In response to Councilmember Brooke Pinto’s Secure DC omnibus legislation today, ACLU-D.C. Policy Counsel Melissa Wasser said:
“We deserve to be safe from crime and from abuse of power. Allowing officers to escape accountability and to harass people in designated zones will not make D.C. safer. Locking more people up before they are found guilty will not make D.C. safer. These types of provisions in the Secure DC Act are not ‘public safety’ solutions; they are measures that open the door for abuse of power.
When police officers are allowed to abuse their power without facing consequences, the public can understandably grow reluctant to interact with officers at all. The proposed changes to body-worn camera provisions would spread distrust of police. Such distrust undermines the legitimacy of law enforcement and erodes any sense of cooperation between harmed communities and the police.
Similarly, failed and ineffective ‘drug-free’ zones do little to prevent crime; instead, they open the door for police officers to harass people and violate our rights. The District can’t make it a crime to simply stand around. The Constitution requires that, before arresting someone, a police officer has probable cause to suspect that someone is intending to commit or is committing an illegal act. Ordering a person who has committed no crime to disperse, and then arresting them if they do not, makes mere loitering a crime, which is unconstitutional. Perhaps that’s why these zones were unanimously repealed in 2014, with then-Councilmember Bowser’s support.
And if preventing crime is the goal, pretrial detention is not the way. Pretrial releases in the District are not driving crime: 92 percent of people released from pretrial are not rearrested and only 1 percent are rearrested for a violent offense while awaiting trial. Locking more people up pretrial can have a negative effect on public safety. Even short periods of unnecessary detention increase a person's risk of re-arrest. Beyond its ineffectiveness, it is our constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. And pretrial detention does just the opposite -- it treats certain people as guilty until proven innocent.
We urge the D.C. Council to reject these and other provisions that put both our safety and our rights at risk. Instead, District leaders should build a comprehensive public safety system that focuses on prevention, effectiveness, and accountability.”