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Public Hearing on Bill 18-138, the “Omnibus Anti-Crime Amendment Act of 2009” and Bill 18-151, the “Public Safety and Justice Amendments Act of 2009”

Monday, May 18, 2009

Public Hearing on Bill 18-138, the “Omnibus Anti-Crime Amendment Act of 2009” and Bill 18-151, the “Public Safety and Justice Amendments Act of 2009”

Joint testimony of Peter J. Nickles and MPD Chief of Police Cathy L. Lanier was presented to the District of Columbia Council Committee on the Judiciary on May 18, 2009.

The following joint testimony of Peter J. Nickles, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, and MPD Chief of Police Cathy L. Lanier  was presented to the District of Columbia Council Committee on the Judiciary, Honorable Phil Mendelson, Chair, on May 18, 2009, at the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.

Good morning Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee.  We are pleased to have an opportunity to testify at this public hearing on Bill 18-138, the “Omnibus Anti-Crime Amendment Act of 2009” (the “Omnibus”), and Bill-18-151, the “Public Safety and Justice Amendments Act of 2009.”

Mayor Fenty’s proposed Omnibus Anti-Crime Amendment Act is the culmination of a comprehensive and collaborative effort begun over a year ago.  Last spring, the Office of the Attorney General, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office put pen to paper to draft legislation that would have a significant impact on public safety in the District. As we discussed during the two earlier hearings on this bill in December 2008 and March 2009, the Omnibus creates or strengthens tools to get serious gun offenders off of our streets, keep gang members from intimidating neighborhoods, and protect the safety and privacy of victims of and witnesses to violent crime.  In addition, it seeks to modernize a number of laws to help the criminal justice system work more effectively and efficiently.

In drafting the Act, we drew upon the considerable experience of the District’s public servants, the strong and consistent voice of the community, experts in the field, and the ideas and experiences of various other jurisdictions. Since its first introduction last October, we have continued to refine and improve the Omnibus based on comments and questions from the Committee and other Councilmembers, public and key stakeholders, community members, and advocates.  Many of the recommendations for revisions and clarifications to the legislation have been adopted in an emergency version that we propose the Council adopt at its June legislative session and that the Mayor will be submitting to Council shortly.  The end result is a bill that is stronger and enjoys broad support. 

The section on Gang Injunctions is an excellent example of this inclusive and collaborative process.  With the assistance of Chairman Mendelson and his staff, the OAG, USAO, MPD, the Public Defender Service, Peaceaholics, The Latin American Youth Center, the East of the River Clergy-Police Community Partnership, and one of the Council’s attorneys met several times to review every word of the Gang Injunction proposal.  Many reasonable concerns were raised and language was revised to address those concerns. 

Several other sections of the Omnibus such as “stalking,” “victim and witness protection,” “blood drawing,” and “marital privilege” were carefully reviewed and discussed with our community partners.  We are appreciative of the extensive input we received from the National Press Association, Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association, and the Washington Post regarding protecting the safety and privacy of victims and witnesses to serious crimes.  We listened to their concerns and ultimately compromised by allowing the victims of certain crimes (crimes of violence, domestic violence, stalking, and threats) to request that their names and addresses not be placed on the public police reports.  This compromise has not completely reconciled the differences between the positions of the media and the Administration, however, we are placing a higher priority on the safety and privacy of victims and witnesses of serious crime, and must therefore agree to disagree on this point.

We also worked with representatives of the District’s hospitals to  craft a compromise regarding the drawing of blood in impaired driving cases.  We have agreed in principle to not require the hospitals to do so when the individual suspected of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol has refused consent.  Again this process contributed to the final bill that we put before the Committee today and upon which we seek emergency passage.

At the recommendation of the US Attorney’s Office, we have also revised the provision on the Unlawful Possession of a Firearm (DC Official Code §22-4503) to clarify that certain individuals who are prohibited by federal or local statute from possessing a firearm can be charged with this offense. This mirrors federal law, but will allow for prosecution in the Superior Court.  The change will support higher penalties for gun possession for an individual who is prohibited from having a gun (a maximum penalty of $10,000, 10 years, or both) than for an individual who is eligible to possess a gun but has an unregistered one (a penalty not to exceed $1,000, imprisonment for 1 year, or both, DC Official Code §7-2507.06).

In addition, we have reviewed and considered Chairman Mendelson’s proposed Bill-18-151, the “Public Safety and Justice Amendments Act of 2009.”  We have substantive agreement on many of these issues, and would like to incorporate these provisions into the Omnibus emergency.  We thank the Chairman for proposing penalty enhancements for chronic offenders and prostitution, providing for the disclosure of mental health information for criminal defendants to ensure continuity of care, and updating laws prohibiting contraband in correctional facilities and licensing of massage parlors.  All of these proposals will help to improve public safety in the District while remaining within the scope of the Omnibus.

We would also ask the Council to consider legislation drafted by our Office of Property Management that would expand the authority of the Protective Services Division to be similar to the authority of the DC Housing Authority Police Department.  It would add additional police presence on the streets by clarifying PSD authority and police powers, allow PSD officers to make traffic stops on government property and elsewhere, enable PSD officers to make an arrest and assist the public when witnessing a crime in progress and other provisions.

For the convenience of the Committee and the public, we are attaching the testimony submitted on March 18th as well as a chart that shows the changes that will be incorporated into the emergency bill.  This information is also available on the MPD website, at www.mpdc.dc.gov.

To be clear, we recognize that this bill may not enjoy unanimous support.  There are of course areas where the Administration’s priorities differ from others. Rest assured that we have listened, but on some issues we must respectfully agree to disagree. The Administration is strongly committed to this final version of the Omnibus, which reflects the goals and objectives of the earlier versions.  We are confident that this bill truly reflects and balances the significant input of our broad community. 

Lastly, because the final version of the Omnibus will achieve its goal of making the District safer, we urge the Council to immediately act on this bill by passing it as emergency legislation at its next legislative meeting on June 2nd.  Historically, more crimes of violence – homicides, robberies, and assaults with a dangerous weapon – happen during the summer months than in any other season of the year.  While some may believe that it is to be expected and there is nothing we can do about it, we strongly disagree.  It is unacceptable that just when the District’s families, children, and visitors most want to be out enjoying the many things our neighborhoods and this city have to offer, violent crimes on our streets increases.  Three summers ago, the Council passed emergency crime legislation in the aftermath of a surge of violent crime that reminded us briefly of the violence in the early 1990s.  This year, we should all be more proactive in ensuring that our communities, our families, and our children have a safe summer. 

The community has demonstrated that they are ready and willing to work with the police, prosecutors, and courts to keep our streets safe.  The Administration’s Omnibus Anti-Crime Emergency Amendment Act of 2009 fulfills our commitment to ensure that the entire criminal justice system is aligned to support the community in this fight against violent crime.  Therefore, we urge the Council to join with us and enact this important legislation now, so our neighborhoods will have the benefit of its protections  before summer begins.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify and we are happy to answer any questions that you may have.