The Washington, D.C., mayor and city council are locked in a public dispute over how to respond to rising crime rates and spiraling public tensions over gun violence in the nation’s capital.
The D.C. Council voted 12-1 on Tuesday to override Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto of a sweeping rewrite of the city’s criminal code. Bowser vetoed the measure earlier this month, saying she opposed some of its provisions, including a reduction in the maximum penalties for burglary, carjacking, robbery and other offenses.
“Anytime there’s a policy that reduces penalties, I think it sends the wrong message,” she said.
Bowser also expressed concern that a provision expanding defendants’ rights to a jury trial for misdemeanor offenses would overwhelm the local court system.
Councilmembers, who originally approved the rewrite by a unanimous vote, expressed frustration with Bowser’s stance, saying her objections were minor and could have been addressed earlier if her team had engaged more fully in the multiyear process of rewriting the criminal code.
Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau dismissed Bowser’s veto as “political theater.” She implied that her intention was to project a public image as a law-and-order executive since she knew her veto would be overridden.
In 2022, there were 203 homicides in the District, about a 10% drop after years of steady increases. Homicides in D.C. had risen for four years straight, and the 2021 murder count of 227 was the highest since 2003.
Crime and public safety dominated last year’s mayoral campaign, which saw Bowser fending off a pair of councilmembers to win a third term in office. Both of her challengers – Robert White and Trayon White, no relation – accused Bowser of mishandling public safety issues.
Bowser is regarded by Black Lives Matter and other activist groups as a staunch defender of the Metropolitan Police Department, and she has sparred with the D.C. Council in the past over her push to hire more police officers.
The new criminal code will take effect in October 2025. But first it must navigate one last obstacle: a newly Republican-controlled House of Representatives that many D.C. politicians fear is looking for a chance to interfere.
All laws approved by the D.C. Council must pass a 60-day review period during which the House can alter or completely override them. Last year, several conservative Republicans expressed a desire for a more active hand in D.C. lawmaking if Republicans took control of the House in November’s midterm elections.
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