The DC Council established the Commission to help the Council better understand how to improve or find alternatives to policing in the District. We knew when we joined the Commission that meeting the Council’s call would require us to look far beyond policing for solutions. Our collective decades of experience working with city governments and advocating for change in policing taught us that cities – the District included – ask police to shoulder too much of the burden of meeting residents’ public safety needs. At the same time, we have observed our collective tendency to ignore the direct connection between community health and healing, and community safety and crime reduction, when we set public policy and pass city budgets. We began our work on this Commission already understanding that the task of policing as currently defined – using the coercive power of the criminal legal system to solve a host of public safety challenges – is literally impossible.
Not only is policing inadequate on its own to keep people safe, it too often causes undue harm in the precise communities it is nominally meant to protect.
In DC 2020, there were near-continual protests and a City Council hearing on the Metropolitan Police Department that elicited roughly 16,000 witness statements.
Long before the creation of the Metropolitan Police Department, a handful of constables patrolled the District’s streets. Among their explicit duties was the pursuit of “fugitive servants,” slaves who did not have permission from their owners to leave the plantation.
From the outset, we were animated by two fundamental questions: What really makes us safe? And what limited role should police play in the broad social project of nurturing safe and healthy communities?