Public Hearing Regarding B22-0041, the “Force of 4,200 – Police Officer Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017”

Testimony of Eduardo R. Ferrer
Legal & Policy Director, DC Lawyers for Youth
Public Hearing before the Committee on Judiciary & Public Safety and
      the Committee on Housing & Neighborhood Revitalization
      B22-0105, the “First Responders Housing Incentive Program Amendment Act of 2017”
       and B22-0041, the “Force of 4,200 – Police Officer Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017”
Monday April 10, 2017
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC

Good afternoon Chairwoman Bonds, Chairman Allen, Councilmember Gray, and members and staff of the Committees on Housing & Neighborhood Revitalization and Judiciary & Public Safety.  My name is Eduardo Ferrer. I am an 18 year resident of the District and the Legal & Policy Director of DC Lawyers for Youth (DCLY) – a non-profit action tank focused on using data, research, evidence and our experience working directly youth and families to improve DC’s juvenile justice system. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. 

First Responders Housing Incentive Program Amendment Act of 2017

First, we are generally supportive of the goals of the First Responders Housing Incentive Program Amendment Act of 2017.  At DC Lawyers for Youth, we firmly believe that it is incredibly important to live in and become part of the community which you serve and on whose behalf you work, whether you are a teacher, a police officer, an emergency medic, a researcher, a defense attorney, or a policy advocate.  Living in the community in which you work – whether as a homeowner or a renter – gives you a heightened sense of responsibility to realize its success.  The community in which you work is no longer a place where you drive to in the morning and retreat from after your work is done for the day.  Living in the community in which you work encourages you to learn the history of your home, get to know your neighbors, and build community.  It becomes the place where you spend your money, pay your taxes, volunteer your time, and lay down your roots.  It is why we at DCLY have always required our employees to reside in the District of Columbia.  Now, we all know that the District is an expensive place to live and getting more expensive by the day.  We also know that it is particularly difficult for those in services professions – like first responders – to afford to live comfortably in the District.  As a result, it is especially critical that we invest in ways to help first responders call the District home. Thus, while housing policy is not our forte at DCLY and cannot offer many concrete suggestions on how to maximize the efficacy of the housing incentive bill, we support the goals of the First Responders Housing Incentive Program Amendment Act of 2017.[1]

Force of 4,200 – Police Officer Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017

Second, while we generally support the housing incentives bill, we are opposed to the Force of 4,200 – Police Officer Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017.  Over the last decade, as we as a country have confronted the rampant harm caused by our over-reliance on policing, prosecution, and mass incarceration, reducing violence via a public health approach that includes prevention and mitigation as opposed to just reaction has ascended as a leading framework to effectively, humanely replace our past failed approach.  In the District of Columbia, we are at the starting line when it comes to fundamentally restructuring our approach to crime and replacing it with a public health strategy.  Our efforts to intentionally build a public health approach locally thus far consist of the passage of the NEAR Act[2] and the Mayor’s Safer, Stronger DC Advisory Committee Report from May 2016.[3]  Passing and funding the Force of 4,200 bill would direct resources that could be better invested in the development of an intentional public health approach (including fully funding and implementing the NEAR Act, the recommendations from the Mayor’s May 2016 report, and other up-stream strategies) that will actually prevent crime from happening in the first place to spending money on more police officers when it is unclear at best that more police officers are a necessary or effective way to reduce crime in the District. 

How do we know this? At least three reasons.  First and foremost, the District of Columbia already has substantially more officers per capita than any other jurisdiction with more than 50,000 residents in the country.  Based on 2015 FBI UCR data, the District of Columbia had 56.9 sworn Metropolitan Police Department officers for every 10,000 residents in the District.[4]  The next four highest jurisdictions – Wilmington, DE; Baltimore; New York City; and Philadelphia – all had over 20% fewer police officers per capita than the District.[5]  Assuming the District’s population grows to approximately 700,000 at the same time the goal of growing the force to 4,200 sworn officers is met, the per capita number will swell to 61.7 sworn officers per 10,000 residents.  In contrast, even if the District population grew to 700,000 residents and the number of sworn officers decreased to 3,080, the District would still have more officers per capita that the next highest jurisdictions, assuming their ratios stay the same.  

Second, in addition to already having more officers per capita than any other jurisdiction in the country, crime rates and trends, both in the short and long term, do not support a belief that the current per capita rate is insufficient to continue reducing crime rates. Again, FBI UCR data demonstrates that crime rates for DC have declined substantially over the long term.  Indeed, homicide rates in the District are near record lows since the FBI starting collecting data in the 1960's and violent crime rates are down substantially compared to the peak in the 1990s.[6]  Over the short term, violent crime and overall crime rates are also down.  According to MPD data, year over year violent crime is down 25% while overall crime is down 2%.[7]  Based on these short and long-term trends, it is difficult to justify that more police officers are needed to make the District an increasingly safe city in which to live.  

Third, even if crime rate trends were flat or trending up, there is little evidence to support the assertion that more police officers alone would make the District safer.[8]  We need to get out of the mindset that public safety is the realm of the police, the prosecutors, and the courts.  While these stakeholders have an important role to play in making the District safer, for the most part, these stakeholders respond only when harm has already occurred.  If we truly want to reduce harm and not just respond to it, we need to aggressively develop and pursue a public health approach to reducing violence. The fiscal impact statement for the emergency analog of the Force of 4,200 bill had a price tag of over $60 million dollars.  Imagine the public safety and other benefits the District would realize if we invested $60 million in making high quality home visiting available to every child born in poverty in the District.  Imagine the public safety and other benefits the District would realize if we invested $60 million to create and fund a social work fellowship program akin to the DC Teaching Fellows program that would flood our schools, agencies, community-based organizations, hospitals, and police department with social workers who could not only provided clinical interventions but help youth and families connect to the services they need to be successful.  Imagine the public safety and other benefits the District would realize if we invested $60 million in trauma-responsive health clinics in Wards 7 and 8 that ensure our all our DC residents have access to high quality physical, behavioral, and emotional supports from birth through adulthood.

