WASHINGTON - A controversy has developed over D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's plan to create more affordable housing.
While on patrol Sunday night, D.C. police officers were ordered to get people to sign a pledge from the mayor about the homeless. Both officers and the public were outraged by the order.
Mayor Bowser told FOX 5's Emily Miller on Wednesday that she didn't tell the police to do it, but she thinks it's a good idea.
"I don't know that police were signing a homeless pledge, but I do think it's a very good use to have police engaging with citizens, talking about any matter of things that are government initiatives," said Mayor Bowser.
"That we are going to have them go out and have them solicit citizens to sign pledges to support a program that the mayor, a political program that the mayor supports, I think is just -- almost criminal. Could be criminal," said D.C. Police Union Chairman Delroy Burton.
The police union said the city is in a murder spike and the department is already stretched thin.
"At this time and this date, focusing all of our energies to fighting this crime that's going on in the city right now, not being involved in any political campaign," said Burton.
The officers were told to bring back at least five signatures at the end of their shift. They were given a paper for people to sign. It's a vague pledge to do your part to end homelessness, but it's not just a signature. The mayor gets your address, email and phone number. Police said they felt they were intimidating citizens by approaching them on the streets in uniform and armed.
"I don't know that anybody was asked to have anything signed. But they certainly were asked to engage with residents and that's exactly what the police are there for," said Mayor Bowser.
"I think it's the very worst way for the police to be interacting with the community because they are being used as political pawns," Burton said.
Ending homelessness was part of Mayor Bowser's campaign platform last year. She started the homeless initiative last week. However, federal law prohibits government employees from engaging in political activities while on duty.
"Just to be clear, did you ask the police department to do it?" asked FOX 5's Emily Miller.
"No," Mayor Bowser responded.
It's still a mystery who at the top ordered the police officers to get pledge signatures, but officers and residents all want the police to focus on fighting crime.
On Wednesday morning, FOX 5 asked D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier's press office for comment on her officers being used to get signatures on a pledge. After our 5 p.m. report aired, her press office sent us a statement that read, "In my opinion, this is just another distraction by the union from our crime fighting mission."
A police department spokesman sent this statement from the highest ranking commander at that Sunday roll call:
"I attended the Interagency Council on Homelessness meeting recently where they provided flyers on the new homelessness initiative. At an overtime roll call over the weekend, I instructed the officers to get out of the car and engage with community members. I handed out three flyers on gun tips, homelessness, and ATV/dirtbike rewards program information they could use as an icebreaker. I asked the officers to make an effort to engage more citizens during their shift, instead of remaining in the patrol car. I told them if they handed out 5 of each flyer they will have engaged with 15 community members during their tour. No one was directed to obtain any signatures. A recurring complaint we get is that officers are always sitting in the car. My goal was to get the officers out of the cars and engaging with the community."
Commander Vendette T. Parker