The D.C. City Council passed a $15 million cut to the Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) funding in a unanimous vote on July 23 as a part of the city’s $16.8 billion 2021 budget, with a large portion of the funds redirected towards non-police public safety measures.
The Council’s MPD cuts come as the Black Lives Matter movement and protests in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police have increased public awareness about police brutality and perceived overreach nation-wide. Since June, activists have called on major metropolitan areas such as D.C. to “defund the police,” a call which includes reallocating money from heavily-funded police budgets towards more targeted social welfare programs.
Approved by the city’s Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety on June 25, the budget proposal would increase funding for the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement which seeks to establish community-based violence prevention efforts, social work programs, and gun violence prevention efforts. The committee has also approved other measures to increase police oversight, including an amendment to limit the police chief to a single four-year term.
The MPD budget cut faces opposition from Chief of Police Peter Newham and Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose proposed budget in May includes a 3.3 percent increase in funding from the $559.5 million currently allocated to the department for 2020. The MPD is currently operating at $41.4 million over its approved 2020 budget.
According to Bowser, the expected reduction in MPD funding and increased police accountability measures are unnecessary due to MPD’s move towards community policing and other reforms. She also cited concerns that the budget cuts would result in the loss of 250 officers out of the over-3,800-person department.
Although the Mayor cannot line-item veto sections of the Council’s budget, she has requested a review of the cuts from the city’s independent Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt. Based on D.C.’s budget rules, the CFO must be able to certify that the annual budget is fiscally sound.
In response to a projected revenue shortfall due to negative financial impacts of COVID-19, the budget also includes measures such as an increase in gasoline taxes, the elimination of certain tax breaks, and decreased spending on social services. A proposed three percent tax on advertising sales was not included in the Council’s final budget following heavy opposition from business groups and media outlets.
Barring a reversal of the cuts after the CFO’s review, Thursday’s budget vote solidified $8.6 billion of the city’s total 2021 budget. The Council is expected to have a final vote on the remaining $8.2 billion of the budget on July 28.