WASHINGTON — As Republicans celebrated the overturn of the D.C. Council’s revised criminal code, on Capitol Hill, Friday, local leaders grappled with the possibility another District law could soon be nullified in a similar fashion.
On Friday, dozens of Republican House lawmakers gathered in the U.S. Capitol to witness House Speaker Kevin McCarthy sign H.J. Resolution 26. The legislation disapproved the D.C. Council’s passage of the Revised Criminal Code Act.
Republicans characterized the council’s measure, to revise the District's criminal sentencing practices, as “soft-on-crime” for weeks leading up to the resolution’s signing. However, D.C. Councilmembers repeatedly pushed back against that assertion.
“Every American deserves to be safe in their streets,” McCarthy said.
The resolution was sponsored by Georgia Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde.
“Leadership in D.C. refused to listen,” he said. “We listened and we acted.”
Clyde thanked former Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Denise Krepp for her contribution to the measure. Krepp has routinely criticized the District’s handling of crime issues.
“I want to thank an incredible lady named Denise Krepp, a resident of DC with a big heart who is fed up with the crime in her community and the devastating effect it was having on hardworking, law-abiding citizens,” Clyde said.
The legislation, which was also passed by the Senate with similar bipartisan support, is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden.
This is not the only proposal Clyde has to override a DC law, however. He made his remarks at the Capitol Building, Friday, just one day after co-introducing legislation to overturn another law recently passed by the District Council.
The Georgia Congressman wants to overturn the council’s Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2022. The police reform measure, which came about shortly after the George Floyd protests of 2020, bans the use of neck restraints, improves access to body worn camera footage, and stops DC Police from hiring officers with serious misconduct on their record, among other things.
“Alarmingly, this misguided law will inevitably jeopardize the Metropolitan Police Department’s ongoing efforts to recruit and retain officers, worsening an already serious problem,” Clyde stated.
The measure has been enacted three consecutive years in the form of temporary emergency legislation. The legislation passed by the D.C. Council in January would be permanent.
In a press release, D.C. Police Union Chairman Gregg Pemberton claimed the temporary legislation has already hurt the Metropolitan Police Department’s effort to hire and retain officers.
Pemberton echoed a similar sentiment during McCarthy’s bill signing ceremony on Friday.
“In the past three years, the Metropolitan Police Department has lost over 1,200 police officers while replacing just 700,” he said. “This mass exodus is a direct result of the D.C. Council’s ongoing and unjustified attacks on law enforcement.”
D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson criticized the union’s claim and its collaboration with Congress to override D.C. law.
“There’s no evidence to the Fraternal Order of Police allegations that this is hurting hiring or retention, in fact police departments across the country are having trouble hiring and it’s because of the bad press over bad cops that we’ve seen over and over again.”
Mendelson added the council’s law is about accountability and that the District wants “good cops,” not bad ones.
He said he fears the federal overturn of the criminal code will lead to even more D.C. legislation, besides the police reform act, being proposed for nullification in the future.
“I am concerned that folks in Congress, mainly Republicans, who’ve seen they can use the District for their own national campaign purposes are emboldened and will look to other measures like this.”
Meanwhile, Pemberton called Mendelson’s claim “preposterous” and disagreed with the idea MPD hiring and retention had not been impacted by the police reform act.
“When they leave, they tell us, very emphatically, they’re not going to work in an environment where going out and doing your job in a professional and constitutional way can still get you fired or disciplined,” Pemberton said.
Either way, after what happened with the criminal code, Mendelson said he is not taking anything for granted when it comes to informing the public about the Council’s police reform measure.
“This is about good cops,” he said. “This is about police accountability. If a cop doesn’t want to come to D.C., because we’re going to hold them accountable, we don’t want that cop.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser previously vetoed the criminal code legislation before it was overridden by the District Council and sent to Capitol Hill for Congressional review.
The D.C. Council enacted the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2022 without her signature, this year, as well.
WUSA9 reached out to both the Mayor and MPD Robert Contee for comment on Clyde’s latest effort to override the D.C. Council but it has yet to hear back from either person.