D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and the head of the D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee butted heads Monday over the city’s efforts to find a solution to an ongoing spike in homicides.
In public appearances meant to promote her anti-crime legislation, Bowser (D) scolded the council for moving too slowly. Meanwhile, Judiciary Chairman Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) criticized Bowser’s proposal as a “knee-jerk” reaction and said it was the Bowser administration that was dragging its feet.
Bowser and McDuffie separately introduced broad crime bills a day apart in September, after a spate of summer killings set the city on edge. Bowser’s proposal, which would allow warrantless searches of former violent offenders, quickly drew condemnation from activists and community leaders, while McDuffie’s bill, which focuses on expanding community outreach, found 10 co-sponsors.
With the close of 2015 and a District homicide tally for the year that reached 162 — a 54 percent spike — District leaders’ response to the number seemed to take on new political import in the first workday of the new year. Even as they urged action on homicides, however, both Bowser and McDuffie noted that overall violent crime is down.
McDuffie said the council would move forward this month with a revised version of his bill that incorporates some of Bowser’s ideas, rather than holding separate votes.
Bowser, who embarks this week on her second year in office, is under pressure to provide a solution to residents’ concerns about crime. In appearances Monday at the D.C. crime lab, at a Southeast pizza parlor, at a popular radio show and at the D.C. jail, she said her bill provided a “comprehensive public safety plan.”
To implement it, however, Bowser may have to work closely with McDuffie and other council members. And the competing narratives on the appropriate legislative response put forth Monday underscored a palpable tension between the mayor and council.
Bowser has repeatedly expressed frustration and impatience with the council for moving too slowly, while council leaders have questioned her judgment on issues ranging from crime to economic development.
Bowser said Monday that she would accept a combined legislative solution to address District crime, but she also said she stood by her original bill, which includes higher penalties for some violent crimes and incentives to keep police officers from retiring.
The council in October held a joint hearing on Bowser’s and McDuffie’s bills. His bill would create an Office of Neighborhood Engagement and Safety to engage at-risk youth and would embed social workers in hospital emergency rooms and the police force.
But Bowser said there has been no “robust discussion among the council” since then. In a letter Monday to constituents, Bowser accused the council of neglecting a “vital” piece of legislation for “131 days and counting.”
Speaking inside the D.C. jail, Bowser sought to highlight an expansion of a popular job-training program for inmates, giving participants 10 days’ credit toward early release, but she said was being held up by McDuffie’s committee.
“If there are things that you disagree with in the bill, change them,” she said. “But we want it to move. I don’t think there is any reason to hold up good-time credits . . . but vote yes or no.”
McDuffie said Bowser’s assessment was wrong.
“You would have to be under a rock over the last 12 months not to know how important public safety is,” McDuffie said.
The Judiciary Committee has been “focused like a laser,” he said, “on policies that actually keep residents safe.” That focus has included discussions with leaders of successful crime-prevention programs in California and Massachusetts and an effort to evaluate data that helped shape Bowser’s bill, he said. But the administration has stood in the way of some efforts and failed to provide the data that informed Bowser’s anti-crime package, despite promising to, McDuffie said.
Bowser declined to say whether she had provided statistics and played down a question of whether the administration had provided McDuffie with adequate data to justify one proposal: to enhance criminal penalties for violence on Metro.
She said her proposal to raise the penalty for violence committed on Metro trains was motivated by a desire to “equalize the law.” She said penalties are currently higher for those who commit violence against transit operators than against passengers.
“I know there has been a question about some stats,” she said. But she urged action: “If you don’t like it, vote no, but let’s act.”
McDuffie also said that while his bill is “evidence-based and data-driven,” aspects of Bowser’s bill would set the city back. “What we’re not going to do in the Judiciary Committee is to be knee-jerk, to be reactionary,” he said.
During her appearance at the D.C. crime lab Monday, Bowser said one council member, Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), was so supportive of her proposal that he’s moving a component of her bill as emergency legislation Tuesday.
Allen, whose bill would create a rebate program for homeowners and business owners who buy security cameras, said more security cameras around the District would act as a crime deterrent and a useful tool for police.
But Allen said his proposal predates Bowser’s. “In September, I introduced permanent legislation to help create incentives to have homes and businesses put up security systems,” he said. “I think that everybody thought it was such a great idea that it then found its way into the supplemental budget that we passed a couple of weeks later.”
Allen, who is one of 10 co-
sponsors on McDuffie’s crime bill, also said he has “a lot of confidence” in McDuffie’s ability to merge his and Bowser’s legislation and do so with urgency.