Crime in Washington, D.C., is on the rise as city leaders grapple with fixes to public safety problems that are, in part, of their own creation.
A pair of headline-grabbing shootings dragged the district into the spotlight over the weekend, renewing the focus on the city's decision to cut millions of dollars from its police budget in response to pressure from activists.
On Friday, 6-year-old Nyiah Courtney was killed while riding her scooter during a drive-by shooting that left five adults injured. A day later, gunfire outside Nationals Park stadium sent baseball fans scrambling for cover in the ensuing chaos that led league officials to postpone the game.
Mayor Muriel Bowser responded on Monday, signing a letter that authorized city police to use "any overtime necessary to meet our public safety needs" to increase deployments after the weekend of violence.
Her letter was necessary because the city council moved last year to impose stricter rules on what the Metropolitan Police Department could spend on overtime. But Bowser's letter hinted at a larger problem facing police: a lack of resources to patrol the streets.
"Expanding and maintaining these increased police deployments in our communities during a year of no police hiring requires a corresponding increase in overtime," Bowser said. "But while the use of overtime is a necessary tool, it is not an ideal solution as it results in the burnout of officers. The better solution is to fully staff our police force."
Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said last month staffing in his department was on pace to hit its lowest levels in more than 20 years. Over that same period, the population of the district has grown by more than 20%.
A number of factors has contributed to the falling numbers of police officers in the city. Budget cuts last year effectively froze hiring, and, similar to other cities, more officers are quitting the force at a faster pace. Roughly 200 officers and staff left Washington's police department last year.
The city council voted last year to cut $15 million from the police budget and reinvest the money in programs that do not involve law enforcement. Bowser's proposed budget for next year includes more cuts to the police department and calls for the hiring of just 135 new officers in 2022.
Homicides jumped to a 16-year high in 2020 and are continuing at that pace into this year, according to MPD data.
The tension between activists' demands to defund police and the reality of rising violence has been seen in cities across the country over the past year, coming against the backdrop of a national conversation about race and policing.
In Seattle, city leaders stripped $46 million from the police department's budget for fiscal year 2021. Seattle experienced an exodus of officers and watched response times to 911 calls grow significantly longer. In Portland, the city experienced an 800% spike in homicides during the first four months of this year compared with the first four months of last year. Portland city leaders slashed $16 million from the police budget last year.
Growing concerns about public safety have begun to impose political consequences.
A pro-police Democrat, Eric Adams, won the New York City mayoral primary last month over several progressive rivals who advocated for defunding the police.
In Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms, considered a rising star in Democratic politics, surprised political observers when she announced she would not seek reelection amid a barrage of criticism over the city's spike in crime. Increasing public safety has been at the center of Atlanta's mayoral race.
Original Location: DC leaders struggle with rising crime after cutting police