So, while more resources for MPD may be a necessary component of a public health approach, we should not start by tying our hands by dedicating a substantial amount of resources to retaining and recruiting police officers that there is little evidence we actually need in the District of Columbia.  Instead, I would urge the Council to work with the Mayor to develop, devise, and fund a multi-year comprehensive, coordinated, and cohesive citywide public health approach to reducing violence.  This means intentionally implementing broad, community-wide strategies at all stages of a person’s life, implementing targeted case-by-case interventions for families and youth in crisis, and intervening with effective, evidence-based programs to mitigate the impact of violence when it has already occurred. Specifically, I would urge the Council to do the following:

  1. Hold a public roundtable in the committee of the whole to hear public and executive testimony relating to the creation of a comprehensive public health approach that shifts our focus from an overreliance on policing and incarceration to meaningful investment and support in the resident of the District.  This public roundtable should kick off a series of meetings in the community in each Ward to provide for ample opportunity for residents to provide feedback.  
  2. Draft, pass, and fund a comprehensive bill based on the feedback received that lays a strong foundation for a broad, coordinated public health framework for reducing violence in the District with specific timelines and metrics that would define success. 
  3. Develop and fund an outside, apolitical entity to conduct research, monitor the efforts, and make recommendations as to how the efforts underway could be improved.  Examples of such an entity include the Washington State Institute on Public Policy (WSIPP)[9] and the former DC Crime Policy Institute (DCPI).[10] 

Now, while the District’s budget is healthy and crime trends are heading in the right direction, we have a unique opportunity to set a new trajectory for the District of Columbia that moves us away from over-policing and over-incarceration and instead makes real investments in a safer, healthier District that provides its residents with the supports they need to succeed.  Please do not pass the Force of 4,200 bill.  Please use the time, energy, and money to collaborate with the community to create a meaningful public health approach to reducing violence in the District.  

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  I am available to answer any questions. 


[1] The only suggestion we might have to make the proposed legislation more meaningful is to incorporate ways to making renting in the District more affordable for first responders as well.  Additionally, if the programs effectively draw more first responders to live and work in the District, the Council should consider expanding to all District employees.  

[2] Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act of 2015, http://lims.dccouncil.us/Legislation/B21-0360.

[3] Safer, Stronger DC Advisory Committee Final Report, May 2015, http://doh.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/doh/page_content/attachments/SSDC%20Advisory%20Committee%20Final%20Report%20May%202016%20v%206%2021%2016_new.docx.pdf.

[4] Police Employment, Officers Per Capita Rates for U.S. Cities, Governing the States and Localities, at http://www.governing.com/gov-data/safety-justice/police-officers-per-capita-rates-employment-for-city-departments.html, last accessed on April 9, 2017. 

[5] Wilmington, Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia had 43.4, 42.6, 41.4, and 40.9 sworn police officers per 10,000 residents, respectively.  See id.  Importantly, this differential does not take into account the multitude of other local and federal police forces that operate in the District.  

[6] Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics, State-by-State and National Crime Estimates by Year(s), Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, at https://www.ucrdatatool.gov/Search/Crime/State/StatebyState.cfm.

[7] District Crime Data At a Glance, 2017 Year to Date Crime Comparison, Metropolitan Police Department, at https://mpdc.dc.gov/page/district-crime-data-glance (last accessed April 9, 2017).  These short-term trends for violent crime also hold true for Wards 7 and 8.  In Ward 7, violent crime is down over 15% year over year.  In Ward 8, violent crime is down 27% year over year.  See crimemap.dc.gov.

[8] Indeed, Chief Newsham agrees with this assessment as well, telling the Washington City Paper, “I don’t think anyone who knows anything about crime would agree that more police equals less crime….  Does the city want to pay for 4,200 officers when we don’t need them? It’s a tax strain, and there are strategies to reduce crime other than to say let’s hire a bunch of cops. … I’m not so sure a lot of thought went into the plan that was laid out.”  Jeffrey Anderson, Vince Gray Being Shameless, Washington City Paper, Jan. 30, 2017, at http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/city-desk/article/20850462/vince-gray-being-shameless.

[9] “WSIPP’s mission is to carry out practical, non-partisan research at the direction of the legislature or the Board of Directors. WSIPP works closely with legislators, legislative and state agency staff, and experts in the field to ensure that studies answer relevant policy questions.” Washington State Institute on Public Policy, http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/About

[10] The District of Columbia Crime Policy Institute (DCPI) was an institute previously established at the Urban Institute in collaboration with the Brookings Institution with funding from the Justice Grants Administration.  DCPI was a nonpartisan, public policy research organization focused on crime and justice policy in Washington, DC. DCPI’s mission was to support improvements in the administration of justice policy through evidence-based research.  A sampling of reports published by DCPI can still be found on the Urban Institute website: http://www.urban.org/search?search_api_views_fulltext=%22dc%20crime%20policy%22.    


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