Welcome to our new Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety newsletter. My name is Brooke Pinto and I have the honor of serving as the Ward 2 Councilmember and the Chairwoman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, which has oversight over our public safety agencies, including the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE), and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), as well as issues affecting public safety and our criminal justice system.
Serving as the chairwoman of this committee is a role I take incredibly seriously – I believe that public safety is the number one issue facing our city and nothing is more important than ensuring all residents and visitors can be safe in DC. The purpose of this newsletter is to keep you informed on what I am doing on the Committee to address violence and crime and provide information for how you can get involved and receive city services if necessary. I hope that you will find it informative and instructional -- together I know we can make our communities and our city safer and more just.
I want to take this first opportunity to share my top priorities for the committee this year:
We have three primary mechanisms to achieve these goals:
Our first priority as a Committee is addressing gun violence. Gun violence is at epidemic levels in the District and many of our communities are awash with — often illegal — guns. We cannot allow another generation of young people to grow up traumatized by gun violence or another generation of parents to live in constant fear for their children.
That is why I am holding an emergency three-day public roundtable on gun violence on March 3rd, 4th, and 6th to bring together the community, government agencies, and experts to discuss solutions and opportunities for coordination to prevent and respond to gun violence. The goal of this event is to hear directly from you about how gun violence is impacting your life and what you want to see implemented to address the crisis and bring our government partners and experts to the same table to focus on immediate solutions. You can sign up to testify on Zoom (March 3rd) or in person at Anacostia Neighborhood Library (March 4th) here.
I hope you will join us for these important conversations. Please let us know your thoughts on this newsletter and what updates you would like to see included by emailing us at email@example.com. For more information about the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety you can visit my website at www.brookepintodc.com/judiciary-and-public-safety.
Throughout February, the Committee has held performance oversight hearings on all of the agencies under our purview. This is when I call all our public safety agencies in for hearings so the Council can hold them accountable to the public, determine what additional supports or resources they need, and learn of any problems that need legislative fixes through public testimony. Performance oversight is also the first step in the budget process. In late March, we will receive the Mayor’s budget proposal and begin budget oversight, which is designed to focus more narrowly on meeting with agencies to understand what resources they need to be successful and ensure adequate funding is appropriated in the budget. The oversight process can be confusing so we created this graphic to help outline the process:
I hope that you will join me at the Committee’s hearings on the budgets for each of the agencies under its purview, which include MPD and our violence interruption programs, to share your thoughts on how the Committee and the Council should invest in public safety, our criminal justice system, and courts.
Last week, we held two incredibly important hearings on the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
MPD’s OVERSIGHT HEARING: In my performance oversight hearing with MPD, we discussed staffing shortages and what they need to fully respond to the needs of DC residents. I hear consistently from the community that they want to see more police presence in their communities. I am committed to providing MPD with the resources and support they need to hire more officers and address staffing shortages, and I also called on Chief Contee to ensure officers are out on the street and out of squad cars, engaging with the community. I will continue to follow up on this urgent public safety need and work collaboratively with the Chief and MPD to find innovative solutions to build up our police force.
We also discussed holding the police accountable to the community. I asked Chief Contee about a number of unsafe police practices and his plans to address them. I will continue to follow up to ensure dangerous practices are not being used. Our police cannot do their jobs unless they are respected and trusted by the community and I will continue working with MPD to help build trust and maintain crucial relationships with the community.
OAG’s OVERSIGHT HEARING: District youth across the city are doing amazing things – in academics, the arts, athletics and so many other activities. However, we must ensure that the small number of youth who are engaged in illegal activity are held accountable and put on a better path. In DC, OAG is responsible for prosecuting young people who are arrested for breaking the law. After an arrest, it is OAG’s job to decide whether there is enough evidence to prosecute. During OAG’s performance oversight hearing, I asked Attorney General Schwalb about his office’s engagement with youth who are accused of breaking the law - specifically, how his office makes those key decisions. I will continue pressing OAG for as much transparency and sharing of data as possible so the public has direct insight into how charging decisions are made and when and why certain cases are not pursued.
Yesterday was our last performance oversight hearing. We heard from a number of crucial agencies, including the Office of Unified Communications (OUC) which runs our 911 operations. I asked the new Acting OUC Director Heather McGaffin about the progress OUC has made towards remedying internal and training procedures to ensure that mistakes are not made. You can watch recordings of all of the performance oversight on my YouTube page.
FOX5: DC's new attorney general outlines plan for public safety. "D.C.'s new attorney general, Brian Schwalb, testified Wednesday in his first public safety committee performance oversight hearing since taking office.”
WUSA9: DC council to hold public safety hearing. “'I feel a huge sense of responsibility and obligation with this committee. Public safety is top of mind for D.C. residents in every one of our eight wards,’ Pinto said. ‘And it's really important that we engage in proper coordination and oversight to make sure that the investments that we have made as the city are working, and that they're working in concert. And that's one of my key focuses for chairing this committee.’”
Washington Times: D.C. mayor’s amended criminal code rewrite to get committee hearing, public safety chair says. “’As I have said from the beginning, I will continue working with the Mayor to strengthen the legislation and give a full hearing to any proposed legislation regarding the criminal code that is presented to the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety,’ Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto said in a statement to The Washington Times.”
Law360: Inside The Fight To Update DC's Criminal Code. Under the District of Columbia's current criminal code, a set of statutory provisions cobbled together over 122 years, courts are left to define what constitutes offenses such as simple assault, and defendants face up to twice as much prison time for threatening to damage someone's property as for actually doing it. The code has been described as an unclear jumble of provisions enacted by local and federal lawmakers since 1901, but a group of lawyers, scholars and other experts have been toiling for a decade and a half on a wholesale upgrade. The reforms, known as the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022, are to go into effect in October 2025 and provide definitions and elements of each crime, update sentencing guidelines and generally modernize the code.