The Council of the District of Columbia unanimously passed emergency police reform legislation amid nationwide protests for racial justice sparked after a Minneapolis law enforcement officer killed George Floyd.
The bill, proposed by Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and passed June 9, requires the Metropolitan Police Department to release body camera footage and the names of involved officers within 72 hours of a police shooting. The legislation additionally bans chokeholds and the purchase of military equipment from the federal government. The bill will be in effect for 90 days after being signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).
The bill does not include plans to cut MPD funding, a popular demand among protesters. An amendment proposed by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) (LAW ’01) would have capped the MPD’s officer count at 3,500 but was rejected by the council. Currently, the MPD employs 3,863 officers, giving Washington, D.C., a higher number of officers per capita than any other city in the United States.
The legislation is a necessary step in addressing issues of police brutality, but the council’s actions should not stop here, according to Allen.
“Forceful, yet peaceful demonstration has created this moment, and the Council must act to move the cause forward,” Allen said in a June 4 press release. “Working with many of my colleagues, we’ve crafted a strong package. But I want to make clear that this isn’t the end of reforms. The emergency legislation is one act we can take, along with many others through the budget and further legislative reforms.”
The legislation was met with condemnation from the D.C. Police Union, which released a statement calling the reforms rushed and irresponsible.
“What we saw today was a disservice to the citizens of the District of Columbia who have been plagued with violent crime for years. There is no need for this type of sweeping reform to be completed in such a hasty and unthoughtful manner,” a June 9 statement posted on the group’s Twitter read. “The Councilmembers are seizing on the public sentiment to impose these changes that will significantly handicap the department for years to come.”
Although she is expected to sign the bill, Bowser also voiced concern about the speed at which the legislation was drafted and debated in a letter sent to councilmembers ahead of the vote.
“I urge the Council to allow a process where these issues can receive robust public discourse, which I believe will only help to increase community buy-in on any proposed reforms,” Bowser wrote in the June 9 letter. “I support the emergency legislation, but I ask that the Council delay consideration of the temporary measure until public hearings can be held.”
The bill elicited a mixed response from anti-police brutality group Stop Police Terror Project D.C., who, though hopeful, said the bill should have included more explicit steps to defund the MPD.
“We do believe some parts of this bill are incremental progress; however we think much, much, more needs to be done both as part of the bill and in addition to it,” the group wrote in a statement to WUSA9. “It is not lost on us that DC residents have been demanding many of these things for years but it took protests across the world for our own elected officials to listen to the community they represent.”