- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2017

D.C. Council member Vincent Gray on Monday pressed his crusade to bolster the District’s police force Monday, but the mayor’s top civilian public safety official said more officers might not be the answer to the surge in homicides the city has seen over the last two years.

Mr. Gray criticized Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue for failing to endorse legislation that would have offered retention bonuses to retiring officers as an incentive to remain in the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

“The consequences of all this are huge,” Mr. Gray, Ward 7 Democrat and former mayor, said at a D.C. Council Judiciary Committee hearing Monday. “God knows where we’ll end up in 2017.”

Homicides in 2015, during the first year in office of Mayor Muriel Bowser, Mr. Gray’s successor, spiked 54 percent to a total of 162 slayings across the city. That number declined in 2016 to 135 homicides, which was still the second-highest count since 2009, when the city saw 144 killings.

District homicide rates had fallen to historic lows from 2012 to 2014. During those years the city experienced 88, 104 and 105 murders, respectively.

But Mr. Donahue rejected Mr. Gray’s argument, saying a bigger police presence doesn’t mean less crime.

“We have to work with [the council] to understand how to move the needle, but the 4,200 number might not be reality anymore,” Mr. Donahue said at the hearing.

He also defended Miss Bowser’s position, saying that retention programs are already in place to stem the large number of officers retiring in recent years.

The department currently employs fewer than 3,800 officers, well below the 4,200 officers that former D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said are needed to police the District.

Ms. Lanier worked under Mr. Gray when he was mayor and served Miss Bowser for nearly two years before retiring to become head of security for the National Football League. The deputy mayor said things have changed since Chief Lanier’s day, including the use of civilians in many positions formerly held by sworn officers. Mr. Donahue said he thought Ms. Lanier would revise her opinion on force levels if she were still in charge.

That didn’t satisfy Mr. Gray. “You can speculate,” he told Mr. Donahue, “but I know what she said, and it’s documented.”

The fight Monday centered around a bill Mr. Gray introduced in January that was meant to give officers a financial incentive to stick around past retirement age. Last week the council rejected the emergency legislation that offered officers who have reached retirement age a five-year contract extension, with double salary in the fifth year.

The clash has also cemented Mr. Gray’s role as a constant thorn in the side of Miss Bowser, who is facing a re-election campaign in the coming months. It is widely speculated that Mr. Gray will seek a rematch with the mayor in the city’s Democratic primary next year, after losing out to her in 2014.

City officials have long known that police force levels would decline precipitously after a hiring spree in the early 1990s. Many of those officers have been retiring over the last few years, leaving the department at dangerously low officer staffing levels.

Mr. Gray did little to stop the bleeding during his first year as mayor. In fiscal 2011 the Gray administration hired only eight officers compared to the 168 who retired or left the force, according to an MPD annual report for that year. That changed, however, in the following years. In fiscal 2012 more than 200 officers retired and 310 were hired. In fiscal 2013 nearly 200 officers retired and 301 were hired. And in fiscal 2014 more than 250 officers retired and 309 were hired.

In fiscal 2015, Miss Bowser’s first year in office, more than 400 officers retired and 281 were hired. MPD’s fiscal 2016 annual report has not yet been released.

Most members of the council supported holding hearings to study whether the retention bonuses were the best route to take, but voted against the Gray bill because it was moved as emergency legislation, which requires only one vote and no public hearings.

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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