- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2021

The D.C. Police Reform Commission on Thursday released its report and recommendations calling for shifting funds from policing duties to community initiatives, as homicides continue to rise in the city.

“We did not try to use budget reductions as a way to drive policy. What we did is we came up with the ideas for what we think public safety and policing should like in the District, and then we have a recommendation that is about realigning and reducing the police department in light of that new role for [police],” law professor Christy Lopez, the commission’s co-chair, said during a press conference.

The “Decentering Police to Improve Public Safety” report outlines 90 suggestions including reducing the size, responsibilities and budget of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

The report comes as the homicides in the city are up 22% from the same time in 2020, which ended in a 16-year high of killings, according to the MPD website. A total of 44 people have been killed this year in the District, compared to 36 during the same period last year.

Commissioners argue that MPD surveillance and arrest efforts, which they say are concentrated “almost exclusively” on Black and poor people, have failed to bring down the homicide rate.

They cited data showing Black people were involved in 72% of the 63,000 pedestrian and traffic stops recorded by MPD over a five-month period in 2019.

The report suggests that public safety can be made “more effective and equitable” by adding personnel to community-building and alternative public safety programs, and decreasing the number of sworn police officers by at least the rate of attrition over the next five years.

Both of those goals should be “consistent” with an independent audit of staff, duties and responsibilities within MPD, the report states.

The commissioners also recommend establishing co-responder police/mental health teams, as well as “trauma-informed, anti-racist” 24/7 non-police teams to address emergency responses to crisis situations.

“Behavioral healthcare professionals and other specialists should be the default first responders to individuals in crises,” the report states. “This is the emerging trend nationally, and DC could be a leader by taking this approach to scale in a large city.”

Moreover, the report says the MPD School Safety Division should be eliminated and its nearly $14 million budget funds should be reallocated through a community-led process. Police overtime should also be reduced “to the fullest extent possible.”

The 20-member commission, which includes local officials, attorneys and nonprofit leaders, was created last year by the D.C. Council. Other localities nationwide also established similar commissions in the wake of the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minnesota police in May.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said at Thursday’s press conference that he would characterize some of the recommendations as “a bit edgy but necessary.”

Meanwhile, the D.C. Police Union, which represents 3,600 law enforcement officers, said the report shows the commission is “clearly on a mission to defund the police in the District.”

“What the Commission avoids talking about is that in every other jurisdiction where these reforms have been implemented, crime has skyrocketed and homicide rates have risen exponentially,” the union said in a statement Thursday.

The union said residents need to urge D.C. Council members to “ignore the regressive and dangerous” recommendations if they want to reduce the recent uptick in homicides and ensure safety within communities.

Council member Charles Allen, chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said Thursday that “we have continuously disinvested in communities and doubled down on law enforcement.”

“We have all asked police officers to be our only response to far too many social issues, often issues for which they’re not best equipped, where alternative responses might be more appropriate, or in which their involvement creates harm,” said Mr. Allen, Ward 6 Democrat.

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