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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Column: The D.C. Council shouldn’t trade police accountability for public safety

Updated: March 23, 2023, at 11:42 p.m.

Police departments across the country are struggling to recruit, train and maintain well-supported forces. This challenge holds true in D.C., where 313 officers resigned or retired between June 2020 and May 2021, citing a lack of support from the government in light of police reform legislation. Now, city officials are attempting to eliminate accountability measures to increase police presence, which will only worsen crime rates and police brutality.

D.C.s homicide count was up 14 percent from the same time last year as of March 23. Predominantly Black Wards 7 and 8 have the highest violent crime rates, with notably higher levels of poverty than all other wards. But the belief that increased police presence will tackle rising crime is uninformed, especially after members of Congress – backed by the D.C. Police Union – vetoed revisions to D.C.’s outdated criminal code earlier this month instead of addressing the city’s historic prejudice in policing. Oversimplifying solutions to policing in the District disregards the deeply flawed history of law enforcement in this country, trivializes historically marginalized communities and blurs the lines of how much power we should be granting first responders.

Last month, Ward 7 D.C. Council member Vincent Gray introduced the Police Officer Recruitment and Retention Act of 2023. The bill would increase the Metropolitan Police Department force from just over 3,000 to a total of 4,200 officers and revise a restriction barring the D.C. Police Union from putting disciplinary measures up for officer contract negotiations. The bill would authorize Mayor Muriel Bowser to fund recruitment and retention benefits for MPD officers, remove and repeal previous police reforms to attract officers and eliminate the position of deputy auditor for public safety in the Office of D.C. Auditor, which can investigate fatal police-involved shootings. These varying accountability measures were created as a part of a police reform bill that Gray voted for and the Council passed in 2021, which was meant to enforce less aggressive, biased policing.

Research examining the relationship between a police force’s size and crime rates is mixed at best, with some studies concluding that a departments policing strategy has a more significant impact on crime than the size of its police force.

And the auditor position’s elimination is particularly concerning given that an ​​audit of the MPD this past fall revealed widespread corruption, including rehiring and aggressive back pay for fired officers across the department. Overturning police reforms – like firing officers with histories of misconduct – enacted during a time of social unrest over police brutality in 2020 only reinforces the idea that law enforcement officers are above the law. We must not excuse misconduct within the police force under the mistaken belief that more officers will mean more safety.

When the system does not hold officers accountable for their actions, we implicitly accept a faulty, corrupt and ill-equipped force. In reality, a lesser-vetted police force will only increase the socioeconomic disparities prevalent across America today. Studies suggest a strong correlation between aggressive policing and mass incarceration and poverty. Our first responders should be held to the same – if not a higher – standard as the citizens whom they are sworn to protect.

Gray’s bill would also require MPD to deploy officers to “neighborhoods experiencing higher levels of violent crime” as the size of the force increases. But such a move would amplify disparities and inequities, not reduce them. Sending untrained, unaccountable officers to brutalize marginalized communities is not the answer. Despite making up only 13 percent of the population, Black Americans accounted for 27 percent of those fatally shot by police in 2021.

Police ought to protect their fellow citizens, not improve public safety at the expense of equity. No bill, no cop and no veto will “fix” crime. And yet the incentive to become a cop has never been higher. MPD now offers a $20,000 bonus for all new hires while standards for already employed officers remain at an all-time low.

People have long understood police and safety to be synonyms – this might be why police unions and those who “back the blue” feel so threatened by measures that separate the two. But if we seek safety and security for all, understanding that it does not exist for many today, we need to reform policing rather than simply hire more officers. This bill should not pass – it would result in the elimination of reforms that are necessary for the maintenance of civil liberties for all those who reside in the District. If anything, we need more reforms that act in the interest of civilians.

When crime is high and public trust is low, hyping up crime, playing off citizens’ fears and throwing more resources at MPD is no solution. Police are undeniably a pillar of society, but more numerous and less accountable police officers will not make D.C. safer.

Jessica Rich, a freshman studying human services and social justice, is an opinions writer.

This post has been updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that crime in D.C. is at an all-time high. All crimes decreased during the past two years when compared to the previous two years, according to the MPD. We regret this error. This post has also been updated to clarify that year-to-date homicides in D.C. increased by 14 percent as of March 23 compared to last year. A previous version of the column stated there was a 40 percent increase in homicides in the city between 2022 and Feb. 27, 2023.


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