After D.C. police overtime topped $40 million, council moves to increase oversight

After D.C. police overtime topped $40 million, council moves to increase oversight

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to have police regularly disclose their overtime costs, the latest example of lawmakers asserting more authority over law enforcement after months of protests against police misconduct and in support of racial justice.

The bill, which passed unanimously on a voice vote, came after a dust-up over Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s decision to redirect $43 million in unspent city funds last month to cover overtime costs during the demonstrations.

Police critics on the council objected to taking money from agencies that serve vulnerable people. And they renewed their frustration at the police response to demonstrations, including when D.C. officers trapped hundreds of protesters on a Northwest Washington street in June. Police defended the move as necessary to stop violent demonstrators.

“I express my disapproval to the idea that MPD’s reckless overspending and over-policing of our communities should be prioritized above health and human services programs,” Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) tweeted earlier this month.

“Residents have been sprayed with chemicals, kettled and intimidated for exercising their first amendment rights. The Council has still not received the results of the investigation. This reprogramming is adding insult to injury, and it’s outrageous,” she added.

But lawmakers had little recourse to block the move. The District must balance its budget and could not get the federal government to reimburse the costs.

Nadeau later introduced legislation with Council members Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), among the toughest critics of policing on the council, to require D.C. police to detail and justify overtime spending every two pay periods.

“We could be stuck on the hook with this bill more and more,” Nadeau said at a legislative meeting on Tuesday. “We are not even telling them they can’t spend the money. We are just saying we need to see what you’re spending.”

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In a letter to lawmakers, Bowser (D) blasted the proposal and urged them to withdraw the bill. She said the criticisms of the decision to redirect funds were unfounded and did not acknowledge that the costs of policing mass events are unavoidable.

“We do not have the luxury of simply declaring that we will not work to keep our residents, visitors, and businesses safe, that we will not facilitate peaceful First Amendment assemblies and demonstrations, or that we will not support presidential movements when they occur,” Bowser wrote.

“While there is clearly value, for some, in expressions of performative acts of resistance, those who provide essential public services do not have the ability to engage in such actions.”

Council members did not address her arguments on Tuesday. Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4), the mayor’s closest ally on the council, voted present on the overtime bill.

A police department spokeswoman declined to comment on the legislation ahead of the vote.

D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson told lawmakers last month that they already have a wealth of information available to them to track overtime costs. For example, a quarterly report on the city finance office’s website showed the police department had overspent its budget by 4 percent by the end of June.

As emergency legislation, the overtime bill would remain in effect for 90 days if signed by the mayor. Similarly, more permanent provisions are likely to be included in a criminal justice bill set to come for a vote in coming weeks.

The tussle over overtime cost is the latest example of mounting tensions between local lawmakers and law enforcement in the nation’s capital.

The council cut $15 million from the police budget in June, despite objections from Bowser, and passed legislation in July to overhaul policing, including a requirement to publicly release body camera footage of deadly force incidents and a prohibition on police unions negotiating disciplinary measures during collective bargaining.

Bowser said reducing the size of the police force would only make overtime costs worse. Police Chief Peter Newsham said Sunday that budget cuts could also leave the force short-staffed during the presidential inauguration.

On Tuesday, lawmakers made clear that their frustration with law enforcement is growing, citing police conduct at protests downtown this weekend. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) referred to footage posted online of officers removing racial justice signs on a fence near the White House as “deeply disturbing.”

A police spokesman said the signs were not allowed in that location, but declined to elaborate.

Asked about the overtime bill on Monday, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) described it as a tool for council oversight. But he said lawmakers are not well-positioned to “second guess” overtime spending during protests, and called on the federal government to provide more relief to the District for the costs of policing major events.

“These are costs we bear on a local basis because of the nation’s capital, the federal presence,” Mendelson said.

The council on Tuesday also gave final approval to legislation allowing children to get vaccines without parental consent.

Peter Hermann and Keith L. Alexander contributed to this report.

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Published at Tue, 17 Nov 2020 14:03:00 +0000

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