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Mayor Bowser's Public Safety Speech

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Public Safety Speech as Delivered

Former Malcolm X Elementary School


Good morning, everybody. And welcome to Congress Park in the great Ward 8. In the great Ward 8!

I want to thank Councilmember LaRuby May who brings energy, passion, accountability to her work in delivering services, opportunity, vision and hope to the people of Ward 8.

Thank you, Councilmember May.

I want to thank you, Delores, for being the grandmother for everyone.

I want to thank you for looking out for the community, being that trusted voice and face, being the hug or the nudge when needed, and I want to thank you for standing up for Congress Heights and the people of this great neighborhood.

Many of you will recall that during my State of the District Address I pledged, and I mean, that we will take concrete steps to make “Black Lives Matter” more than just a hashtag.

In our seven and a half months in office, we’ve started the job and I pledge to you today that we’re going to finish the job.

We put, as the Councilmember said, and I want to thank my friends on the Council who supported us in doing this, in expanding Marion Barry summer youth program so that it could help more people, the 22 to 24 year olds.

We opened up for the first time our fire academy that’s been closed for more than eight years.

We committed to a college preparatory training for our boys so that they can achieve every opportunity in the District of Columbia.

We are giving adults a fair shot in a career in public services.

You’ve heard me call it the DPW and DGS Academy, and in our first 100 days, we started the LEAP academy to give people a chance for a good-paying job.

We created, as I promised, the Deputy Mayor for Greater [Economic] Opportunity. The Deputy Mayor’s job is to grow and spread the prosperity of our city to all eight wards of the District of Columbia.

And today, we will discuss how we can make our neighborhoods safer and stronger.

We gather here at the old Malcolm X School in Ward 8 – an area that has experienced nearly twice as many homicides this year than last.

Some critics have said that today’s event will be about arresting black men.

I’m here to tell you that’s not why we’re here.

We’re not here to talk about arresting black men, but how we can save their lives.

I am joined by members of our community. I am joined by the metropolitan police cadets. Let’s give them a round of applause.

Each of these people has committed in one way or the other to making life better in their communities in the District of Columbia as a whole. I was here in Congress Park just last week after a minor conflict between children tragically led to an illegal gun being used to kill a mother and injure her child.

I said then and I will repeat today, that it was one of the saddest days of my life.

As I met with residents, I not only asked them what I could do to make the neighborhood safer, they asked me what we could do together. They wanted a way out, they wanted a fresh start – even if that meant leaving their homes.

I am so pleased and I know I speak for the members of the Council in saying that this government wants to make sure that not only the residents of Congress Park, but every District resident, have a safer and stronger neighborhood.

I want to acknowledge the presence of the chairman of the Council, Phil Mendelson.

The Ward 4 Councilmember, Brandon Todd.

The Ward 7 Councilmember, Yvette Alexander.

At-Large Councilmember, Vincent Orange.

…who have joined Councilmember LaRuby May in making sure that Ward 8 and Congress Park has everything that they need.

I want to tell the people of Congress Park, I heard you.......I stand with you ……and we stand with  every neighborhood and every family who has suffered because of violent crime.

This year, the District has experienced 103 loses due to murder.

We have experienced the same spike in homicide that is happening in many cities across our country.

But that shared experience doesn’t and shouldn’t ease our pain. We refuse to let the District succumb to this national trend.

Every life is precious.

Every loss is intolerable.

And we will not sit by while these tragedies happen in our neighborhoods.

I know that people want answers. Why is this happening? Why now, and who is responsible? What is responsible?

I want to assure you that my Administration operates with this principle, we will be open and we will be transparent and we will tell the truth.

And here’s the truth. There is no easy answer. Many have died because of conflicts between family members, neighbors, friends even. Fights over senseless things – bruised egos, perceived slights that lead to tragedy because of an illegal gun.

We’ve seen fatal flare-ups between decades-old rivalries between neighborhoods where a single street fight can quickly escalate to back and forth gun battles

There has been a uptick in the use of synthetic drugs – not synthetic marijuana, but synthetic drugs that inhibit judgment and can lead to violence in people. 

We also know there are a small number of repeat violent offenders who get out of jail and within a short period of time commit their next violent crime or become victims of violent crime themselves.

We face complex challenges, which is why I stand here not to give you half-truths or over simplified answers.

Despite what some may have you believe, there is no single reason or a single solution. Never has been. Never will be.

