ANC Commissioners from across the District hosted a frank online conversation Saturday about policing, with city officials and community activists inviting the public’s participation. Overall, more than 100 people joined the 90-minute Town Hall titled, “Reimagining Policing in the District of Columbia” via a Zoom webinar.
Commissioners, including Chander Jayaraman (Vice Chair, ANC 6B), Janice Ferebee (ANC 2F08), Ann Mladinov (3B01), Candace Nelson (ANC 4A06), Beverly Schwartz (2B08), Robert Branum (5E08); and 25 others met after the event to develop items to share with fellow commissioners, Mayor Muriel Bowser, and the DC Council.
“I think this is just the beginning of a movement to fundamentally reimagine the way policing works in the District of Columbia,” said Chander Jayaraman, one of the lead organizers of the event and a candidate for an at-large seat on the DC Council. “I think the public wants us to take up this challenge, during this pivotal moment in our history. This is a moment that we must not let slip away without action. The District of Columbia has the opportunity to be the national leader in racial justice and locally elected Commissioners stand ready to do our part to move this forward within our neighborhoods.”
The conversation ranged from the unique opportunity of the current political and social moment to how funding should be allocated for policing and other programs.
Kevin Donahue, deputy mayor for Public Safety and Justice shared that with planning, how 911 calls are dispatched – and who responds to them – that must evolve.
For example, when someone calls 9-1-1, the options are medical, fire or “everything else” which fall upon the police department. He added that some calls currently handled by police, could potentially become the responsibility of others.
Deputy Chief Robert Contee, a native Washingtonian who grew up in Carver Terrace and found a successful future by joining the police department, advocated for continuing and expanding the Metropolitan Police Department’s Cadet Training Program, which attracts young D. C. residents to the force, creating a stronger connection between police and the community they serve.
At-Large Councilmember Robert White, who championed for more non-police approaches, said the city is chasing violent crime.
“Crime in Black communities is so much higher than anywhere else,” White said. “There are reasons for that. And, unless you address those reasons, you’re going to be chasing that crime for the rest of your life…There isn’t any way we police ourselves out of that.”
Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen, Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety chair, spoke on the need to examine underlying causes of issues that require police intervention.
“Violence doesn’t come out of nowhere,” he said, adding that lack of safe housing, education, and jobs can be underlying causes. “There is a conversation to have around policing, but we have to recognize that in some of our Black neighborhoods, our biggest investments are in policing and jails,” said Allen.
Douglass Sloan, D.C. Chapter NAACP vice president agreed. “We are looking at a moment of sea change in America. It is crucial that we make every effort to implement concrete change…in our structures and policing,” said.