On May 15 D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a public safety legislative proposal designed to strengthen criminal penalties and address crime trends. (Photo Credit: AFRO Staff)

By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,

Amid a surge of street violence in the nation’s capital, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has announced new public safety legislation.

“The legislation I will send to the council is common sense legislation,” said Bowser at a live-streamed news conference. “For example, we know that addressing violence in D.C. means tackling illegal guns. The legislation will increase the penalties for illegal gun possession.”

Homicides in D.C. have increased from 162 in 2015 – when Bowser first became mayor – to 203 in 2022, according to Metropolitan Police Department crime data. As of May 24, there has been an 11 percent growth in homicides and a 28 percent upswing in all crime compared to last year.

“It will also provide greater discretion for the courts to determine who should be held pretrial, including defendants previously convicted of a violent crime, while they await trial for the new violent crime,” Bowser continued. “We are recommending strengthening the provisions that allow people to petition for early release to ensure that the experiences of victims and the discretion of the courts is given proper consideration.”

Bowser explained how her proposals are to work.

“Generally, the chairman of the council introduces legislation on my behalf,” said Bowser. “We previously sent a piece of legislation some years back called ‘Safer, stronger.’ That was the legislative component of actions that we took at that time when we were experiencing a spike in crime to drive crime down. So this is a similar legislative package.”

Bowser’s previously proposed revisions to the D.C. Criminal Code Act also attempted to tighten punishments for crime.

“We’re specifically focused on places in the law where we think there are gaps and that filling those gaps will make our city safer,” said Bowser.

According to Lindsey Walton, director of communications for Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, the legislation has since been circulated within the D.C. Council.

Bowser also issued a directive for the District’s deputy mayors to submit recommendations for a “whole-of-government” approach to crime reduction. 

According to information released by the mayor’s officials, the deputy mayors’ recommendations must be reported to the city administrator within 45 days.

Mendelson said he wants the proposals streamlined to ensure passage.  

“Some of her proposals implicate constitutional issues, which is fine, but it’s better to work out the constitutionality rather than pass a law that gets struck down in the courts. That serves no one,” said Mendelson in an emailed statement. 

According to Walton, “the decision to move the legislation ultimately lies with the committee with jurisdiction – in this case, the Committee on the Judiciary. [Mendelson] will not make a decision on how he may vote until after a public hearing.”

 Brooke Pinto, chairwoman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety,  commented on the announcement via Twitter.

“I’m glad Mayor Bowser is focused on our urgent public safety needs. I’m committed to holding hearings on the Mayor’s bill – before summer recess,” said Pinto. “It is vitally important we move forward deliberately, expeditiously, and in a manner that brings the community into the process.”

Tashi McQueen is a Report For America Corps Member.