The District of Columbia’s mayoral race is driven by a surge of violent crime in the city, with Democratic candidates pitching themselves as best equipped to restore law and order.
Mayor Muriel Bowser, who is running for a third term, has been touting her push to hire hundreds of more police officers as the rising crime rate depletes her approval rating among D.C. residents.
“We and many cities across the country are facing spikes in violence, and we’re throwing every resource that we have into curbing that violence,” Miss Bowser said in a recent interview with Axios.
The overall violent crime rate in the District has risen 20% from last year.
The Metropolitan Police Department recorded 1,251 violent crime incidents by May 19 last year and 1,492 this year.
Homicides rose by 3%, from 71 last year to 73 this year. Robberies went up by 46%, with 586 reported as of May 19 last year and 853 this year.
Miss Bowser is facing three Democratic challengers in the city’s June 21 primary: lawyer James Butler and D.C. Council members Robert White and Trayon White.
Stacia Hall, a small-business owner, is the sole Republican running for mayor.
The Democrats have pitched their visions to enhance public safety in the city, though their solutions to mitigate the crime wave differ.
Miss Bowser is proposing an expansion of the city’s police force with 347 more officers this year and is offering incentives to retain at least 300 current officers.
She has distanced herself from the far left’s calls to “defund the police” and has painted a vision for a more diverse force with better relationships with the communities that officers patrol.
Part of her plan is to have a police force that is at least 30% female by 2030 — a 7% increase from the current level.
Miss Bowser’s campaign said her plan is the only one that seeks to diversify and expand law enforcement, which can help curb violent crime.
“All of the candidates agree that we must work together to connect residents to opportunities and to support violence interruption efforts, but voters have one candidate who is fighting to add more women and DC residents to the police department and that is Muriel Bowser,” her campaign said in a statement.
Robert White, an at-large council member, wants to fund crime prevention programs, create more affordable housing to mitigate the homeless population and invest in after-school programs.
He also wants to hire more behavioral health specialists to intervene in crises often handled by police, expand mental health care, and foster better community relationships with law enforcement.
Trayon White said increased police would not resolve the high crime rate. He promises to take a public health approach to the root causes of crime.
“I don’t believe the police are the end-all solution to addressing crime because that individual knows that something is about to escalate before the 911 call is made,” he told WAMU radio. “We have to empower our communities to police our own community and stand in the gap.”
Mr. Butler, an Ohio native with the least name recognition in the race, has run a tough-on-crime campaign, proposing hundreds of more officers for the city’s force.
Under Mr. Butler’s plan, some of the hired officers would intercept illegal and unregistered weapons. His administration would create partnerships between the local force and federal agencies, his campaign said.
The Butler campaign said his goal is to make the District one of the safest cities in the country.
“Mr. Butler is best suited to handle crime as the current mayor has shown she can’t reduce the rising rate in the past eight years,” the campaign said in a statement.
The city’s crime rate is also Miss Bowser’s biggest liability in the race.
She had a 58% approval rating in February, which declined from the 67% she maintained in 2019, according to a Washington Post poll.
The poll, which surveyed 904 D.C. residents from Feb. 2-14, also found that 36% of respondents said crime and violence were the city’s biggest problems.
In 2019, just 18% of residents cited crime and violence as top issues.
Despite Miss Bowser’s dip in popularity, 47% of residents said they would support the incumbent mayor if the election were held today, compared with 19% who would vote for Robert White and 17% who supported Trayon White.
The poll had an error margin of 4 percentage points.
Leann Matthews, 84, who lives in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, said crime is one of her biggest concerns. She said she plans to vote for Miss Bowser because she is pushing for more police.
“There is a concern about crime in the city,” Ms. Matthews said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to defund the police. I would not support that.”