D.C.’s local government has passed sweeping police reform legislation amid historic protests in the city after the killing of George Floyd.
The D.C. Council unanimously approved emergency legislation Tuesday to limit use of force by police, release body camera footage more quickly and limit the role of the police union in the police disciplinary process.
The council voted to prohibit D.C. police from using tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets or stun grenades to disperse a crowd.
While the words “defund the police” were barely uttered, some council members pushed for funds to be redirected from police to community-based safety and mental health programs.
Council members could not agree on whether to cap the size of the police department to 3,500 officers.
Council Member Charles Allen, who introduced the bill, said it’s what the times call for.
“The need for systemic change is so great that we need to have a real dialogue, a very uncomfortable dialogue, about the political courage it will take to actually dismantle what we have built,” he said.
The vote enacts changes for 90 days and is subject to extension.
"What we saw today was a disservice to the citizens of the District of Columbia who have been plagued with violent crime for years," the D.C. Police Union said in a statement responding to the council's vote.
"There is no need for this type of sweeping reform to be completed in such a hasty and unthoughtful manner. The Councilmembers are seizing on the public sentiment to impose these changes that will significantly handicap the department for years to come."
The group Stop Police Terror Project DC issued the following statement:
"Let's be clear. The DC Council doesn't deserve applause for making changes that Black people in DC and the mothers of people killed by MPD have been demanding for years, such as releasing body camera footage. There was a lot of talk today about having a more robust discussion before making significant changes to the DC police. Except for Councilmember Grosso, we did not hear a clear commitment to dismantling DC's system of racist police terror. When such a bill passes, we'll celebrate and not a moment before."
D.C.’s mayor, police chief and council chairman said Monday they believed the bill would pass but pushed back against the call to “defund the police,” as some protesters have demanded.
Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday 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 on Monday. 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.
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. came 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.
The full statement from the D.C. Police Union is below:
The language in the Bill provides for nearly 20 new measures that purport to reform policing. The Councilmembers had cumbersome debates over highly technical legal aspects of policing only to continually remind themselves that any deeper consideration was out of the question due to the “emergency” nature of the Bill. It is beyond comprehension that an entire deliberative body of legislators would so hastily make such extreme changes without the proper input and review.
This Bill eliminates collective bargaining rights for employees, it makes it incredibly more difficult to charge a suspect with assaulting a police officer, it changes body worn camera policy in such a way that is can no longer be used as an evidence collection tool, and it changes the language in use of force policy in the most utterly confusing way that even the Councilmembers could not figure out the intent or the impact of the language.
What we saw today was a disservice to the citizens of the District of Columbia who have been plagued with violent crime for years. There is no need for this type of sweeping reform to be completed in such a hasty and unthoughtful manner. The Councilmembers are seizing on the public sentiment to impose these changes that will significantly handicap the department for years to come.
We applaud Councilmember’s Bonds and Gray for their amendment that creates a Commission that will investigate police reform in the MPD and provide a comprehensive report before the end of the year. We encourage the Council to refrain from instituting any permanent policy until this report is completed. The Union will offer full and complete cooperation with the Commission in any manner that is requested.
We again call on the Council to give these considerations more time in the legislative process so all voices can be heard, including those of the police officers of the Metropolitan Police Department, and those of members of the community that appreciate our service.