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Opening Statement of Councilmember David Grosso

Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety Budget Oversight Hearing on


Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, Office of Police Complaints, and
the Metropolitan Police Department
March 27, 2019

Thank you Chairperson Allen and thank you to the public witnesses who came out today to
testify, as well as the government witnesses for your work on behalf of the city.

While I am, unfortunately, no longer a member of this Committee, I continue to take a keen
interest in the issues and the agencies before us today.

In particular, I am concerned that the Mayor’s proposed budget increases the MPD budget for
hiring new officers.

I am honestly a little perplexed by this as just a few years ago, when the Council was debating
legislation that would have required hiring more officers, the Executive opposed it.

I argued then that more police officers is not the answer to stopping violence, and that is a
stance I continue to hold today.

The fact is, with MPD’s current numbers we have one of the highest number of police per
capita of cities of our size—double the average of rate of similar cities.

And that doesn’t even account for the multiple other police agencies in D.C., such as Metro
Transit Police, Capitol Police, Park Police, and so on.

If a high number of police officers meant low crime, we should have the lowest crime rates in
the country.

What’s more, when we have increased police presence in certain areas, such as in parts of Ward
8 this past summer, MPD leadership stated in a hearing before this committee that there was
no particular strategy involved other than helping people feel safer.

That is a fine goal but it would be better to actually make people safer.

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While the $3 million the Mayor proposes for new officers would do little for that goal, and
would likely not even make a noticeable difference for most residents since it represents a tiny
fraction of the number of officers on the force, those same dollars could go much farther with
non-police interventions.

Three million dollars could dramatically increase the resources dedicated to safe passage for
students, neighborhood-based violence interruption programs, or behavioral health services.

As a city we spend more than half a billion dollars on MPD but just a couple million dollars on
other approaches to violence prevention.

The Council over the past few years has signaled its stance that more police is not the answer,
but rather we need to have the right resources and interventions in place across the spectrum
to help prevent violence, stop it from spreading, and ensure that people who are harmed are
cared for appropriately.

This sentiment has been repeated by residents of this city, including students I speak with as
Chairperson of the Committee on Education.

Even as they feel battered by the effects of violence, these youth also express a lack of trust in
police, and a belief that they would likely be dismissed or mistreated if they sought help from
MPD.

Unfortunately, I believe this is the experience of many residents, not just young people.

Also unfortunate, is that when the Council has exercised its oversight authority over the MPD,
the Chief, shockingly, blamed us for causing violence and drug sales.

Aside from all the other priorities in this budget, without a significant shift in culture and
leadership at the department, we should not be dedicating more funding to MPD.

More police and aggressive, questionable tactics have all been tried before and yet violence
persists. There is a better way.

It is long past time for an overhaul in our approach to policing—a transformation of the MPD
into an agency whose highest priorities include promoting non-violence and collaborating
deeply with the community, with neighborhoods.

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Such a transformation would mean a department would have a spotless track record of
internal accountability, and a culture of intervention by officers when they see a colleague
doing something wrong.

We witnessed the opposite of that in the testimony given by officers and supervisors during
the recent hearings on the actions of the MPD officer fired for invasive searches of
residents—not only did other officers and his superiors fail to hold him accountable for his
actions, they actually encouraged him to ignore his trainings and departmental guidelines.

A transformation of MPD would also be about recognizing that the people in community
should be leaders in creating a safer environment, with support of the police, not the other way
around.

A shift like this would require police leadership to see that there are very deep-seated
problems with how law enforcement operates in this city, and rising to the challenge of
changing the paradigm.

To be sure, this kind of change requires hard work by the entire city, but the role of MPD is
vitally important.

Thank you. I look forward to the conversation.

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