D.C. area officials split on calls to defund police

As calls to defund police have grown louder, some D.C. area officials are responding with dramatic cuts to police budgets while others are ignoring the outcry.

In the District, Mayor Muriel Bowser wants to slice $36 million from the police budget, while 35 miles to the north, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott wants to boost law enforcement spending by $28 million.

Other jurisdictions are looking to stand pat: Montgomery County, Maryland, recently approved a $283 million police budget for the upcoming fiscal year, an increase of less than 1%. Calls to “defund” and “abolish” the police along with protests over police brutality and racism swept the nation last year in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

Big budget cuts, however, may come with unintended consequences. D.C. officials bowed to the demands last year and slashed nearly $15 million from the police budget, and the city ended the year with 198 homicides — the highest in 16 years.

Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) crime data as of Tuesday show the trend may be spilling over into this year. Homicides in the city are up 23%, from 66 killings to 81 over the same period last year.

“Violent crime is out of control in the District,” the president of D.C.’s police union, Gregg Pemberton, said last month. “Homicides have hit records not seen in decades; innocent people are being shot in their own yards, shootings and carjackings are now ubiquitous and permeate every neighborhood in this city.”

Mr. Pemberton said more than 300 rank-and-file officers have left MPD since last year, leaving the force with less than 3,300 officers — the lowest number in decades.

Although Miss Bowser, a Democrat, wants to cut millions from MPD, she also suggests adding 135 new officers and putting $41 million toward non-police gun prevention and public safety initiatives.

D.C. Council member Janeese Lewis George, Ward 4 Democrat, told The Washington Times on Tuesday that she is skeptical of the mayor’s proposal.

“This budget simultaneously removes responsibilities from MPD such as responding to mental health calls and minor traffic crashes but asks to hire dozens of new officers anyway. That’s not consistent with reimagining public safety or what our communities are calling for,” Ms. Lewis George said in an email. “We cannot keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.”

Meanwhile, council member Brook Pinto, Ward 2 Democrat, said in an email Tuesday that the budget “is a good first step towards relieving MPD of some of their responsibilities that take them away from the areas where they’re most suited to serve.”

The D.C. Council is scheduled to hold public hearings on the public safety budget proposals on Thursday and Friday this week.

In Baltimore, Mr. Scott has been defending himself against a backlash after calling for the $27 million funding increase in police funding after the city council sliced $22.4 million from the law enforcement budget last year.

During a virtual town hall meeting in April, resident Kari Nye urged the mayor, a Democrat, “to please refrain from increasing [the] budget — better yet, cut it significantly,”

Resident Elizabeth Rossi said money should be put toward “community-centered programs that will actually address public safety and community concerns” rather than resources “that will be used to police already-overpoliced communities.”

The additional funds, however, are “mandatory costs,” said Calvin Harris, communications director for Mr. Scott.

“The existing costs have gotten more expensive, as they have in many of our agencies,” Mr. Harris said in an email Tuesday. “This is being driven by personnel costs, such as pension costs, health care, prescription drug coverage, and workman’s compensation.”

He added that the proposal does not include new functions or programs for the Baltimore Police Department and that Mr. Scott is creating a task force to review how the budget can be reduced over the next five years.

Meanwhile, Friends of Police Lodge 3 President Michael Mancuso said last month that nearly 300 BPD officers have quit since last year. He told The Times on Tuesday that the budget bump is not enough to “keep officers from staying in the BPD or [coming] here as a new recruit.”

“Working conditions are deplorable, and nothing in the budget addresses those issues, either,” Mr. Mancuso said. “So, in the end, the Baltimore Police Department will continue to lose cops and the violence will rage on in Baltimore, due to lack of police and poor leadership at the top.”

Last month, the Montgomery County Council unanimously approved the almost flat-fund $283 million police budget which cut 27 officer positions.

A spokesperson for the Montgomery County Police Department said in an email Monday that the agency’s “budget was not defunded or negatively impacted for this budget year.”

The budget also added six positions for mental health workers to join mobile crisis response teams that respond to certain 911 calls instead of police — an initiative that both the District and Baltimore began to pilot this month.

Council member Will Jawando, a Democrat, said in an email Monday that “For too long, we have asked police to deal with other societal failures and underinvestment in our communities.”

“Law enforcement should be focused on the most serious violent crimes and not on residents dealing with a mental health crisis or experiencing homelessness,” Mr. Jawando said.

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