But tensions over how to best spend on policing have reached a fever pitch in the city after several high-profile shootings last month, which reignited ongoing conversations about how to best address public safety.
With the police department down nearly 200 officers from last year, Bowser said Monday that the city should move quickly to hire and train 20 additional officers this year and 150 more in fiscal 2022, largely by redirecting money from infrastructure projects in later years of the District’s financial plan.
But hours later, D.C. Council members Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) responded with a “compromise package” that includes just $5 million in funding for new officers, enough to hire an additional 40 recruits in fiscal 2022, according to Mendelson. He said that number could increase if cadets are converted into sworn officers.
The remaining $6 million would instead further supplement city programs aimed to reduce gun violence: additional violence interrupters, four new “Cure the Streets” violence intervention sites and three new “leadership academies,” which provide wraparound services to support high school and community safety. Mendelson said he is still including about $163,000 to accommodate Bowser’s request to hire 20 officers this year.
“Council members support a combination of strategies to reduce violent crime. The solution can’t solely be more police,” Mendelson said in a statement. “Police respond to incidents of violence. On the other side, violence interrupters are proactive.”
Mendelson told The Washington Post that he’s “confident” other members will support the proposal, which will be made part of the budget vote Tuesday.
In May, Bowser included $59 million in her proposed fiscal 2022 budget for safety and gun violence initiatives, such as having mental health responders for non-emergency 911 calls. She reduced police spending by about $36 million because the police department shrank its payroll.
But the fatal killing of a 6-year-old girl in Congress Heights as well as shootings outside Nationals Park and a popular restaurant scene on 14th Street NW have left residents shaken and demanding answers. D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III has called for a stronger police presence in the city, and in July, the mayor authorized police to use “any overtime necessary” to get a handle on gun violence.
“We have the opportunity to stabilize MPD’s police force and avoid the stress and burn-out our officers face, while improving MPD’s ability to respond to incidents, close cases, and enhance the safety of our residents,” Bowser wrote in a letter to Mendelson and Allen, who is chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
Bowser said the 170 new officers would boost D.C.’s police force to about 3,615 members, alleviating the burden on officers caused by understaffing. She said her proposal — which would cost the city nearly $59 million over the next four years to pay for uniforms, background testing and other costs associated with hiring — would mostly come from redirecting funds for infrastructure that would be replenished with federal dollars coming to the city.
In response to the council’s compromise proposal, a spokesperson for Bowser referred to a Monday afternoon tweet from John Falcicchio, Bowser’s chief of staff.
“Headline: Council cuts proposal for new police officers in half,” he wrote, adding that Bowser had boosted funding already for violence interruption programs.
Though Robert C. Bobb, co-chair of the D.C. Police Reform Commission, supports “decentering” the police when addressing gun violence and increasing funding for violence interrupters, he thinks the council should accept Bowser’s proposal for more officers as well.
“It’s difficult to make the case that you should not have additional police officers when you have this amount of crime and violence in the city,” said Bobb, who is also the CEO of his national consulting firm and a former D.C. city administrator and deputy mayor. “I don’t think it should be one versus the other. I think those two should be done in conjunction.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Mendelson also proposed adding an additional $6 million for workers and laborers across the District who were excluded from federal pandemic aid programs, for a total of $41 million in assistance, though advocates have repeatedly asked the council to raise that allotment to $200 million.
Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) had initially proposed an additional $6 million for excluded workers during the first budget vote, but the recommendation failed after just two other council members voted in favor of it.
Lewis George’s amendment to pay for a full-time librarian at every one of the public school system’s 118 campuses would use funds taken from the system’s $25 million enrollment reserves — which are used to pay for staffing at schools that exceed their enrollment projections or have a surge of midyear enrollees.
Lewis George said that the school system is not expected to hit enrollment targets this year, and most of the money in the reserve fund would probably not be needed anyway. According to Lewis George, 36 schools — nearly half of which are in Wards 7 and 8 — are not expected to have full-time librarians in the fall, and the $3.25 million would ensure each of these schools has one.
But the school system disputed some of these figures. According to the school system, much of the $25 million in the enrollment reserve funds have already been reallocated to schools, and the $6.7 million that is left needs to remain in the fund.
Funding for librarians has come under fire in recent years, with librarians staging protests outside of the Wilson Building this budget season. In 2019, the school system made a change in its budgeting process that allowed principals to request that money intended for librarians be used for other purposes.
Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee has said that he made this budget change to be transparent and to give principals some autonomy over how they can spend money. But librarians fear that when budgets get tight, their positions will be the first to go.
“The students have been needing librarians in their areas, in their schools, for many years now,” said K.C. Boyd, librarian at Jefferson Middle School Academy in Southwest Washington. “We are hopeful and optimistic that librarians will be an equity in service instead of an inequity in service. We pray that this goes through.”
Ellie Silverman contributed to this report.