WASHINGTON — D.C. Council passed emergency legislation on Tuesday aimed at tackling the District's ongoing violent crime woes.
According to DC Police data, there has been a 33% increase in violent crime and as of July 10, 129 lives have been lost. Now, seven months into the new year, a bill introduced by Councilmember Brooke Pinto passed 12-1 in emergency legislation in Tuesday’s session.
Critics said the crime only became an emergency when it impacted residents west of the river.
“This violence was at first only contained in two areas: Ward 8 and Ward 7,” said 8C06 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Robbie Woodland. "Now there's a trickle-down effect and it's spilling to other wards and now it's an issue. We've been dying for years.”
The crime bill makes discharging a gun a felony, strangulation an offense punishable by up to five years in prison, gives judges the ability to detain people (adults and juveniles) accused of violent crimes while they await trial.
But Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George voted against the measure because of that provision. The Councilmember, a trained and practiced lawyer, said pre-trial detention violated due process and data proves only lead to more criminal behavior. She introduced an amendment striking down that provision, which supporters describe as the meat of the bill.
"This emergency bill is forcing a false choice. We do not need to choose between bad strategies and nothing," said Councilmember Lewis George after Tuesday's vote, "The evidence does not suggest we do this on an emergency basis. And this doesn't call for an emergency. So, I move this amendment and ask for my colleagues support."
“I hear people from all 8 wards every single day and they are fearful and want urgent action,” said bill sponsor CM Brooke Pinto.
CM Pinto’s emergency crime bill also allows GPS data from ankle monitors to be used as evidence in court.
“By making sure that if someone has an ankle monitor and is out on pretrial if they go out and commit another crime, that location information is permissible in court,” explained the bill’s author CM Brooke Pinto.
But Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Robbie Woodland said the system to monitor those on probation is deeply flawed and said many of those ankle bracelets often go without working batteries for months.
"Since I’ve been on Council I’ve been trying to ring the alarm and find way to support Councilmember McDuffie's N.E.A.R. Act which calls for a comprehensive approach to crime as a public health crisis. It’s just recently that we’re putting some teeth in the game in the last three to four years," added Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White.
Councilmember at-large Robert White introduced an amendment requiring the Mayor to submit a report to the Council by January 1st with a tally of how many firearms and ghost guns are being recovered and from where. He also wants to find out more about the manufacturer, sale or theft of gun in order to track from where the weapons originate.
"Guns that are being used to kill people on our streets are coming in from elsewhere," said CM R. White.
The council also passed (by unanimous vote) an emergency measure that clarifies when police can pursue a vehicle. Police interpreted the law to mean they can never chase, however, the emergency bill defines when they can pursue: 1. when someone commits a violent crime, 2. when there's an imminent threat to public's safety, and 3. when the chase will not put innocent bystanders in danger.
CM Pinto's emergency bill calling for more oversight and transparency in the Office of Unified Communications (OUC), which oversees the city's 911 call center, passed unanimously.
There have been some success stories this year at the center, complete with commendations for call takers and gratitude from the people they've helped.
But, D.C.'s 911 has also sent help to the wrong locations, sometimes in tragic situations like a deadly car crash in the Anacostia River in April.
And other times, people call and can't get through.
The OUC gave WUSA9 the following statement on Tuesday:
"The Office of Unified Communications (OUC) is committed to transparency about how we critically evaluate performance to understand root causes, integrate best practices, and quickly implement changes to provide equitable access to 311 and 911 services for every resident of the District of Columbia. When a caller dials 911 in Washington, DC, they are either met with a live person ready to take their call or a message in multiple languages advising them to stay on the line. All calls where a caller stays in the queue as prompted are answered in the order they are received into our 911 system. If you are waiting in queue, never hang up if you call 911 - stay on the line."
This is a developing story. Stick with WUSA9 for updates as they become available.