- The Washington Times - Monday, February 6, 2017

D.C. Council members want to take a closer look at emergency legislation that would offer retention bonuses to retiring police officers, asking if retirees are the best source to replenish the dwindling police force.

“We need to keep senior officers on board, but I think it would be wise to look at both ends of the talent pipeline,” council member Charles Allen, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Monday. “In addition to keeping experienced officers, we should also look for ways to recruit and retain new officers.”

The Ward 6 Democrat said he plans to hold hearings throughout the year to get a broader sense of what’s needed to increase police ranks and curb violent crime.

The emergency legislation was introduced last month by council member Vincent Gray, Ward 7 Democrat, and is up for a vote on Tuesday. It would offer officers who have reached retirement age a five-year contract extension, with double salary in the fifth year, as an incentive to stay in the Metropolitan Police Department.

At the end of 2015, the department employed fewer than 3,800 officers, well below the 4,200 officers that leaders have said are needed to police the District.

Mr. Gray said Monday that he moved the bill quickly because there’s an urgent need to return police staffing to adequate levels, adding that retaining officers is only one piece of the puzzle of increasing the police force.

The “Force of 4,200 Police Officer Recruitment and Retention Emergency Act of 2017” would place $63.8 million of revenue from traffic fines into a police department workforce investment fund that would administer the retention bonuses.

As emergency legislation, the measure does not require a committee hearing or public testimony, and would be in effect only for up to 90 days. Unlike permanent legislation, it will face only one council vote instead of two and no congressional review.

However, it needs nine votes to pass rather than the usual seven. Mr. Gray and five other Democratic lawmakers — Trayon White (Ward 8), Jack Evans (Ward 2), Anita Bonds (at-large), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5) and Mary Cheh (Ward 3) — have indicated support for the bill.

Three more of the council’s 13 members are needed to pass the legislation. Elissa Silverman, at-large independent, said Monday that she would not support the measure.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he hasn’t decided whether to support the legislation. The at-large Democrat said he backs Mr. Allen’s plan to hold hearings on a range of ways to retain officers.

Robert White, Ward 4 Democrat, echoed concerns of other members, saying he needs more time to understand what’s best for the city.

“It could be a step in the right direction,” Mr. White said of the Gray legislation.

Meanwhile, a coalition of police reform groups opposes the measure, saying more cops don’t equal less crime. The Movement for Black Lives, Stop Police Terror Project and Black Lives Matter DC said Monday in a joint statement that the bill is “is a complete and total distraction from important issues of public safety.”

The groups said the bill “relies on methods proven to increase violence against black communities and ignores scientifically proven methods to reduce violence in the same communities.”

The city’s police union backs the measure. Union Chairman Matthew Mahl last month said Mr. Gray should be commended for taking swift action.

“Council member Gray and the other co-introducers realize retention is a serious public safety concern,” Mr. Mahl said.

Mayor Muriel Bowser has not signaled whether she supports the legislation. Her spokesman, Kevin Harris, said the mayor already has taken steps to address a police force that’s hemorrhaging officers. He noted that officer attrition fell by 7 percent and hiring rose by 2 percent in fiscal 2016.

Mr. Gray’s pushing of the legislation is both political and personal. The move could position himself as a “tough on crime” candidate if he runs against Miss Bowser in next year’s mayoral election. But Ward 7 has also been hit hard by the increased violence in the last two years.

Since retaking his seat on the council, the former mayor has pointed to Miss Bowser for the spike in homicides over the last two years. Homicides in Ward 7 rose from 32 in 2015 to 39 last year.

Mr. Gray fared a little better in the four years he was mayor. In his first two years, his home ward reported 25 homicides in 2011 and 27 in 2012. In his latter two years, Ward 7 homicides numbered 22 in 2013 and 26 in 2014, according to police statistics.

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