Over the last many months, you and I have talked about improving public safety – whether in living rooms, community meetings, or over a cup of coffee around Ward 6. In those conversations, I’ve outlined the multiple factors I believe are at the root of the problem, as well as the steps we’re taking to make our communities safer. I’ve also talked about working on three main fronts – first, my work with Chief Lanier to ensure our local officers have the personnel and resources they need; second, the Council’s approval of a budget that puts millions of additional dollars into public safety initiatives; and third, the Council’s work on comprehensive public safety legislative reforms. I’ve sent previous updates on the first two efforts, and I want to send you another one regarding the newly passed legislative reforms.
Yesterday, the Council voted unanimously to approve a comprehensive public safety omnibus bill. The “Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2016" (NEAR Act), which I co-introduced with Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, Chair of the Council's Judiciary Committee, offers a multipronged approach to addressing and reducing crime in our neighborhoods.
The NEAR Act has two focal points -- one, providing immediate efforts to address urgent public safety issues and accountability when a crime does occur; and two, making strategic investments to prevent crime from occurring in the first place. The Act also includes improvements to community policing and data analysis, as well as provisions to help ensure better success for returning citizens by reducing recidivism.
Below is a summary of the NEAR Act as passed by the Council yesterday. If you have any further questions though, please let me know and I welcome your feedback.
Immediate efforts to improve public safety:
- Gives the DC Superior Court the ability to revoke pretrial release for up to 72 hours if an individual violates a stay-away order or tampers with a GPS tracking device.
- Makes permanent my legislation to create a rebate program to help residents and businesses install security cameras on the exterior of their property and register them with MPD.
- Allows the Department of Forensic Science to hire retired officers, enabling the Department to bring experienced staff into the Crime Scene Sciences division, freeing up patrol officers.
- Authorizes officer retention and recruitment incentives – critical to crime intervention and prevention, as well as helping ensure we keep an adequate number of officers on the force.
Long-term investments to reduce crime:
- Integrates behavioral and mental health professionals into MPD units to better combat crimes linked to substance abuse and mental health conditions, as well as connect those individuals to services and substance abuse treatment.
- Creates a new Office of Neighborhood Engagement to identify teenagers and young adults at the highest risk for committing or being a victim of violent crimes. After establishing a similar program in Richmond, California, the city experienced a 76% reduction in firearm-related homicides between 2007 and 2014.
- Establishes an Office of Violence Prevention and Health Equity to develop a public health approach to services coordination to combat the spread of violence, including placing clinicians in hospital emergency rooms to respond to victims of violent crime and prevent retaliatory violence.
Reforms to Community Policing:
- Creates a 10-member working group to examine national best practices on community policing.
- Revises the problematic definition of Assault on a Police Officer and codifies Resisting Arrest.
- Expands data collection and reporting by MPD in several areas and directs the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice to annually analyze trends associated with MPD felony crime statistics, utilizing several specific data points.
Pathways to success for returning citizens:
- Enables jail inmates to earn more “good time credits” when pursuing education and participating in rehabilitation programs, which provides more positive tools for successful re-entry.
- Allows low-risk detainees to participate in work release programs and education programs, which helps keep residents employed and connected to their families, while also on track to complete education.
This legislation was subject to lengthy and extensive public review, including a public hearing with nearly one hundred witnesses giving feedback. To give you an idea of the work that went into it, the committee report is 1,048 pages long. You can read Councilmember McDuffie's full committee report by clicking here.
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how long the legislation is or how many people testified at a hearing. What matters is whether these legislative reforms will make our neighborhoods safer – and I believe this will. I think this law helps improve accountability when a crime does occur, but more importantly, focuses on proven strategies to prevent that crime from occurring in the first place – which is ultimately what we want.
As always, I welcome your feedback and am happy to hear additional ideas. I continue to work with neighbors to look at other public safety reforms and crime prevention measures.
P.S. If you'd like to join me for a conversation tonight, there is a Ward 6 Town Hall taking place with myself, Mayor Bowser, Councilmember Anita Bonds, and others beginning at 6:30 pm at Friendship Charter School - Chamberlain Campus, 1345 Potomac Ave, SE. It is hosted by some Ward 6 organizations and is open to the public. All are welcome.