Our Reflections on Bowser’s Proposed MPD Budget Increases

March 31, 2022
Blog Post

Budgets are moral documents. They test our commitment to our professed values by asking us to go beyond rhetoric to commit real resources toward addressing the serious issues facing our young people, families, and communities. That is why it is so disappointing that Mayor Bowser has proposed increasing the Metropolitan Police Department’s budget by tens of millions of dollars and more than $22 million for a new bureau she’s calling family and youth engagement, but further militarizing community interactions is not the way to go. Given the size of budgets for essential youth-serving programs, those funds could make a meaningful and positive impact in people’s lives without further involving the police in everyday interactions, which will only lead to the further criminalization of Black and brown communities. Everyone deserves to feel safe and secure, and we must pursue strategies for safety that do not cause harm to Black and brown residents. Doubling down on failed tough-on-crime strategies, especially when we know full well the costs and consequences of this approach, merely recommits us to a model that doesn’t work.

The past two years have been particularly difficult for District residents, especially Black and brown families, who have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Already grave racial inequities have been exacerbated and if we are serious about addressing them, require us to make substantial, long-term investments, and policy changes, such as in economic opportunity, housing, and community safety. It’s true that there has been an uptick in carjacking and gun violence during the pandemic, and while it requires a serious response, expanding the police budget is not the right one. This pandemic is a once in a lifetime phenomenon that has caused incredible pain, suffering, and social dislocation. We should seek to alleviate this misery by investing in our people, not incarceration.

Research has shown that the more we invest in education and human services for local communities, the safer they become. Tough on crime approaches are also shown to lead to greater rates of incarceration and reverberate in ways that cause additional harm. This is true in the short and long run. Acknowledging this challenges us to break the habit of resorting to policing practices that do not make us safer. It also forces us to have a more nuanced understanding of what has driven the increase in some violent crimes and therefore think smarter about the types of solutions needed to address them. And if we’re honest along the way, it should also force us to confront our own moral crimes, ones that deny people access to housing, economic opportunity, and criminalize Black and brown communities.

The DC Council is now hard at work reviewing the Mayor’s proposed budget, and they have an opportunity and obligation to improve it. Fortunately, there are a variety of alternatives to over policing and over incarceration that the District can invest in. We must build on those programs and practices to create the future we want and deserve. Instead of growing the police budget and putting an additional 4,000 cops on the street, what if we invested the resources we need to provide jobs, afterschool and summer programs, behavioral health supports, and creative opportunities to our young people? Hire thousands of additional teachers, mental health professionals, social workers, and violence interrupters? We can rely on proven methods of promoting community safety that prevent crime, repair harm, and don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

Only by demanding a morally courageous budget, and reenvisioning public policy in areas such as community safety, education, the economy, and housing, can we achieve transformative change that will boldly move us towards an anti-racist DC.