D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Monday that he’s still not sold on Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s proposal to use surplus city dollars to hire additional police officers, resulting in a fresh jab from the administration.
In the closing days of the council’s 2012 session, Mendelson helped derail Gray’s plan to use $1.7 million in budget savings to hire 48 officers to bolster neighborhood patrols.
Mendelson argued that the council needed more time to determine whether more beat officers could be created by moving officers with administrative jobs.
Gray is renewing the request, pointing to several high-profile killings around Christmas to justify the need to boost the size of the city police force.
But at his monthly news conference, Mendelson said he still “needs to understand the request better” before acting. He added that the council shouldn’t rush into approving the request without a broader discussion on the public safety needs of the city.
“There is some time,” said Mendelson, noting that the agency is funded to maintain a force of 3,900 officers but has just 3,866 sworn officers. “It’s not like this has to be done this month, or last month. …We are still hiring just to keep up with current staff expectations, so we have a little bit of time.”
Gray, however, appears eager for a quick council vote on his proposal.
Pedro Ribeiro, a Gray spokesman, said Mendelson is out touch with District residents.
“I think the chairman should ask the residents of the District if he thinks they should wait for more police officers,” Ribeiro said. “If you go to Eastern Market on a Saturday, or the Dupont farmers market, they will tell you they don’t want to wait for more police officers, and we agree with them.”
After Jason Anthony Emma was shot 13 times in an apparent Christmas Eve robbery, Gray said the killing was a wake-up call for the council that it needed to act on his request.
Mendelson countered that the city ended 2012 with only 88 homicides and that D.C. police are making gains in combating violent crime with the current size of the force.
“Let’s be clear, crime is not increasing in the District of Columbia, on the violent side,” Mendelson said.
Though he stresses that he remains open to Gray’s request, Mendelson said he first wants to explore with Lanier whether the agency can “get more officers on the street” through reorganization or other changes on the force.
Ribeiro counters that the District runs the risk of failing to keep pace with population growth unless the council acts. He noted that the District has gained about 30,000 residents over the past 27 months.
Police Chief Cathy Lanier made a similar argument in a letter to Mendelson last month, saying new development is straining police resources in some neighborhoods.
“We don’t want to get caught behind,” Ribeiro said. “As the city grows, we need to grow the infrastructure of the city with it. One day we are going to wake up and say, ‘Wow, we have 650,000 residents and we have not grown the police department for the demand that that brings.’ ”