- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2015

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed Thursday to put more police officers on the streets, prompting jeers and boos from residents and activists opposed to a key element of her $15 million plan to curb a spike in homicides and address other crimes in the nation’s capital.

Addressing a crowd in a stuffy school gymnasium in Southeast, Ms. Bowser provided an outline of her plan, which includes longer patrol shifts, overtime pay and an increase in some police powers.

But some residents and protesters associated with the Black Lives Matter movement loudly rejected her proposals, saying that stepped-up law enforcement will not succeed.

An increase in killings this year has pushed the city’s homicide tally to 103 — up more than 43 percent over last year at this time and two shy of 2014’s total of 105 homicides. The uptick in homicides this summer has left Ms. Bowser, who was elected during a lull in crime, scrambling to try to develop a plan to tamp down the violence.

For the most part, the visibly annoyed mayor tried to talk over dozens of protesters, at times encouraging the majority of the crowd in the gymnasium who supported her initiatives to stand and cheer as she outlined her goals.

As part of her plan, Ms. Bowser said she will authorize overtime for hundreds of police officers to stay on the street for 12-hour shifts.

“I will offer more overtime funding to sustain that presence for as long as it takes,” Ms. Bowser said, only to be greeted with a chorus of boos.

“More police is not the answer!” protesters shouted from the back of the gym.

Ms. Bowser, a Democrat, said she also will approve Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier’s plan to hire 100 civilian employees who can take over jobs now staffed by uniformed officers so that those officers can return to the beat, and will use financial incentives to try to retain officers who are close to retirement.

But more controversial proposals include allowing authorities access to the homes of those on parole or probation so that their living quarters can be checked for weapons.

The mayor did not provide a detailed accounting of the cost of the various crime-fighting initiatives. Her spokeswoman said the mayor would submit a supplemental budget request for $15 million to the D.C. Council.

Among Ms. Bowser’s proposals:

⦁ Increasing penalties for crimes committed on public transit or in parks or recreation centers.

⦁ Funding an incentive program to encourage businesses or residents to purchase security cameras.

⦁ Taking violent criminals on pretrial supervision back into custody for 72 hours if their GPS ankle bracelets are removed, damaged or left uncharged to avoid detection.

⦁ Offering community grants to fund nonprofits that help victims of violent crime.

Both the mayor and police chief have struggled to identify the cause for the uptick in violence this year, and at different times they have blamed synthetic drug use, illegal guns and arguments that turn violent.

“There is no single reason or a single solution,” Ms. Bowser told the crowd Thursday.

Meanwhile, the D.C. police union has pointed to a drop in the number of police officers due to retirement and changes in deployments that removed specialized vice units as causes for the uptick.

“It created an enforcement vacuum and an intelligence vacuum,” union Chairman Delroy Burton said of the removal of the vice units.

The reaction by residents Thursday highlighted the political problem the rising homicide numbers could become for the first-term mayor if she fails to find a solution. Activists were skeptical of the mayor’s plan, in part because they see additional officers as a way to aggressively target residents.

“They are trying to operate like they are responding to violence, but what they are really doing is [finding] a way to funnel the money they wanted to spend anyway,” said 36-year-old Anacostia resident April Goggans, citing plans the city has partially put on hold to deploy body-worn cameras to officers. “We are afraid of losing people, but fueling the fear that everyone is in danger allows them to spend more money.”

Instead, protesters called for more economic investment and job opportunities in communities east of the Anacostia River, a traditional dividing line between economic classes in the District.

“Give the people the tools, not the police,” protesters bellowed back at Ms. Bowser as she progressed through her prepared remarks.

The mayor continued to talk over the dozens of protesters who jeered and chanted throughout her speech.

“I will not be shouted down or scared away,” she said.

The temperature rose along with the volume in the packed gymnasium. But throughout the speech, Sandra L. Whitfield sat quietly, dabbing away tears with one hand and using the other to fan herself with a funeral program that bore her grandson’s photo.

“I understand why they are so angry, because they keep saying we need more police presence, but we see them all the time,” Ms. Whitfield said of the protesters.

Rather than more police, she said she would rather see community groups receive funding to help residents and communities come together to address issues like a lack of jobs or a lack of coping skills among young people.

She noted that when her grandson, 22-year-old Antoine Jackson, was stabbed during a fight in the Shaw neighborhood on July 22, several police officers were nearby.

“This didn’t happen because there was no police,” Ms. Whitfield said. “It wasn’t from guns, it wasn’t from knives. It was from ignorance. It was from people getting angry over nothing.”

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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