A sweeping crime-prevention bill that would provide up to 200 “at-risk” individuals each year with mental-health counseling, job training and stipends, passed a vote among the D.C. Council’s judiciary committee on Wednesday.
Council Judiciary Chairman Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) said his bill, modeled after a successful program in Richmond, Calif., would also insert social workers and psychologists into police units and emergency rooms across the city, and would expand the city’s monitoring and evaluation of patterns of violence and police abuse.
The bill constitutes “a public health approach to crime prevention” and came as the result of months of research and meetings with crime-prevention experts across the country, he said.
But even if the council passes the proposal, the measures will not go into effect in time to affect policing during the summer months, when crime tends to rise. And the District’s Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt said the city also does not have the funds to implement it.
The bill would cost the city $3.9 million in the current fiscal year and $25.6 million through the end of 2019. “Funds are not sufficient . . . to implement the bill,” DeWitt said Tuesday in a letter to council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D).
That means the council would most probably have to wait to appropriate funds for the bill through the city’s still-to-be-drafted 2017 budget, which will not take effect until Oct. 1.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who introduced her own anti-crime proposal at the end of the summer, also swiftly slammed the legislation Wednesday through a spokesman.
“Councilmember McDuffie’s package failed to include any provisions to combat crime,” Bowser spokesman Michael Czin said in an emailed statement.
While McDuffie said the 25-page document reflected “a compromise” between his and Bowser’s proposals, it included only a few of the mayor’s original ideas — such as plans to rehire retired D.C. police officers to join the city’s forensics agency, and allow some inmates to temporarily leave the D.C. jail or Correctional Treatment Facility to work or attend school.
McDuffie’s spokeswoman, Dionne Calhoun, in an email, countered that Bowser’s proposal included provisions “that either violated the District’s Home Rule Charter (requiring GPS data and synthetic testing by federal agencies), were potentially unconstitutional (warrantless searches of individuals under supervision), or had never been utilized (transit operator enhancements).”
“The Committee’s proposal aligns itself with best practices in other jurisdictions and those recommended by the White House,” Calhoun said. “At some point, we have to face the fact that failed ‘tough on crime’ proposals are out of step with the rest of the country and, frankly, open us up to suit. They certainly don’t strengthen relationships between law enforcement and residents or prevent crime. What they do is lead to overincarceration and recidivism.”
Two attempts by Bowser’s ally, Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), to add more of the mayor’s language to the bill were defeated with the help of Mendelson, who rarely participates in committee votes, but who backed McDuffie Wednesday.
The District’s 2015 murder spike — which at 162 was the city’s highest number in seven years — has raised fears and left city residents clamoring for answers and a strategy from government officials.
But lawmakers have been divided over an appropriate answer.
McDuffie and a number of community activists shot down the bulk of the mayor’s crime proposal, which included harsher penalties for violent attacks on Metro and broader supervision and searches of recent ex-offenders, when she presented it at the end of the summer.
Then, this month, Bowser accused McDuffie and the council of dragging their feet on the passage of a comprehensive crime bill.
Evans on Wednesday said there was “tremendous concern” among D.C. police officers about a provision in McDuffie’s bill that would narrow the definition of assault on a police officer.
He and Council member LaRuby May (D-Ward 8) also sought to insert into the bill Bowser’s proposed enhanced penalties for violent crimes committed on board Metro trains and buses, and in city parks and recreation centers.
Enhancing penalties for violence on public transit would “send a message . . . that we take this extremely seriously, and we’re not going to tolerate what happened over the last year,” Evans said.
But McDuffie said that research has shown enhanced penalties to have little deterrent effect, and that existing enhanced penalties in the D.C. criminal code — for example, concerning attacks on Metro bus drivers and taxi drivers — have never been used.
“This is a feel-good measure, plain and simple” that would “do nothing to make District residents safer,” he said.
Czin, the mayor’s spokesman, said her office would continue to push “her common-sense proposals . . . like enhanced penalties for crimes committed on public transportation, allowing judges to order offenders held for 72 hours if they violate a court order, and giving MPD access to GPS data of people under federal supervision when police are investigating a crime.”