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The D.C. Council’s budget season is well underway, committee leaders holding markup hearings this week as they hash out which city programs and services will get funded, and by how much, in fiscal year 2019. But one particular funding item—a provision of the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act of 2016—has caused a slight rift in the city’s leadership.
On April 26, Mayor Muriel Bowser forwarded an amended version of her fiscal year 2019 budget proposal to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson requesting an additional $500,000 to fund a new stop-and-frisk data collection system mandated in the NEAR Act, which was passed in 2016 but has not yet implemented all of its statutory requirements. Bowser’s revised budget proposal was first reported Wednesday by WUSA9.
The fiscal year 2018 budget allotted $150,000 to the Metropolitan Police Department for the specific purpose of collecting specific stop-and-frisk data the NEAR Act requires. Although MPD has historically collected some information from stop-and-frisks—which they released in a detailed report in February of this year—the NEAR Act goes further, requiring MPD to record whether the stop was consensual, and whether officers conducted a search and why.
But as community leaders have testified in recent Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety hearings, MPD hasn’t yet used any of those funds, saying that MPD doesn’t have the necessary tools to collect all the required data. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, Kevin Donahue, told Ward 6 Councilmember and committee chairman Charles Allen that MPD already collects some data “exactly as listed. Some data we collect, but not consistently, or have to clean. And sometimes we don’t collect the data at all, and so that would involve a fundamental change to either an IT system, a police protocol, in order to get it.”
In an earlier public hearing on March 29, MPD Chief Peter Newsham admitted to Allen that the department was “guilty” of not complying with the law, adding that his department’s failure to collect the data is “not acceptable.”
Following the hearings, the ACLU-DC, Black Lives Matter DC, and the Stop Police Terror Project DC sent Bowser a letter threatening legal action if the city doesn’t release a detailed plan and timetable for implementing a stop-and-frisk data collection system that complies with the NEAR Act.
Now it’s the source of funding for Bowser’s proposed changes to the NEAR Act’s implementation that has prompted criticism from tenant activists and members of the Council alike. Bowser asked that $300,000 of NEAR Act funding come from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, a critical fund that pays the back-rent of tenants who live at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty line. (A spokeswoman for the mayor did not immediately return a request for comment.)
Lawyers and tenant activists frequently cite ERAP as one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to prevent homelessness in D.C., and have already criticized the mayor’s proposal to cut the program further next year by a whopping $1 million. Between 2016 and 2017, the Council approved a reduction of over $1 million to the fund. Noting that funding for ERAP already runs out halfway through the year, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless’s Amber Harding calls Bowser’s decision to make further cuts “really puzzling.”
“Mayor Bowser must know her demand to strip money from ERAP, which is many District residents’ last line of defense against homelessness, to fund NEAR Act data collection is a political non-starter,” Nassim Moshiree, Policy Director for ACLU-DC, says in a statement provided to City Paper. “This calls into question how serious she is about meeting the stop-and-frisk data collection requirement.”
Eugene Puryear of the Stop Police Terror Project DC echoes Moshiree’s statements, adding that it’s “unconscionable that after two years of brazenly ignoring their legal requirements to collect this data, that now the Mayor and her administration seek to pit communities against each other to do so. We are strenuously opposed to any money being removed from the critical ERAP program, particularly given our affordable housing crisis.”
Puryear says he finds it difficult to believe that MPD “can not find $500,000 in its $500,000,000+ budget” to fund a new system for stop-and-frisk data collection. “From our point of view this entire statement from Mayor Bowser is another admit to derail and delay the process of complying with the law to avoid public debate about racial bias within the MPD,” he says.
And the committee chairs most impacted by the mayor’s proposal—Ward 6’s Charles Allen, who runs the committee that oversees MPD, and Ward 1’s Brianne Nadeau, who chairs the Committee on Human Services, which runs ERAP—both tell City Paper they don’t support the plan.
“It pits communities against each other,” Allen tells City Paper. “We now have a real dollar amount attached to this, so we can work to find funding elsewhere.” Though Allen didn’t say where that funding might come from, he said he’s going to work with other council members and Chairman Mendelson to find funding. “It doesn’t need to come from housing,” he says.
In a statement provided to City Paper, Nadeau says she plans to “enhanc[e]” funding for ERAP “beyond the Mayor’s original budget proposal, as I did in FY18.”
“I do not support cutting ERAP funding. ERAP is one of the most effective ways to prevent eviction,” Nadeau says. “We have an affordable housing crisis[.] I’ll continue to work with the Judiciary Committee to implement the NEAR Act, which is a high priority for me, but right now I’m focused on ensuring my committee has enough funding for all our residents in need.”