DC Council Unanimously Approves Temporary Police Reform Measures

  • June 9th 2020

by Nena Perry-Brown

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Black Lives Matter Plaza. Photo by Ted Eytan

In response to the widespread protests against police brutality over the past two weeks, DC is joining other jurisdictions in enacting some police reform measures.

On Tuesday, the DC Council unanimously approved “The Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Emergency Amendment Act of 2020”. Chairman Phil Mendelson read a statement from Mayor Muriel Bowser prior to the vote where she recommended a public hearing before voting on any reforms.

The bill amends previous law enforcement legislation with measures including: 

  • Requiring that law enforcement officers be educated on matters like de-escalation tactics, racism and white supremacy, and the responsibility to report misconduct by other officers;
  • Banning the use of chokeholds in all cases, and the bill also makes it illegal to not request medical attention for those put in chokeholds;
  • Requiring more transparency around body cameras, including prohibiting officers from reviewing body camera footage before writing statements on incidents and requiring footage be released within 72 hours in cases where deadly force was used while giving next of kin an opportunity to view the footage before its public release, when applicable;
  • Prohibiting law enforcement affiliates from being appointed to the Police Complaints Board;
  • Requiring the police to inform people of their right to refuse to be searched;
  • Banning the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) from hiring members who were previously fired or forced to resign from another law enforcement agency for misconduct or disciplinary reasons;
  • Restoring voting rights for people serving time for felonies;
  • Repealing a requirement that victims of crime report that crime in order to be eligible for compensation;
  • Ensuring any new collective bargaining agreements with the Fraternal Order of Police or Metropolitan Police Department Labor Committee don't prevent disciplinary actions against force members;
  • Requiring officers to identify themselves and to only use as much force as necessary to make arrests; and
  • Only permitting the use of deadly force (actions that could kill or seriously injure) if there is probable cause that the suspect inflicted "serious bodily injury" in the course of committing a felony, or will inflict "serious bodily injury" to officers or others, and only after warning that deadly force will be used and "if all other reasonable means of apprehension have been exhausted or are unavailable".

An amendment co-introduced by Councilmembers Vincent Gray and Anita Bonds to create a 20-person commission on public safety and criminal justice reform was approved on a 7-5 vote after some debate. That commission would be overseen by the Committee of the Whole and would be tasked with delivering recommendations by the end of the year.

Councilmember David Grosso also successfully introduced amendments to ban MPD use of tear gas and other chemical weapons, rubber bullets, and projectiles against protestors, along with banning the use of riot gear unless there is an immediate threat.

Another Grosso amendment to cap the MPD force at 3,500 officers inspired debate, as some disagreed about whether a specific number should be imposed or whether there are more effective ways to make the force more lean and efficient. Grosso withdrew the amendment after some councilmembers committed to additional hearings to consider how funds can be redirected from MPD to make investments in the community.

Councilmember Charles Allen, who also chairs the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, announced the emergency bill last week and Chairman Mendelson added amendments yesterday. The legislation is temporary and permanent reforms are expected to be introduced later this year, enabling public hearings. There will also be a budget oversight hearing related to MPD later this afternoon.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/dc-council-unanimously-approves-temporary-police-reform-measures/16932.

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