D.C. Council Passes Emergency Bill to Address City’s Violent Crime

“It cannot wait,” Ward 2 Councilwoman Brooke Pinto said as she introduced and celebrated the almost unanimous passage (12-1) of three emergency public safety bills by the D.C. Council on Tuesday July 11. They will be effective immediately for 90 days upon Mayor Muriel Bowser’s signature.

The three bills are the Prioritizing Public Safety Emergency Amendment Act of 2023, the Law Enforcement Vehicular Pursuit Clarification Emergency Amendment Act of 2023, and the Office of Unified Communications Transparency and Accuracy Emergency Amendment Act of 2023. “These bills will address pressing gaps in our legal system and public safety apparatus by promoting accountability for offenders, supporting victims, ensuring police have the tools they need to keep communities safe, and improving accountability and transparency at our 911 call center,” Pinto wrote.

The bills were developed by Pinto, who serves as the D.C. Council’s Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, and Mayor Bowser to address the rising crime in the District that according to police data shows homicide is up 17 percent from this time last year and violent crime — including violent carjacking — is up 33 percent. “Today’s vote sends a clear message that the current state of crime and violence cannot be tolerated.”

Many of the provisions confront criticisms and gaps in public safety and policing policies that have been made public in numerous town hall meetings, city council debates and triggered the passage by Congress and signing by President Joe Biden of a resolution of disapproval this year.

The emergency act clarifies the Metropolitan Police Department’s “no pursuit policy” in regards to vehicles which has limited MPD’s ability to pursue dangerous individuals even in the most extreme circumstances – a policy no jurisdiction in the country has according to Pinto. The emergency act will allow pursuits only where the fleeing suspect has committed a crime of violence or poses an imminent threat to public safety, and where pursuit is necessary and can be conducted in a way that mitigates the risk of injury to innocent people.

In addition to other elements, the legislation makes firing a gun in public a felony offense. It adds strangulation into the criminal code. It expands the rebate program for private (home owner) security cameras throughout the city. And it allows pretrial GPS monitoring data to be used as evidence in a criminal case.

The most discussed provisions of the new laws, discussed by the D.C. Council before passage, involve retention in custody of accused violators of violence crimes – adults and juveniles. The new legislation allows for pretrial detention, although defendants would be able to argue against it. That provision was the main point of contention of Ward 4 Council member Janeese Lewis George, the only member to vote against the new laws.

Council Chair Phil Mendelson voted for the provisions but objected to the insinuation that D.C.’s rise in violent crime was the fault of “soft-on-crime” council positions. He said that funding and issues of trust instead were involved. D.C. wiseman and pundit Colbert King wrote that “efforts and programs to deter youths from committing crimes in the first place are musts.”

A complete list of the expected changes in public safety enforcement once the bills are signed is available here.



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