House Passes Resolution Overturning DC Policing Bill

By Jackson Richman

The House passed a disapproval resolution on April 19 to block the District of Columbia’s Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2022.

The vote was 229-189. Fourteen Democrats joined all 215 Republicans in voting for the resolution.

The D.C. act, which is set to take effect on May 11 unless Congress and the president block it, would prohibit the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPD) and other local law enforcement personnel from using “neck restraints or any other technique that causes asphyxiation, presents an unnecessary danger to the public and constitutes excessive force.”

The act—which D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, vetoed in which the city council overrode the veto—also approves the use of police body camera footage and requires, with a couple of exceptions, the mayor to release such footage with the names of the officers behind the footage where “officers [were] directly involved in the officer-involved death or serious use of force.”

However, the mayor cannot release footage if the next of kin of an officer-involved death or “the individual against whom the serious use of force was used, or if the individual is a minor or unable to consent, the individual’s next of kin” does not agree to its release.

Additionally, the act authorizes District of Columbia Housing Authority Police Department (DCHAPD) members “to make arrests, carry a firearm, and perform other functions normally reserved to members of the Metropolitan Police Department.” It also allows personnel of D.C.’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) “to carry a firearm, make warrantless arrests for felony violations of the law, and serve as affiants for search warrants.” The law subjects DCHA and OIG to the same oversight and process that is used in dealing with complaints against MPD officers.

The act establishes a Police Complaints Board consisting of nine members, including a representative from one of D.C.’s eight wards and one at-large member. The members are appointed by the mayor and require confirmation by the D.C. Council, which has 90 days to act on the nomination. If there is no vote on the nominee within that timeframe, then the appointee is rejected. The act would strip the mayor’s power to appoint the board’s chairperson, giving it to the board. However, the mayor can remove a board member for cause.

The policing and justice reform act has been criticized by Republicans for being harsh on law enforcement.

“This Joint Resolution would disapprove of the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2022 which was passed by the D.C. Council in defiance of very real safety concerns raised by law enforcement,” Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-N.Y.) told The Washington Post. “It’s time to say enough is enough and push back on the anti-police narrative, starting here in our nation’s capital.”

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), who introduced the disapproval resolution, called D.C.’s pending law an “anti-police measure.”

However, D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton expressed objections to the GOP resolution.

“The legislative history and merits of D.C.’s Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2022, which is the subject of this disapproval resolution, should be irrelevant, since there is never justification for Congress nullifying legislation enacted by D.C., but I would like to set the record straight,” she said on the House floor.

“D.C.’s Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2022 would, among other things, make it easier to fire officers for misconduct; prohibit the hiring of officers with prior misconduct; require the release of the names and body-worn camera recordings of officers directly involved in an officer-involved death or serious use of force; strengthen civilian oversight of police; establish a public database of sustained allegations of officer misconduct; make officer disciplinary records subject to release under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act and prohibit chokeholds and asphyxiating restraints,” she added.

While the bill passed the GOP-controlled House, it is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate. The White House has said that President Joe Biden would veto the resolution if it came to his desk.

“The president believes we have an obligation to make sure all our people are safe and that public safety depends on public trust. It is a core policy of this Administration to provide law enforcement the resources they need for effective, accountable community policing,” said the White House in an April 17 Statement of Administration Policy.

“While President Biden does not support every provision of the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2022, he will not support congressional Republicans’ efforts to overturn commonsense police reforms such as: banning chokeholds; limiting use of force and deadly force; improving access to body-worn camera recordings; and requiring officer training on de-escalation and use of force,” they continued. “Congress should respect the District of Columbia’s right to pass measures that improve public safety and public trust.”

However, Biden did sign in March a GOP resolution overturning a D.C. crime bill.

The GOP-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate both passed the resolution on a bipartisan basis and Biden expressed that he would sign the bill, pitting himself against progressives and his own belief that the District of Columbia should be a state. The conundrum also put Biden on the spot amid GOP criticisms of his fellow Democrats being soft on crime. Bowser, vetoed the bill—only for the city council to override her veto. The resolution was the first time in decades that Congress voted to override a D.C. bill.

Under the code, the mandatory minimum penalty for first-degree murder would have remained 24 years in prison but the maximum would have been reduced from life behind bars to 51 years in prison. The penalty for first-degree murder would be 57 years if the defendant was already charged with a crime committed murder while on release. All other mandatory minimum sentences would have been done away with under the code.

The act would have also allowed juries to decide misdemeanor cases.

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