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DC Council votes to pass ‘Secure DC’ crime bill

Debated bill will tighten laws on crime, passes unanimously

The D.C. Council voted 12-1 in favor of the Secure DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2024 at their March 5 legislative meeting, with Councilmember Trayon White, Sr. opting to be marked as present.

The bill, originally introduced in June 2023 by Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto, would increase penalties for gun possession — such as upping punishment for illegally possessing a firearm and making firing a gun in public a felony — and revive a law from the 1990s that allowed police to create temporary “drug free zones” where people gathering to sell, buy or use drugs could be arrested. The bill would also make it easier for judges to sentence adults and juveniles charged with violent offenses to be detained while awaiting trial. 

Crime totals increased 26 percent from 2022 to 2023, with violent crimes increasing 39 percent according to data from the Metropolitan Police Department. 

At the first vote of the bill, held Feb. 6, it passed 12-1, with Ward 8 Councilmember White opting to be marked as present. The final bill included amendments to provisions such as maintaining the retail theft felony threshold at $1,000 in merchandise and language changes to the anti-mask provision.

At-Large Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George introduced an amendment in the first vote that would eliminate the expansion of DNA collection, claiming that many of those who have their DNA collected are never arrested.

The amendment was added to the bill in the second vote, specifying that DNA would only be collected for violent crimes and only after a suspect has been charged. If the suspect is acquitted, the DNA file is expunged from the record. This amendment was passed with a 10-3 vote. 

Lewis George unanimously passed an amendment to the anti-mask provision, which would protect those wearing religious headgear and change the language in the bill to specify violent crimes such as robbery, carjacking, burglary and theft. The provision was also amended to strike the “intent to cause a person to fear for their personal safety” as a chargeable offense for someone wearing a mask. 

Prior to the amendment, the bill did not specify what type of face covering was illegal or define what type of a crime a suspect could be charged with. 

White passed two amendments during the second vote. The first amendment struck section 14 of the bill, which would remove the requirement that officers’ names and badge numbers be withheld from the public in adverse action proceedings – disciplinary hearings for MPD officers accused of misconduct.

The second amendment added a new section to the bill, which would require the Executive Office of the Mayor to develop and publish a Comprehensive Public Safety Plan no more than one year after the implementation of the bill. 

Lewis George passed a separate amendment in the first vote which would allow for the eligibility date for the Second Chance Amendment Act of 2022 to move to the beginning of the next fiscal year. 

The Second Chance Amendment would permit automatic expungement and sealing certain criminal records such as marijuana charges or in cases of innocence. 

McDuffie passed an oral amendment during the first vote to section 19, which extends pretrial detention. He added a clause that the criminal justice coordinating council must collect data regarding the efficacy of adult pretrial detention before the provision expires, 225 days after the bill goes into effect, so the council can decide whether or not to make the policies permanent. 

McDuffie unanimously passed a similar amendment during the second vote, which added that a similar study would be conducted for juvenile pretrial detention centers.

Local activism groups such as Harriet’s Wildest Dreams and Us Not Crimnibus have expressed opposition to the bill, claiming that it is “riddled with ineffective and dangerous provisions that make our communities less safe.” Activists attended both the Feb. 6 and March 5 meetings with black shirts that read “Don’t throw D.C. under the crimnibus” and cautioned using more incarceration and increased police presence to try to reduce crime. 

The “Secure DC” crime bill is considered an omnibus bill – a larger bill that combines several smaller bills on the same topic. 

“Secure DC” comes after the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 was passed by the D.C. Council but blocked by Congress in March 2023. The current criminal code has not been updated since 1901.

The bill now heads to Mayor Muriel Bowser for approval. According to a statement released following the bill’s passage, she plans to sign it. Once she does, some aspects of the bill will take effect immediately.

“Passing and implementing Secure DC is a critical step in the work to build a safer DC by rebalancing our public safety and justice ecosystem in favor of safety and accountability,” Bowser wrote in the statement. “We are a city that is committed to creating opportunity and that believes in second chances, but we will not tolerate violence and we will not tolerate criminal activity that disrupts our sense of safety and our ability to build thriving neighborhoods. Together, we can continue to drive down crime and build a safer, stronger DC.”

This article was edited by Abigail Hatting, Abigail Turner and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis and Ariana Kavoossi. 

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