Under the Home Rule Charter, the Council has two main ways of passing legislation—a fast way, and a more lengthy way. It appears that both methods will be brought to bear in regards to emergency police and justice reform legislation in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the national movement around police reform.
At its most recent Legislative Meeting, the Council unanimously passed an emergency police and justice reform bill, the details of which will be discussed below. Emergency bills–which are used to tackle items that are time-sensitive—do not require that a hearing be held, must pass by a super-majority, remain effective for 90 days and become effective immediately once signed by the Mayor, and without the need for Congressional review.
Permanent legislation, on the other hand, moves slowly by design. Such bills are subject to a hearing to receive public input, a committee discussion and vote, and approval by the full Council at not one but two Legislative Meetings.
In regards to the police and justice reform legislation passed at the most recent Legislative Meeting, both the emergency and permanent legislative processes will seemingly be invoked, and the benefits of each scenario will be maximized. Given the urgent need, and intense public demand for action, emergency legislation was the appropriate first step. The absence of a hearing on the topic was mitigated by the fact that most if not all of the reforms included in the bill had either previously been discussed at length in the past on the Judiciary Committee level, and/or they were best practices borrowed from other municipalities. Regardless, when the permanent legislation comes up for consideration, there will be extensive opportunity for all those concerned, from the police to the public, to speak out on all details of the bill.
Regarding the bill’s content, as passed, the measure:
- bans chokeholds and neck restraints by police and special police
- requires the release, within 72 hours, of body-worn camera footage after any officer-involved death or serious use of force, requires release of footage from past shootings, and bans officers from reviewing it prior to drafting crime reports
- prohibits use of tear gas, pepper spray, riot gear, rubber bullets and stun grenades by MPD (or federal police while on non-federal land) in response to First Amendment protests
- bans the hiring of officers fired for (or who resigned facing charges of) police misconduct or other serious disciplinary measures
- modifies the composition of the Police Complaints Board, moving from a five-member board with one Metropolitan Police Department representative, to a nine-member board with one member from each Ward, plus an at-large member, and no police representatives
- repeals the District’s mask ban legislation
- creates a 20-member Police Reform Commission
- requires that all MPD personnel working at a First Amendment protest wear identification indicating they are with local (as opposed to federal) law enforcement
- ensures the right to a jury trial in cases where assaulting a police officer is alleged
- limits and details what constitutes unlawful police use of force, and how it will be dealt with
- bans MPD from purchasing military equipment from the federal government
- requires the Department of Corrections to provide voter registration forms, voter guides, and absentee ballots to everyone in the Department’s care
- requires the Department of Corrections to conduct a weekly review of all those in its care to determine who might be ready to transition to home confinement
- clarifies that collective bargaining agreements cannot be used to shield employees from accountability and discipline
- requires additional training of officers on topics including racism and white supremacy
Bridging the gap between rapid-but-short-lived emergency legislation and long-lasting permanent legislation is what’s called “temporary legislation.” It requires two votes, and is in effect for 225 days. Like permanent legislation, it must passively lay over before Congress. A few proposed amendments to the emergency police and justice reform legislation needed further review and refinement prior to possible inclusion in a final bill. If the details on these amendments can be worked out, the changes could be incorporated in the bill prior to the second vote on the temporary version of the bill, and/or in the permanent bill.
Questions regarding the size of the police force, and potential budget cuts or transfers to further emphasize the Council’s past support for viewing crime prevention and violence interruption as public health measures, were largely postponed until they could be addressed as part of the ongoing budget process, which will culminate in final votes in late July.