Includes Historic Investments in Gun Violence Prevention, Doubles Restorative Justice Programs, and Expansion of Rights for Voters
In a unanimous vote, the DC Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety approved a sweeping and transformative budget that prioritizes comprehensive strategies for reducing gun violence. This includes building on funding in last year’s budget for a new Gun Violence Prevention Director within the Executive Branch by investing in a comprehensive gun violence strategy, dramatically expanding the city’s support for violence interruption programs, and significantly increasing funding for survivors of crime, including through flexible funding for domestic violence and sexual assault providers and new medical-legal services for gun violence victims at hospitals.
“This budget represents the most significant commitment by the District to expanding our response to violent crime beyond policing. As we, like nearly every major city, grapple with a rise in gun violence, these are investments that will immediately save lives by reaching someone before they pull the trigger and offering a different path,” said Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6), Chair of the Committee. “This comes after years of building government violence prevention and intervention programs from the ground up and calling for diversion alternatives for social issues police officers aren’t best equipped to handle.”
Additionally, the Committee’s major recommendations include scaling down the Metropolitan Police Department’s School Safety Division over the next four years and funding the District’s “pay-to-play” good government contracting reform law, passed in 2018. Plus, voters can look forward to a new and improved mobile app for the District’s elections, now funded within the Board of Elections’ budget.
Strengthening the District’s Responses to Violence and Violent Crime
The Committee, in approving many of the Mayor’s violence prevention recommendations, funded significant increases to the budget of the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, the District’s public health-based violence prevention agency. The Committee approved a total $28.2 million budget for the agency (a 172% increase). This includes expanding the highly successful Pathways Program by 100 more participants annually. Pathways is a transitional employment program working intensively with those residents most likely to commit or be a victim of gun violence.
The budget also funds an expansion of the Office of the Attorney General’s Cure the Streets violence interruption program into another new neighborhood.
New this year, the Committee approved more than $12 million through the financial plan for housing expenses for residents at risk of gun violence, including emergency relocation. This is a critical part of helping violence interrupters prevent retaliation and offer a way out to people impacted by gun violence.
The budget also funds an expansion of the District’s hospital-based violence intervention programs that have proven effective in breaking cycles of retaliatory violence. The Committee’s increase will create a new medical-legal partnership to connect victims of violence who present at emergency rooms with legal services to resolve their housing, benefits, and record sealing needs.
The Committee largely supported the recommended budget of the Metropolitan Police Department as proposed by the Mayor, which was $30 million lower than the current year’s approved budget. The Committee proposed legislation to scale down the MPD School Safety Division over the next four years, which staffs police officers in District public and public charter schools, and funded an expansion of the MPD Cadet program by 50%. The Committee also recommended legislation restricting when law enforcement agencies can make arrests of students on school grounds.
Also included in the recommended budget legislation from the Committee is a law to provide a structure for the District’s new efforts to direct non-emergency 911 calls away from MPD to specialized crisis response teams. These non-police alternatives, successfully operating in other cities for many years, both provide an improved response to crises experienced by residents and reduce officers’ workloads so they can focus on serious crime.
The budget also dedicates more than $1 million dollars in mental health and wellness investments for first responders, including a full-time behavioral health coordinator within MPD.
Transforming the Juvenile Justice System through Restorative Justice; Services for Survivors of Crime
Finally, of note, the Committee doubled the funding of the Office of the Attorney General’s Restorative Justice program, including nine new employees to expand voluntary restorative justice diversion to most juvenile crimes and allowing the OAG to partner with the US Attorney’s Office on young adult cases. This includes expanding into post-conviction restorative justice and other appropriate cases, like elder abuse.
Restorative Justice focuses on what the survivor of a crime defines as justice for themselves, serving as a promising alternative to the traditional legal system. The alternative process prioritizes direct and tailored accountability to the harmed party. The District, with increases in funding each year from the Committee and with the support of Attorney General Karl Racine, is a national leader in creating restorative justice practices to heal harm and reduce recidivism.
In total, the budget for the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants increased from $60 million to $96 million, representing a significant expansion of services for victims and survivors of crime.
Additional Funding Items of Note
- To respond to overwhelming civil legal services needs in the District and the coming “evictions cliff” due to the end of the District’s eviction moratorium, the Committee funded more than $14 million for civil legal services, including an additional $1 million for civil legal services providers and partnering with the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development to accept $1.5 million to stand up a new eviction diversion initiative.
- The Committee also funded IT improvements at the Board of Elections, including $1.3 million for a new mobile app for voters.
- The Committee fully funded the landmark Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2018, championed and moved through the Committee by Councilmember Allen. The legislation restricts so-called “pay-to-play” campaign contributions to District officials by government contractors.
- The Committee approved funding for the Restore the Vote Amendment Act of 2020, legislation the Committee passed last session, to create automatic voter registration for incarcerated District residents at the Department of Corrections. The Committee also funded polling sites inside the DC Jail.
The draft Committee Report is available online here, including tables with more specific funding per agency. Final committee reports are filed in the coming days.
The members of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety for Council Period 24 are: Councilmembers Charles Allen, Chair, Mary Cheh, Anita Bonds, Vince Gray, and Brooke Pinto.