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Mayor Bowser promises veto of criminal code reform, consequences for young gun offenders

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser says reducing penalties for criminals sends the wrong message.

WASHINGTON — D.C.'s mayor is starting her third term at the head of a city that is facing a sudden surge in violence.

Mayor Muriel Bowser is pushing for consequences -- but also a lifeline -- for young people who use guns after eight people, including three teens, were injured and a 17-year-old was killed in five separate shootings in four hours Monday evening. At a press conference Tuesday, the mayor also called for an increase in the number of police officers on the street, and promised to veto the criminal code reform bill that was passed unanimously in November by the DC Council.

"I regard how we approach young people who have guns and who are using guns as one of my top priorities," she said at her first news conference of the new year.

Starting at 1:15 p.m. Monday afternoon, five shootings were reported just hours apart in Southeast and Northwest D.C. On 37th Street, a young boy is shot and wounded, while on 23rd and Alabama, two men and a teen were shot. On F Street and Alabama, a man was critically wounded, and another man was shot in the leg over on First Place. Finally, near the Congress Heights Metro, 17-year-oldMartez Toney was killed and a 14-year-old was badly injured. 

 "Keep in mind that we had two years in the last four years of defunding the police," Bowser said. 

The mayor said the police force has dropped by 400 officers since she was first elected. She's committed to getting it back up to 3,800 officers.

Bowser added that there have to be consequences for young people who commit crimes. 

"We want to think about consequences as a lifeline," she said. "A 13-year-old with a gun shooting somebody needs help immediately." 

She said schools, the courts, prosecutors and the attorney general need to work together to deal with the violence. 

D.C. saw an overall decrease in crime in 2022, with a 7% reduction in violent crime, closing out the year with 203 homicides, and a 3% drop in property crimes when compared to 2021, according to Police Chief Robert Contee.

"We actually saw shootings go down, we saw homicides go down, but not enough," Bowser said. 

The mayor also just promised to veto the Council's new criminal code reform bill. She said by reducing penalties for some crimes, it sends the wrong message.

But Councilmember Charles Allen, one of the key authors, said it took 16 years of compromise and consensus to write the bill, and he promised a veto override. 

"You couldn’t ask for a more thorough process to craft a bill that modernizes and overhauls what is consistently ranked as one of the worst criminal codes in the United States," Allen wrote in an email to WUSA9. "A veto sends a message to keep the status quo – one that has clearly shown it doesn’t keep us safe – and it is not the right decision for the moment we face. District residents trust their leaders to be engaged, work together, and make responsible decisions. After lengthy discussions, serious compromises, and two unanimous votes by the Council to pass this legislation, residents can trust the Council will do the right thing and override a veto to put the modernized law in place." 

A spokesperson for Councilmember Robert White said he too plans to vote to override the mayor's veto.

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