cops and the violence will rage on in Baltimore due to lack of police and poor leadership at the top.”
Last month, the Montgomery County Council unanimously approved the almost flat-funded $283 million police budget, which cut 27 officer positions.
A spokesperson for the Montgomery County Police Department said in an email Monday that the agency “was not defunded or negatively impacted for this budget year.”
The budget added six positions for mental health workers, instead of police, to join mobile teams that respond to certain 911 calls. The District and Baltimore began to pilot similar initiatives this month.
Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando, a Democrat, said in an email Monday: “For too long, we have asked police to deal with other societal failures and underinvestment in our communities.
“Law enforcement should be focused on the most serious violent crimes and not on residents dealing with a mental health crisis or experiencing homelessness,” he said.
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