DC residents sound off on state of police, crime, search for new police chief

More than 60 people signed up to testify at a D.C. Council hearing at the Wilson Building that discussed the state of the police department, crime and community policing.

Testimony for this hearing held by the council's Committee of the Judiciary began at 5 p.m. and continued late into the night. Residents who spoke Thursday night seemed to be more concerned with policing and community interaction with officers.

D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie said before the meeting that he wanted to get on the record what he is hearing from residents all around the city.

"What I am hearing are concerns about policing in general, the quality of policing, how officers are responding when there are quality of life crimes, burglaries, thefts from automobiles," McDuffie told FOX 5. "But there is also that national, intense scrutiny on police community relations that are often driven by high-profile incidents of officer-involved shootings. And in the District, we have had similar incidents as well. The [Terrence] Sterling incident comes to mind and I imagine there will be residents who want to speak to that."

However, there was a clear division between residents who live in Ward 8 about the police.

"We do not need more police," said April Goggans of Black Lives Matter DC. "Stop putting the police in my community because I'm tired of them killing people and I'm tired of jumping out of my car in front of them because of what they are doing to the kids on my street."

"For anybody to say that we don't need any more police is ludicrous to me," said Paul Trantham, an ANC Commissioner in Ward 8. "Because if somebody breaks into my house, if somebody breaks into my car, if someone hits my child, if someone even attempts to do some harm to me, who is the first person you think I'm going to call? I have been trained all my life - the police."

Another topic that was discussed is the search for the next police chief in the nation's capital. FOX 5 has learned more than 100 people have applied for the position.

The state of the Metropolitan Police Department is at a critical crossroads as it loses members to retirement and resignation. Officers are waiting to see who Mayor Muriel Bowser will choose as its next leader.

One of the big questions - are there enough cops on the street? The size of the force has fallen well below 3,800 officers - a number former Police Chief Cathy Lanier said would be "trouble" if it happened.

Just a few weeks ago, Interim Police Chief Peter Newsham was asked at a council hearing how many officers he needed to adequately patrol the city. Newsham told McDuffie at this hearing, "I would say that because we have been able to hire some civilians and we've had some efficiency on the police department, and you indicated this as well, it's really hard to have a magic number of police officers that we should have. We should obviously be concerned when we are losing officers because we don't want to get to the point where we don't have enough."

But on Thursday, Stephen Bigelow, the vice chairman for the D.C. Police Union, spoke before the committee and contended that in order to curb crime, the new police chief will have to address the severe manpower issue within the police department. The police union contradicted Newsham's previous testimony saying the number of officers on the street he provided under oath before several council members was "convoluted" and "these numbers aren't what they seem."

"In his October 17 testimony, the chief stated that MPD currently has a sworn strength of 3,729," Bigelow testified. "However, the story done by FOX 5 stated that a simple FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request shows that 3,459 MPD personnel are assigned firearms. This number probably doesn't sound like a drastic change to someone unfamiliar to how manpower is assigned upon a police department. However, once you begin to break these assignments down, the numbers become more worrisome."

Kevin Donahue, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, said he would listen to Thursday night's testimony and their thoughts and opinions will be considered as the mayor goes about selecting a new chief.

"No interviewing has gone on," he said. "We and the mayor have tremendous confidence in the experience and work of Interim Chief Peter Newsham. We are not concerned about the amount of time that has gone on, and we want to make sure when we do engage in interviewing that we have had a public engagement process, we have allowed time for a lot of interest to be generated and interest to make its way to our personnel folks."

Donahue said the search for a new chief is on hold until Mayor Bowser can make a decision on a new chancellor for D.C. Public Schools. There is no timespan for that process to begin or end.

A source familiar with the process said multiple people currently within the police department have already applied for the job.