WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — D.C.’s police chief and Mayor weighed in on reforming the District’s criminal code.
The Public Defender Service of Washington D.C. said D.C.’s current criminal code was first written in 1901 and while the District has amended it over the years, it’s still deemed one of the worst criminal codes in the country.
Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said during Thursday’s press conference that while he does support revisions to the criminal code, he has major concerns.
“I don’t think that you have a conversation about real fear of crime and you follow that with a reduction in penalties,” Chief Contee said. “That just does not gel for me as the police chief.”
The D.C. Council unanimously passed its first vote on the revised criminal code Tuesday night. It’s the first step towards modernizing how the District handles crime and punishment and this would be the first time D.C. has revised the code since 1901. The District’s Public Defender Service is pushing for the revisions.
“Everyone who participated in giving advice on what the criminal code should look like has problems with the bill, but support its passage,” Laura Hankins, General Counsel of the Public Defender Service of D.C. explained. “Legislators should decide what crimes are, not the courts over time trying to figure out what the legislature meant when they said don’t commit manslaughter and if you do go to prison for 20 years.”
Hankins went on to explain that neither Mayor Bowser nor the representative assigned to the revision committee contributed or provided feedback about revisions throughout the almost 7-year process. Hankins said that a representative from the mayor’s office didn’t start attending meetings until 2020 and only sat in, but never voiced any opinions. She said that while she understands the mayor’s concerns but is disappointed they follow a lack of feedback and years of silence.
The bill would allow jury trials in almost all misdemeanor cases, get rid of most mandatory minimum sentences, and reduce the maximum penalties for offenses like carjackings, burglaries, and robberies.
Contee and Bowser don’t agree with all the revisions.
“I’m not opposed to changes in D.C. criminal code, (but) anything that would suggest or someone thinks that it’s a good idea to reduce accountability, in my view, if there’s a lessening of a penalty. I think that that’s problematic,” Contee said.
“There’s a real clear message coming from the city that we won’t tolerate this lawlessness. I’m also concerned that there are new policies that have been added here that I think are better and a standalone bill and so let’s deal with the things that are making the code more contemporary, but deal with new policies with their own hearing,” Bowser said.
Ward 5 councilmember Kenyan McDuffie said the revisions are necessary, but the bill needs the support of all agencies involved.
“The ultimate goal, which I think we all share — we being the executive, the council and our federal partners — is to pass a bill that enhances public safety in the district as well as protects our residents and enhances justice,” McDuffie said.
If the D.C. council does approve its final vote on the bill and the mayor signs it, officials say it would take another three years to implement to make sure all of the agencies involved are up to date with the changes.