D.C. Mayor Urges Council to Act Fast on Crime Bill

By Theola Labbé-DeBose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 15, 2009

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said yesterday that he will urge the D.C. Council to pass his crime bill on an emergency basis so that new laws regarding gang activity and gun crimes take effect by summer, when violent crime tends to rise.

Flanked by Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and several council members at a Northwest Washington street corner, Fenty (D) said he will submit a request to council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) asking for approval of emergency legislation at the council's June 2 meeting.

"The summer has always been a critical time. . . . That's when you get the spike in violence," Fenty said. "We need more tools."

Fenty's plan would increase penalties for those who commit crimes in stolen vehicles. In addition, Lanier said, anyone caught with a gun in a stolen car would face a new criminal charge: "knowingly being in a stolen vehicle with an illegal firearm."

Last summer, police grappled with a series of shootings in Northeast Washington in which gunmen used stolen cars to drive in and out of neighborhoods where they shot or fired at people.

Last night, a man was shot in the head at Seventh and M streets NW near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, and was taken to Howard University Hospital with critical injuries, District police said. He was later pronounced dead, police said.

Fenty's announcement sets up a possible showdown with council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.

Mendelson, who has introduced his own crime bill, said the mayor's public comments about the urgency of the legislation were unnecessary because his staff has been meeting with mayoral aides for months on the issue.

The Fenty administration plans to provide additional detail about the most pressing aspects of the mayor's legislation at a hearing before Mendelson's committee Monday.

Mendelson said that a new crime bill could take effect by mid-July, after a full discussion. He noted that, combined, the two bills add up to more than 100 pages. "I'd love to see it sooner, but these are difficult issues," he said.

The mayor's bill would also allow civil court judges to issue injunctions barring "identified gang members" from gathering in groups in certain public spaces and engaging in harassing behavior. Besides facing possible criminal charges, gang members could be cited for contempt of court if they violate the injunctions.

Mendelson said the mayor's bill does not indicate how people would be notified about the orders or how long they would remain in place. "The definition is loose," Mendelson said.

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said the northern end of his ward, at 14th and Otis streets NW, has been plagued by gang violence, including beatings and fatal stabbings.

Graham said he supports the civil injunctions in the mayor's bill.

"We're struggling with these gangs and need another tool," he said.

Staff writer Clarence Williams contributed to this report.

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