By Helen Bezuneh
Special to the AFRO

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently unveiled a new legislative initiative to address crime trends in the nation’s capital. The proposed legislation, known as the Addressing Crime Trends Now Act (ACT Now), aims to promote public safety by empowering law enforcement to effectively hold criminals accountable for their actions.

“The Addressing Crime Trends Now Act will create an environment that better supports communities and victims, as well as MPD’s ability to hire and retain qualified officers,” Bowser said at her public announcement of . “Some of the changes are just plain common sense. We know, for example, that the criminal behavior directed at our business community, particularly our retailers, is unacceptable. People in our city are sick and tired of it. People want great businesses in their neighborhoods, they want to go to stores and restaurants and they don’t want to have to worry about those businesses being robbed repeatedly and brazenly.” 

Bowser’s legislative proposal to the D.C. Council includes numerous policies, some including the establishment of punitive measures for organized retail theft, enabling the Metropolitan Police Department Chief to institute temporary drug-free zones to limit loitering and making it illegal to wear a mask with the objective of committing unlawful behavior.

According to a local organization known as Stop Police Terror Project DC (SPTP-DC), ACT Now would not be as successful as Mayor Bowser hopes.

“Instead of listening to D.C. residents who have demanded solutions that focus on resources for communities not police, Mayor Bowser is trying to roll back the meager reforms that have been made since 2020 and much earlier, including bringing back unconstitutional ‘drug free zones’ and apparently legalizing chokeholds,” SPTP-DC wrote in a statement shared with the AFRO. “Our mayor has capitulated entirely to the MPD, the police union and its supporters and clearly has no interest in the actual safety of her constituents.”

“People want great businesses in their neighborhoods, they want to go to stores and restaurants and they don’t want to have to worry about those businesses being robbed repeatedly and brazenly.”

Christopher Williams, founding editor-in-chief of Southwest Voice, made similar criticisms in a written statement shared with the AFRO.

“I wish the administration would give as much attention to crime as the vast structural racism and apartheid adjacency that her policies have deepened considerably,” he said.

On the contrary, Karen Gaal, chairwoman of the Third District Metropolitan Police Department Citizens Advisory Council, told the AFRO that ACT Now is more than necessary to keep the District safe.

“We’re undergoing a crime crisis that is victimizing our city. We’re going through what I would like to say is an epidemic health crisis because public safety, I believe, at this particular magnitude would basically lend itself to a health crisis because you have people who are forcing trauma onto our community through criminal activity,” Gaal said. 

“The mayor’s newly introduced legislation that she hopes all thirteen members of our D.C. city council will pass is really there to address some of the gaps that we have in our criminal code at this particular time,” she added. “I think that it will be helpful to have our council members take a look at what she’s asking and just to see that it’s something that’s going to help to recalibrate our communities within the District of Columbia.”

Lindsey Appiah, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, who also spoke at Mayor Bowser’s announcement, commented on D.C.’s distinctive public safety and justice system.

“It’s unique because of the District’s criminal justice system structure, one that’s a mix of local,

federal and independent agencies, most of which are not under the authority of the mayor,” she said. “What we need from all of our colleagues across our local, federal and independent is for them to match the commitment that we have in District government to not just combat crime, but to our approach to the work with the belief that we can prevent the next crime, that we can prevent someone else from being the victim.”

MPD Police Chief Pamela Smith endorsed the proposal, suggesting that  can effect positive change.

“This legislation is impactful because it clarifies the many challenges our law enforcement professionals face today,” she said. “While all of these provisions are highly important, there are six key provisions listed in the bill that I would like to expand on just a little bit. It would be our vehicle pursuit policy; reestablishing drug-free zones, which will help limit loitering; new legislation for organized retail theft; clarifying language regarding incidental contact with the neck; modifications of officer discipline and ensuring that our officers can review their body-worn camera prior to writing the initial report.”