Emergency legislation set to go before D.C.’s local government Tuesday would ban chokeholds by police, speed up the release of police body camera footage and boost funding for alternative measures to reduce and respond to crime.
D.C.’s mayor, police chief and council chairman said Monday they believe the bill will pass but pushed back against the call to “defund the police,” as some protesters have demanded.
Council Member Charles Allen is set to introduce the police reform bill Tuesday. It would require all members of the Police Complaints Board to be unaffiliated with law enforcement and give the Metropolitan Police Department more time to discipline officers, among several other measures.
“The protests to the murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville and cruelly countless others are evidence of the immediate need to take action,” Allen said in a statement. “Forceful yet peaceful demonstration has created this moment, and the Council must act to move the cause forward.”
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said at a news conference Monday that he plans to add provisions that would ban hiring officers with a history of misconduct in other jurisdictions. Council members may look at the possibility of taking funds from the police department to instead fund alternatives to traditional policing, he said.
Mayor Muriel Bowser said after a preliminary review that she expects to back the bill.
“We can be largely supportive but we want to make sure we understand the technicalities,” she said.
Bowser touted the city’s early adoption of a police body camera program and defended the public safety budget she presented last month. It “heavily invested” in intervention and opportunity programs, as well as policing.
“What we have submitted is what we think we need for public safety — not a penny more and not a penny less,” she said.
Chief of Police Peter Newsham defended funding for his department. Funding allows for training in deescalation and implicit bias, and recruitment of the best personnel. He said he will work with the mayor’s office, council and public.
“Our ears are all wide open with regard to accountability,” he said.
The D.C. Police Union released on statement on the proposed legislation.
"The proposed language in this Bill erodes many of the rights that police officers in this city are currently afforded and creates a dangerous path to unchecked violence in the District," the statement said. "We understand there are voices in this community that are asking for continued reform to police policy. The Union is, and always has been, willing to have serious discussions about this kind of reform."
The organization said they are not Minneapolis and do not have "the same issues as other major police departments." They cited two major issues with the changes.
The union said they think the legislation is being "rushed" to capitalize on public sentiment and that the outcome will result in increased crime.
D.C. officials spoke after large, peaceful protests Saturday. Tens of thousands of people filled city streets to chant, sing and pray.
Pushes for reform in D.C. come as Democrats in Congress propose a sweeping overhaul of police oversight in response to the deaths of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.