Jul 13, 2023 - News

What's inside D.C.'s emergency public safety bill

Ward 2 Council member Brooke Pinto (right) sponsored the bill. Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The D.C. Council passed emergency legislation this week that aims to crack down on rising violent crime in part by making it easier to detain certain adults and juveniles before they go to trial.

Why it matters: D.C. is facing a violent year with homicides up 17% from this time in 2022, and violent crime up 33%, per police data.

Between the lines: Many of the victims are children — 66 juveniles under 18 were shot as of late June, and 12 were killed.

Among its provisions, the legislation makes it easier for judges to keep adults and juveniles who commit specific violent crimes detained until trial, though defendants would be allowed to argue against this.

  • The bill did not include a provision first proposed by the mayor that would allow pre-trial detention of youth in virtually all cases, regardless of whether they were armed.

Other provisions will:

  • Expand the rebate program for private security cameras.
  • Make firing a gun in public a felony offense, and add strangulation into the criminal code.
  • Allow pretrial GPS monitoring data to be used as evidence in a criminal case.
  • Allow people with misdemeanor arrest warrants who then leave D.C. to be extradited.
  • Expedite court cases that involve child victims.

Of note: It would also maintain a police restriction against pursuing fleeing vehicles but would allow pursuits when a suspect has committed a violent crime or is a public safety threat.

The big picture: D.C.'s crime rate has been in Congress' crosshairs in recent months, leading federal lawmakers and ultimately President Biden to block the District's attempts to modernize its criminal code and reduce penalties for some violent crimes.

  • All but one council member voted Tuesday in favor of the bill, signaling a shift among some progressives on the crime issue.

Zoom in: Council member Janeese Lewis George disagreed with making it easier to keep suspects in pretrial detention, arguing jail time without a guilty verdict can derail a person's housing and job.

  • The bill was introduced by Ward 2 Council member Brooke Pinto, who has tried to quell fears about crime with downtown businesses, including the owners of Capital One Arena.

What they're saying: Some D.C. Council members, despite passing the bill, expressed frustration with the mayor's office for seeming to blame the council for not taking crime seriously enough.

  • Mayor Muriel Bowser celebrated the bill's passage, saying in a statement that it will "increase accountability for violent and criminal behavior."

What's ahead: The legislation will be in effect for 90 days after the mayor signs it. Bowser proposed a similar bill for the council to consider later this year that would make those provisions permanent.

What we're watching: Certain agencies will now be required to release more specific crime data, including police case closure rates, as well as monthly gun violence and homicide rates by wards and neighborhoods.


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