In crafting the District’s $15.5 billion budget, which needs D.C. Council approval, the mayor tried to address calls for alternative methods of reducing crime while confronting a surge in killings in 2018 and this year that has overshadowed declines in some other serious crimes.
The D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety is taking up the budget request for police funding at a public hearing Wednesday.
The proposed $556 million police budget is less than a 1 percent increase over this year’s $553 million allocation.
Kevin Donahue, the deputy mayor for public safety, said the outreach programs are in their infancy and will receive more funding as they grow.
He said that for now, the D.C. police force needs to increase officer numbers and keep its fleet of vehicles up to date. Under the budget proposal, the police force, which has about 3,800 officers, would have the capacity to hire 70 more officers toward the goal of 4,000 in total by 2021.
“It’s not a question of picking between the two,” Donahue said of police and the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, which oversees many of the social-justice programs. He added, “I think we have to be good at both, alternative approaches and policing.”
Donahue said the budget recognizes the increase in the number of homicides as well as data showing that though the number of shootings remains steady, a higher percentage of victims are dying. The increased lethality “reflects a greater intensity of the passion and intent behind gun crime,” Donahue said. “We have to address the root cause of that, which goes beyond traditional policing.”
Donahue said the mayor also wants $1.6 million in additional funding for the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants to invest in three nonprofit organizations to provide trauma counseling and mental-health support for people in communities besieged by crime.
The mayor’s proposal would boost the budget for the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement from $5.4 million in fiscal 2019 to $8.7 million in fiscal 2020, a 61 percent increase. That office was created under the NEAR Act, a bill passed by the council to support alternative approaches to fighting crime. Included in this office is the violence interrupters program and Pathways, a program that provides intensive jobs training for past offenders and others.
Groups that support the NEAR Act have accused the mayor of being reluctant to implement key provisions and say police have failed to turn over data required to monitor policing practices, such as stopping and searching people on the streets. Police have said they need to upgrade computer programs to collect the new data.
Monica Hopkins, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the District, which is fighting the police in court to obtain stop-and-frisk data, said she is encouraged that more money is earmarked for alternative-justice programs. But she said no data on the program’s effectiveness has been shared.
Hopkins noted some recent issues for police, such as an independent report that found the use of force had risen by 20 percent from 2017 to 2018.
“We do know that violence interrupters is part of this public-health approach to getting in front of a problem, even before police intervention happens,” Hopkins said. She added that “it’s nice the mayor would give more money to the program,” but she said it is wrong to give the same amount of money “to increase the number of police on a force rife with problems.”