WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) - The D.C. Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to approve what they called a "compromise" package, providing $5 million for the Metropolitan Police Department to hire more police officers and put $6 million toward other wrap-around service measures and violence interruption. This is instead of authorizing $11 million that Mayor Muriel Bowser had proposed to provide for 170 new officers in addition to the 135 officers she previously asked for.
"Residents want safety, not politics. Today, the Council approved unprecedented investments in policing and public health-based programs to reduce gun violence. This is a balanced approach that will bring down MPD’s excessive overtime spending, maintain its hiring pipeline, and also stop the small number of people committing violence before they pull the trigger. Gun violence is rising because it’s contagious like a disease; a police-only response would have been a band aid that ignores the causes, when what the District needs is a vaccine," a statement of the council’s response to Tuesday’s vote read in part.
"If we’re not careful, we’re going to break the department. And so we need what we need. We need to hire officers as soon as we can and we need the council to understand that," said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser when asked about the police budget at a Tuesday afternoon event.
Both D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee and Mayor Bowser have been adding public pressure on the council to do so, especially more recently.
"The Mayor proposed this increased in reaction to national media attention in shootings outside Nationals Park and 14th Street, where CNN Correspondents dined. You know more police might make Jim Acosta feel a little safer at Le Diplomate, but it’s not going to stop the shooting anywhere in this city, and especially where they happen the most," said At Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, in voting against Mayor Bowser’s proposed revision. "The council is splitting the difference, putting some money toward traditional policing and putting some money toward alternative approaches – and I think we all to be real again. We don’t know if the alternative approaches will reduce the shootings either."
The issue of not having enough police in the department is one that the department and at least three police chiefs have been dealing with for years, going back to at least 2015 when Chief Lanier was warning of a looming retirement bubble.
The D.C. Police Union says officers are stretched and stressed, adding MPD has now lost over 400 officers since last summer either through retirement or resignation. The union also says the department is at record lows with below 3,500 members on the force.
It was widely reported that in May when Mayor Bowser introduced her $17.5 billion "Fair Shot" FY2022 budget, it also included an around $36 million reduction in funding for police, having to do with vacancy savings.
FOX 5 asked the Mayor about this – and the fact that low force numbers has been an issue for years.
"Let me be clear because apparently, you are not familiar with how we have worked for the last six years in building the police department for 4,000 officers. And I would suggest to anybody who has a question about my commitment to not having enough police officers on the force, to do some research. We have been [on a march] since 2015 to get our department up to 4,000 to get over a historic retirement bubble. And we were on track to do that until last year when the police budget was cut to $15 million where we couldn’t do any hiring in a single year. What I proposed to the council this spring was an additional 135 new officers…What the chief said, the new chief I might add, went back to the drawing board to make sure that we couldn’t do anything outside of our pipeline to hire [more in 2022]. That’s what we were able to do and that’s how I’m putting it in front of the council," she said in part of her response.
Mayor Bowser rejected the notion that the $11 million was a "last-minute" action.
Asked earlier in the day what her options are as the budget comes to her without the revised $11 million passed, the mayor answered, "I’m going to see what else happens with the budget but it is a big concern of mine. I think it would be tremendous, it’s going to be a problem for us."
"The problem is that the City Council is not legislating on what the citizens want, they’re legislating on what activists want – and that’s why we’ve got ourselves in a situation with violent crime and mass exodus of officers," said D.C. Union Chairman, Greggory Pemberton. Pemberton says the measures passed last summer under the call for Police Reform are misguided and have attributed to the increase in violent crime and low officer morale.
Pemberton sided with the Mayor’s call for more officers while also sharing and highlighting on Tuesday, the results of a survey they hired a New York firm to conduct.
FOX 5 is told the Gotham Research Group surveyed registered District voters from July 20th to July 26th and found overall, around 71% percent of District residents oppose police funding cuts and that around 75% reduce the size of the force. Pemberton also said overall, 91% responded to wanting the same or more police in their neighborhoods.
"We have 3,200 cops that patrol every quadrant of this city and they interact with citizens all the time. And what we know from the feedback of those citizens is they respect police, they appreciate police and they don’t want less police in their neighborhoods. So that’s something that we’ve tried to convey to the council over the next year, only to get met with eye-rolls and scoffs. So we contracted a firm to come in and do polling," said Pemberton.
One thing Chief Contee noted on our air while speaking with FOX 5’s Steve Chenevey Tuesday morning, was that even if the mayor’s $11 million request was fully approved, that would only equate to 40 new officers next year, which is said is not significant, but would stop the hemorrhaging of the department.
A spokesperson for Public Safety Chair, Councilman Charles Allen, confirmed MPD’s budget is now at $516.4 million with the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) set to receive $30 million and Cure the Streets expected to receive $13 million.
The mayor will have the option to veto.