House Committee Passes Disapproval Resolution of D.C. Police Reform Law
By March 30, 2023 0 499•
Another joint congressional resolution of disapproval of a D.C. law — this one on police reform — was passed by the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Accountability on March 28 that will send it directly to the House floor for a vote possibly in the next week or two. The committee vote came after more than four hours of testimony by D.C. officials, including Council Chair Phil Mendelson, Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Glen Lee and D.C. Police Union President Greggory Pemberton.
The one-page joint resolution (JHR 42) that was sent to the House reads: “Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled that the Congress disapproves of the action of the District of Columbia Council … The Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2022 (D.C. Act 24–781), enacted by the Council of the District of Columbia on January 19, 2023.”
The proposed law would prohibit certain police restraining actions that were common practice before and increases surveillance of on-duty police officers among other reforms.
The dialogue between congressional members of the committee and the officials asked to testify became at times testy, sarcastic, insulting and often incorporating the broad agendas of the participants.
In general, Republicans accused D.C. officials of defunding the D.C. police force, weakening their scope of actions and focusing on surveilling them to the point they can’t do their jobs and enabled a crime crisis in the nation’s capital that forced Congress to step in and apply its constitutional oversight duties.
“The numerous actions by the D.C. Council has resulted in a mass exodus of sworn law enforcement officers in D.C.,” Pemberton testified. “Since the beginning of 2020, the MPD has lost 1,194 officers, one-third of the department. 484, nearly 40 percent, of these separations were resignations; employees who just walked away from a career with MPD.”
“It also exacerbated a spike in crime,” the police union chief said. “The following facts are indisputable.”
“Over the past six years of plummeting numbers of police, homicides have increased 75 percent, armed carjackings have increased 227 percent, armed robberies have increased 46 percent and most tragic and alarming, is that last year alone the juvenile homicide rate doubled. These statistics I have mentioned are citywide. If one parses out the data to the neighborhood level, some of these communities have grown to look like war zones. Under these conditions, the ability for MPD to hire new officers appears to be almost non-existent.” Pemberton concluded.
D.C. government officials strongly disagreed.
“As I said and will repeat, gun violence is an American epidemic, and the District of Columbia is not immune,” Council member Allen said forcefully. “Despite historically low overall crime, the District is experiencing challenging increases in certain categories of violent crime, namely homicides and carjackings. Interventions and support to the relatively small, identifiable group of individuals who are most at risk of committing or being victims of violence and crime – meaning it should be a coordinated response that centers around — as they are sometimes referred to ‘hot people’ and ‘hot places.’ ”
Council Chair Mendelson agreed. “Crime is problematic in cities across the country,” he testified. Dismissing common belief and citing the city’s historical data, Mendelson said he “is not seeing a crime crisis.”
The three city officials and most of the Democratic committee members, particularly ranking member Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, spent most of their testimony time on the importance of “supporting full statehood and autonomy, or at the very least, returning control over the District’s criminal justice system to its people” — and would improve public safety and save taxpayer dollars. The Democrats accused Republicans of wanting to serve as a “535-member city council.”
“Your position seems to have been ‘Hands off our city’ and that’s not going to fly with the Republicans on the House Oversight Committee,” said Rep. James Comer, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who responded to the Democrats’ repeated calls for statehood.
“You’ve had chances to pass it [statehood] with full control of Congress and the presidency, and it didn’t pass. Now, you are further behind than ever in getting it,” added Comer, implying that was because of the perceived overreach on laws that Congress now has had to review and disapprove. A resolution disapproving D.C.’s criminal overhaul was signed by President Biden on March 20 after passing both the House and Senate with strong Democratic support. It is expected that the disapproval of the police overhaul bill will also be passed by the House and sent to the Senate.
There will likely be more D.C. laws challenged — including the law that allows anyone who has resided 30 days or more in the District to vote in local elections (Mayor, Council and ANC as well as budget resolutions) as well as those who are in the country illegally or have full diplomatic immunity and do not come under the jurisdiction of U.S. laws.