The D.C. Council soundly rejected an emergency measure by former mayor and Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray today that would have set aside $64 million for retention bonuses for senior police officers who are eyeing retirement, among other incentives intended to bring the Metropolitan Police Department from fewer than 3,700 officers to 4,200 officers.
In a 9-4 roll call vote, with Councilmembers Jack Evans, Kenyan McDuffie, and Trayon White voting in support of the measure, a legislative supermajority signaled that the cost of the bill did not warrant passage on an emergency basis. Though the members unanimously acknowledged the need to reduce crime and for the MPD to address an attrition rate that has shrunk the force to a level that former Chief Cathy Lanier warned years ago was dangerous, they could not be swayed.
Numerous members expressed priorities such as workforce housing incentives for younger officers and an emphasis on community policing, and suggested that a more prudent course would be to fully fund the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act, which passed unanimously last year and prescribes a more community-based and public health approach to reaching potentially violent offenders before they commit crimes. Ward 6 member Charles Allen, chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, said he supports the underlying goal of the bill but opposes setting aside the $64 million and prefers the matter go through the regular legislative process.
For Gray, who as mayor in 2011 had to justify a police budget that prompted Lanier’s dire warnings, it was a setback in his political comeback, which is widely viewed as focused on making life difficult for Mayor Muriel Bowser and a potential mayoral rematch next year. As City Paper reported last week, Gray went over Allen’s head in introducing his legislation, and ran into opposition from community activists who say growing the force back to full strength is a formula for more police abuse and is not the answer to crime in the city’s hardest hit areas—including Gray’s ward.
It also drew fire from Interim Police Chief Peter Newsham, who criticized Gray for failing to think it through and said that more police in and of itself is not an effective crime reduction strategy. Gray’s office responded negatively to the City Paper report, but when Loose Lips visited his office last week, the councilmember said he did not want to “debate” the issue. He declined further comment.