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DC mayor pushes for increased police powers as homicide rate on the rise

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announces increased rewards for information on crimes.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announces increased rewards for information on crimes.  Image  credit: Twitter

Tension is high in the nation’s capital, as the number of homicides pushes past 100, placing an entire community on edge and prompting the mayor to ask for expanded law enforcement powers.

Mayor Muriel Bowser told reporters at a recent press conference: “We have been talking about making it easier for our supervising agencies to identify and search for illegal guns that may be in the hands of a violent offender.”

Bowser plans to ask the D.C. Council to make it easier for law enforcement officers to search individuals on parole or probation and “immediately detain anyone found in violation of the terms of release.”

When Bowser spoke during an interview on Tuesday the number of homicides was at 103, just under the total for all of 2014. DC residents have been frustrated this summer as the mayor has not been able to give them a clear reason for this 36 percent jump in homicides.

First, it seemed synthetic drugs were to blame, or domestic violence perhaps, now city leaders are saying illegal guns may be behind the sudden surge.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said the mayor’s current proposal is very similar to what was in a bill that he authored in 2013– but which faced heavy opposition from public defenders and more liberal council members.

“It would have allowed D.C. police to search individuals on parole or probation at any time of the day or night and detain them for up to 72 hours if they are found in violation of even minor infractions.”

Bowser’s proposal could significantly increase the number of parole and probation violators subject to detention, according to the Washington Post.

“Before there is violence, I believe there are things we can do to deter someone from even picking up a gun,” Mendelson said. “If they do, they will know immediately that they have made their decision” to potentially return to prison.

The proposal drew immediate criticism from the city’s Public Defender Service: “Recent experience with arbitrary stop and frisk policies has made clear that programs that target classes of people, in their homes, on the street, and in their cars for intrusive, humiliating treatment .?.?. exacerbate existing distrust of law enforcement.”

City officials say the searches would not be conducted by D.C. police under the mayor’s proposal but by the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and “others who supervise D.C. offenders.” But that has many people questioning how that would work exactly, since those officers are not armed.

Bowser announced she would address the public Thursday and release a number of new initiatives to combat the rising homicide rate. And she’s not just leaving this all in the hands of the District police.

“When I go out to neighborhood meetings, people are telling me about long-standing disputes between neighborhoods,” Bowser said. “We are going to ask for the community’s assistance to squash those issues, help people resolve disputes in different ways.”

The chairman of the D.C. police union, supports the 72-hour hold as a “useful tool to quickly remove dangerous offenders from the streets.” But he’s not so quick to back the idea of allowing D.C. police into homes for checks.

“We’re not in the parole and probationary business,” he said. “I have a problem giving police officers the ability to do what probation officers do when we don’t know any of these detainees’ history. It could be dangerous.”

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