D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) is proposing the District spend more than $60 million on raises and retention bonuses for police officers, a plan he says is needed to slow departures from a force some suggest has dwindled to a dangerously low level.
Gray’s legislation, filed Tuesday, would offer officers eligible for retirement a powerful incentive to stay for an additional five years by doubling their salary in the fifth year. The $63.8 million package also could enable the city to offer more pay for the rest of the police force during contract talks, he said.
The salary-doubling program would be open to eligible officers until the size of the force reaches 4,200, a longtime goal of D.C. police officials. At the end of 2015, the department had fewer than 3,800 officers, according to its most recent annual report.
It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether the career-end bonuses would affect officers’ pensions, which are based on an average of their final three years of pay. The head of the police union said the extra compensation would not count toward pensions.
Gray and his staff initially said that any increase to pension costs would involve only a small number of officers and be “negligible.” They later said the retention bonuses would not affect pensions at all.
Officials at the D.C. Retirement Board did not immediately respond to questions about the bill’s consequences for the pension system.
Gray said the pay increases, which would be funded by traffic fines, are needed to strengthen the police force amid crime rates many residents say are unacceptable.
“I just think right now we’ve got to take some significant steps to prevent the erosion of our police force in the District of Columbia,” Gray said, adding that his legislation came in response to growing concern about crime among his constituents.
“It’s not a panacea,” he said, “but it’s an immediate way of stabilizing the police force and sending a message to the populace.”
The bill fits an emerging pattern for Gray, who has wasted no time in seizing the spotlight since he was sworn in as a council member three weeks ago.
A former mayor, Gray lost his seat after one term to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) in 2014 amid the fallout from a federal investigation into illegal financing of his 2010 campaign. Gray was never charged, although some of his associates pleaded guilty to federal crimes.
On the D.C. Council, he says he is staking out a role as a champion for his constituents in forgotten neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. He also seems to be probing Bowser for weakness ahead of the 2018 mayoral election.
On the eve of his return to City Hall, Gray led a television reporter on a tour of a recreation center in his ward that he said got a “shoddy” renovation by Bowser’s administration. Meanwhile, he has begun to press an unusually aggressive crime-fighting agenda for a council member. Two weeks ago, he introduced legislation to increase the size of the police department.
A 2015 poll by The Washington Post showed that crime was the dominant concern among D.C. residents. Murders declined in the District last year but remained well above the historic lows reached in 2011 and 2012 — when Gray was in the mayor’s office.
The seemingly random nature of some of those killings has alarmed people across the District. Last week, a 68-year-old woman in a wheelchair was killed in the crossfire from a mid-morning gunfight outside her apartment building in Southeast Washington.
In 2015, the number of D.C. police officers dropped to a 10-year low, largely because hiring has not kept up with retirements. That year, the department lost 134 more officers than it hired.
D.C. Police Union Chairman Matthew N. Mahl said the bill would provide a welcome incentive for experienced officers to stay on. “When we have all of these officers with all of that experience leave at the same time, it really is a detriment to the city,” he said.