Statement on behalf of the
American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia
D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Budget Oversight Hearing for
The Metropolitan Police Department
Ahoefa Ananouko, Policy Associate
March 30, 2022
Hello Chairperson Allen and members of the Committee. My name is Ahoefa Ananouko and I am a Policy Associate at the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia (ACLU-DC). I present the following testimony on behalf of our more than 15,000 members and supporters across the District.
The ACLU-DC works to dismantle systemic racism, improve police accountability, and safeguard fundamental liberties and rights. We are an active member of the Police Free Schools Coalition and the Fair Budget Coalition. Our testimony today addresses our key concerns and recommendations regarding the District’s Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) budget for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).
D.C.’s status quo approach to public safety is failing. Decades of centering policing and criminalization in our public safety response has ultimately made the District less safe by destabilizing communities, doubling down on mass incarceration, and perpetuating systemic racism and trauma. Long-standing inequities caused by decades of divestment from communities have been laid bare throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. D.C.’s Black and brown communities have not only experienced disproportionate rates of infections and deaths, but continue to grapple with other negative impacts of the pandemic on their financial stability, their health—including mental health—and their access to community supports and school resources.
Although the mayor’s proposed FY23 budget acknowledges that recovery from the pandemic has been unequal across D.C. communities, it disproportionately invests in policing as the proposed fix to community safety issues at the cost of making significant and much needed investments in other programs that better meet the needs of District residents.
1. The Council should reject Mayor Bowser’s proposal to increase MPD’s budget by $30 million.
The theory that more police will lead to more safety is unsupported by decades of evidence. In the District, crime rates have gone up and down over the past two decades regardless of the size of the police force. After two years of significant public discourse about steps the District government can take to effectuate real, lasting community safety by addressing the root causes of crime, it is disheartening that the Mayor’s proposed budget doubles down on this failed notion that the solution is more policing.
The Mayor’s proposal to increase MPD’s budget, which already stands at well over half a billion dollars, is also misplaced in light of the agency’s poor track record. MPD has repeatedly and publicly failed to demonstrate accountability and effectiveness in its programs and practices.
At the Committee’s recent performance oversight hearing of MPD, countless witnesses, including former and current employees of the agency, testified about harmful police practices and lack of meaningful internal and external oversight. Despite claims that stops are crucial to removing guns from the streets, MPD’s own stop-and-frisk data demonstrate that the Department’s tactics results in racially discriminatory stops and are extremely ineffective in recovering weapons of any kind. Recent data from the FBI revealed that MPD officers killed more people in 2021 than they did in 2020. A recent Washington Post investigation found that over the period from 2010-2020, the District paid out over $90 million in settlements resulting from police misconduct cases—many of these involving instances of serious misconduct from the same officers that went unchecked.
There are many more examples, some of which we included in our performance oversight testimony, of how MPD is an agency in need of significant reform and oversight.
It would therefore be irresponsible for the Council to increase MPD’s budget when the agency’s performance has not improved and in fact, continues to result in significant harm to community members. Instead, the Council should focus on how MPD currently operates and uses its existing resources, including how officers are deployed and for what purposes. The Council should also pass pending legislation with police accountability measures and assess their impact on MPD’s practices before considering an expansion of the force.
Finally, the Council should redirect dollars to perpetually underfunded programs and resources that could have a significant impact on public safety and reduce the District’s reliance on policing. This includes violence prevention and intervention programs and non-police crisis response. Just last month, the Denver, Colorado City Council voted unanimously to expand the city’s Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) Program, which sends paramedics and mental health clinicians to respond to emergency calls. In its small pilot, the STAR program responded to more than 2,200 calls and notably, not once did responders have to call police for backup. Programs like this one can work here in the District but need the same level of investment that the District is currently pouring into an agency that is rife with dysfunction.
In comparison to MPD’s massive budget, the Mayor’s proposed FY23 budget only allocates $1.7 million for violence intervention services for at-risk individuals, $6 million for violence prevention and diversion services for at-risk, non-incarcerated youth, $700,000 for expanding the District’s Hospital-based Violence Intervention Program, and $500,000 for community-based organizations that provide violence intervention services and support at-risk youth. The mayor’s budget also cuts funding for victim and reentry services by almost S11 million.
Other critical investments that would increase community safety include affordable housing, mental health services, and school supports. The ACLU-DC supports the recommendations from the Fair Budget Coalition and we encourage the Council to fund some of them by reallocating dollars from MPD.
2. The Council should reject Bowser’s proposal to keep police in schools.
Last year, the Council passed legislation as part of the FY22 Budget Support Act (BSA) to gradually remove school resource officers (SROs) from all DCPS public and charter schools, eventually completely phasing out the MPD School Safety Division by 2025. This was a key recommendation of the D.C. Police Reform Commission. The mayor’s FY23 budget proposes to repeal this commitment and cease the reduction of SROs. The ACLU-DC strongly encourages the Council to reject the Mayor’s proposal and ensure this law is successfully implemented in good faith.
Police in schools do little to deter crime and can criminalize students for behavioral issues that police are ill-equipped to address. Black and Latinx students, in addition to students with disabilities, are not only suspended and expelled at considerably higher levels than white children in schools, they are also referred to law enforcement at far greater rates when there are police officers present in schools. Black girls, in particular, are targets of harsh school disciplinary responses to their behavior due to stereotypes about gender and race. They are five and a half times more likely to be suspended from school than white girls, and 60 percent of girls arrested in D.C. are under the age of fifteen.
Instead of ensuring safety and improving behavior, police presence often heightens disorder among students by inducing fear and diminishing the authority of school staff. When students perceive a negative school climate, they are less likely to be engaged, more likely to be truant or dropout, and are more likely to experience with bullying. The over-policed atmosphere in D.C. schools increases anxiety, alienates students, and creates a sense of mistrust between peers. It can also lead to adversarial relationships with school officials.
In addition to rejecting the Mayor’s proposal to amend the law, the Council should also restore funding for community-based organizations that provide school-based behavioral health services and fund a study that would help determine the true funding needed to effectively implement the program. This would stabilize clinicians and set the program up for long-term success.
Instead of leading the charge for increased policing and criminalization, D.C. lawmakers would do well to recognize the District’s decades-long failure to properly invest in Black communities and Black children. By neglecting to invest in education, affordable housing, and overall economic well-being, District policies have created a climate that leads to fear, violence, and desperation—where real opportunity is something that largely exists in rich, predominantly white neighborhoods.
So far, D.C. has merely scratched the surface of reallocating resources away from policing and incarceration and toward the types of services and programs we know make the largest difference. District leaders must confront their own biases, break the cycle, and use this critical moment to prioritize greater investment in prevention, community-based violence interruption and trauma services, school-based mental health services, restorative justice, and other effective public safety strategies.
As we have always emphasized, it is the communities with the most resources that thrive—not those with the most police. Thank you for this opportunity to testify and I welcome any questions you may have.