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D.C. Residents Disapprove of Mayor Bowser’s ACT NOW Public Safety Bill 

Disapproval at a public hearing for Mayor Bowser’s ACT Now Act, which includes increased penalties and controversial policing measures, such as “drug-free zones,” leads to concerns about potential police harassment and the need to address root causes of crime.

Councilmember and Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chair Brooke Pinto held a hearing on Mayor Bowser’s ACT Now Act on Nov. 29. (Photo courtesy of @CMBrookePinto/ X)

Expressing disapproval of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s policing modifications, several D.C. residents expressed concern during the first public hearing for the Addressing Crime Trends Now (ACT Now) Act introduced last month, as reported by WTOP News.

In an attempt to address recent crime trends in the District, the provisions of ACT Now include the creation of additional penalties for organized retail theft, limiting loitering through “drug-free zones”, and the reinstatement of a law making masks illegal when committing a crime according to the Government of the District of Columbia.

The hearing was held by the District Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. 

The bill outlines distinctions between the serious use of force from incidental contact with the neck. It allows police officers to review body-worn camera footage under certain circumstances, before writing their initial report.

During the hearing, Ward 2 Councilmember and Committee Chair Brooke Pinto argued that the review of body-worn camera footage would allow officers to build stronger criminal cases, according to CBS’ WUSA9.

“We have so many of those reports being so terse, so short, and then they have to be amended with the review of footage,” Pinto said.

Joshua Burris, a junior majoring in political science with a minor in community development from Prince George’s County, Maryland spoke to the policing currently occurring, including the use of body cameras. 

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“The purpose of body-worn cameras is to protect the civil liberties of suspects, not make it easier to lock them up,” Burris said. “I understand that sometimes it is difficult to recall stressful situations like arrests, but it’s concerning that [sometimes] D.C. police misrepresent circumstances to benefit themselves while causing harm to the suspect.” 

After residing in D.C. and Maryland his entire life, Burris believes building trust between local communities and law enforcement is essential to reducing crime. He recalled experiencing a hate incident where he sought assistance from law enforcement. 

“I realized [some] officers don’t seem very happy with their jobs or interested in treating community members with empathy or respect. I think that just being accessible and helpful would go a long way toward encouraging reporting and cooperation,” Burris continued.

A provision to create “drug-free zones,” which would allow District police to declare areas free of drug sale and consumption for a maximum of five days, was proposed and rejected in 2014

During her testimony, ANC Commissioner Ashley Ruff of Ward 7 expressed concern that the provision would cause police harassment of youth who had to commute through these highly policed areas, as reported by WUSA 9.

“I feel like a genuine attempt to address crime in the city would include increasing access to affordable housing, adequate mental health and access to affordable fresh food, as well as diverting the energy and impulses of teenagers toward positive, productive activities,” Burris said. 

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Considering the bill’s proposal for increased penalties for retail theft and temporary “drug-free zones,” Burris believes that increased policing and harsher penalties increase the likelihood of crime. He emphasized that such provisions produce the illusion of crime reduction while failing to address the root causes of crime in the nation’s capital. 

“Similar to the focus on fare evasion, the Mayor seems to be focusing on high visibility issues that are bad for business and increase the feeling of lawlessness in the city, but aren’t actually driving the increase in crime,” Burris said.

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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