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D.C. City Council Passes Emergency Crime Bill

Norma Porter | 7/1/2009, 5:45 p.m.

The D.C. City Council held a vote on Tue., June 30 to address Mayor Adrian M. Fenty€s proposed gang injunction and the adoption of a curfew for teens ages 15 and under. The proposal was vetoed in a 10-3 vote.

The gang injunction proposal was a part of Fenty€s effort to fight crime in the District by allowing law enforcement officers to arrest and detain any youth who appear to be affiliated with a gang. In addition to being arrested, suspected gang members would also be placed on a gang-affiliated list for up to five years.

Many members of the Council opposed the gang injunction for fear that it would create an environment for racial profiling.

Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said she was in support of the gang provision.

€I believe that the usage of public nuisance law to enjoin gangs and gang members is an effective mechanism for standing up to people who will try to create distress and disorder in our society,€ Bowser said.

€Gangs do not simply go away. They will continue to grow and fester in communities to the point where parents are afraid to have their children play outside.€

Other portions of Fenty€s emergency crime bill were passed in a City Council vote held on Tue., Jan. 16. The bill will address repetitive convictions of violent crimes and regulate gun control. In addition, the legislation will make the third conviction of prostitution a felony, which could result in a maximum one-year sentence in a federal prison.

Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) supported the bill, and said that he gets frequent complaints from his constituents about prostitutes soliciting in neighborhoods.

€The prostitution areas have generally been downtown,€ Wells said. €Now we have a lot of construction and building in that area, so it has disrupted the prostitution there, so they have moved to 3rd, 2nd and K Streets in Northeast and the neighbors are really freaked out,€ Wells said.

Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), chair of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, said the Council and community organizations worked closely to form the bill with the hope of reducing crime in District communities.

€While crime easily lends itself to grandstanding and oversimplification, this legislation was the product of hours of testimony,€ said Mendelson, citing participation from the U.S. Attorney€s Office, the Attorney General€s Office, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, organized Labor, and other community groups.

€The bill provides MPD and the prosecutors with the tools they need to address crime and violence as we enter the summer. [The bill will] increase mandatory penalties for gun crimes, adding a gun offender registry, adding more tools to combat drive-by shootings, adding to the list of crimes where criminals can be held pre-trail, and stiffening penalties on chronic diseases,€ Mendelson said.

MPD Chief Cathy Lanier said she supported the Council€s decision to pass the bill.

€This bill addresses specific crimes that are impacting our communities,€ Lanier said. €We cannot afford to have the law lag behind the changing tactics criminals are using to commit crimes.€

The Emergency Crime Bill will be effective for 90 days. The Council is awaiting Fenty€s decision to approve the bill or veto it and introduce a modified version of the bill.