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D.C. Council to vote on a measure aimed at lowering crime

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are both here in Washington, D.C., where last year, nearly 300 people were murdered, the most in one year since the late 1990s. There were also nearly a thousand carjackings. Among those victims was a member of Congress. People who live here are sick of it.

BROOKE PINTO: One story in particular was with a woman who has shared with me her experience of being unable to walk her grandchildren to school because the same group of people are engaged in violent crime or selling drugs right on her block and how the police have been limited in their ability to intervene.

MARTIN: That is D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto, who chairs the council's public safety committee. In an effort to address ongoing violence and other street crime, the council is set to pass new legislation today. The proposed bill would toughen some sentences and make it easier to detain people as they await trial. The council's actions seem to be part of a wave of policymakers rethinking criminal justice reforms that started to take hold after George Floyd was killed by police in 2020. I spoke with Pinto about the new bill called Secure D.C. earlier.

PINTO: We focused on three primary goals - prevention of crime, accountability when crime does happen and third, improving government coordination because of our unique relationship between local and federal government. And so when we say things like prevention, I'm creating a grant program for all of our commercial corridors to have more eyes and ears on the ground. For things like accountability, we have a number of new gun penalties and offenses for endangerment with a firearm, discarding of a firearm. We make changes to our pretrial detention statute so individuals who are being charged with the most violent crimes can be held before their trial. And then with government coordination, creating an annual firearm tracking system so that we can see where these illegal guns are coming from and how to tamp down on it.

MARTIN: You know, if I hear this correctly, I think your argument here is that part of what makes the Washington, D.C., situation unique is that the district doesn't necessarily control all of the apparatus for addressing these issues. What other people would argue is that it's actually because some of the criminal justice reforms that became popular in the wake of, for example, George Floyd's killing and the civil unrest that followed that created a sense that there were no consequences.

PINTO: So, like all things, it's a little bit of each. Unlike other states, our U.S. attorney is handling federal crimes and cases and our local prosecutions for most cases. And so that is a huge lift and burden on our local U.S. attorney's office. With that said, there are also some changes that I do think went too far that we're looking to right size. So one of them is around police review of body-worn cameras. And in the wake of police reforms, police lost their ability to review the body-worn camera footage at all before they write a report. That may sound like a little, technical thing, but in practice, it has undermined police's ability to do their job most effectively.

And so Secure D.C. right sizes that by saying unless there is a serious use of force, you can review your video footage before you write your report to prove the veracity of what happened, to make sure that our cases are thorough, that we're closing cases. And so Secure D.C. seeks to create that appropriate balance that we need to see to have an accountable and transparent police department and to have a police department that is supported and can do their jobs effectively.

MARTIN: There are those who might look at this and say that this is an admission that some of the progressive instincts around criminal justice reform just didn't work and need to be rethought. Do you think that's fair?

PINTO: So there are a lot of really important progressive policies that I will continue to support. I think restorative justice, for instance, where victims and perpetrators can come together for a resolution to talk through the harm and the trauma that a crime caused and think through rehabilitative efforts is really promising. I will continue to champion those things, and there needs to be a backstop so that when interventions like that don't work, we still have a very clear system that there will be accountability for violent crime. And right now, our system is a little bit out of balance. And so this bill is not a suggestion that other progressive reforms will not work and will not continue to be championed. But like all things done well, there are good ideas from many perspectives, and we have to keep moving forward in a commonsense, straightforward way.

MARTIN: That is Brooke Pinto. She is a member of the Washington, D.C. City Council, and she is also the chair of the council's public safety committee. Council member Pinto, thanks so much for joining us.

PINTO: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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