Paying lip service to these issues is not leadership, so my Administration has taken a multi-faceted approach to make the District of Columbia safer.

With the leadership of Chief Lanier, the bravery of our police officers, the support of the Council of the District of Columbia, the assistance of our federal partners – like, another son of Washington, US Attorney Vincent Cohen – and the help of this community and others – we have responded swiftly and forcefully.

And let me be clear,  after 25 years of policing these streets, deploying officers and strategies, building a force of highly qualified officers and police leaders, in the good times and the tough times, too,  I have every confidence that Chief of Police Cathy Lanier will lead us through this spike in crime too.

Thank you, Chief.

So let me tell you what we’ve done:

We’ve put more officers on the streets – especially in communities that have been hardest hit by crime. By using overtime, we have 182 more officers on the streets, in the city’s most vulnerable areas.

Additionally, we have 235 officers working 12-hour shifts who focus on narcotics…


I’m happy to talk to everybody, but right now we’re going to talk about our plan.

That’s what we are going to talk about right now.

So additionally, we have 235 officers working 12-hour shifts who focus on narcotics, gangs, and illegal guns.

Since mid-June, we have deployed and devoted more than one million dollars to police in overtime.


Now, I’m going to talk about our plan and I’m also going to talk about what we can do with the community. Who is with me? Who is with me? Who is with me?

Who’s with me?

Who’s with me?

Who’s with me?

Who’s with me?

Who’s with me?

Who’s with me?

Who’s with me?

So I am going to continue to talk about our plans.

We’re going to thank everybody for their feedback and we will have an opportunity to listen, but if you cannot – but if you do not listen you will not know what the plan is.

So here is the rest of the plan.

So we have ramped up our efforts to find and arrest criminals, and take away their firepower. We continue to have a higher closure rate than most cities our size.  And from June 1st to August 10th, MPD took 435 illegal guns off our streets.


Now, I’m happy to listen to everybody, but if you believe and you want to make sure our policies support all of our citizens, I would suggest that you listen.

Let me repeat the message about the illegal guns that Delores talked about.

Since June 10th, we took 435 illegal guns off our streets.

This summer alone we have developed new tools to fight synthetic drugs.

We have called upon our federal partners to stand with us to make our neighborhoods safe.

I have proposed – and I will deploy – the most comprehensive police body worn camera program in the nation!

We enlisted the support of District residents to fight crime.

When I asked you to spread the word about synthetic drugs, you did it.

When I asked you for tips on illegal guns, you called. You texted.

And when I asked you for information on homicides, you helped MPD close these cases.

And that is the information that the community and the police need. So we are acting with vigor. We are making progress. But my public safety team, under the leadership of Deputy Mayor Donahue, is constantly looking for tools and tactics to fight crime.

We are putting every possible resource into getting ahead of crime, stopping crime when it happens, and bringing criminals to justice.

And as we approach the legislative session, my immediate priority is to implement a comprehensive public safety agenda.

I will put a number of measures in front of the Council of the District of Columbia when they reconvene on September 15th.

I will look to the public and the Council to be an active partner in shaping the legislation.

So you see, my friends say, Ward 8 matters. You think they got to tell me that?

You think they got to tell me that?

I’m going to tell you… I promised the people of Ward 8, they wouldn’t see me every now and then, they wouldn’t see me just at election time, but they would see me every time it counts.

And so I got to tell you, one thing about Muriel Bowser… she does what she says she is going to do.

I do not expect the Council of the District of Columbia to adopt every single word of my proposals, because we know that’s not the way the legislative process works. I briefed the chairman of the Council, the chairman of the judiciary and a number of members of the Council on the broad elements of my agenda. And I want to thank them for their leadership and partnership with this Administration to make sure we move expeditiously to make our City safer.

And I will tell you… every element of what I will propose will not be easy. And I will tell you, I will not be shouted down or scared away when it comes to the safety of the people of the District of Columbia.

I didn’t get elected mayor because I’m scare to make tough decisions.

And I didn’t get elected mayor because I’m scared to do everything possible to spread prosperity across this District of Columbia.

Now, this public safety agenda will not be just words on paper. It will be backed by a $15 million budget package that I will propose to the Council in a Supplemental budget.

OK. Four things.

First, we will put more officers on the streets.

I am willing to spend the money needed to ensure sufficient police presence to respond to this uptick in crime.

I will authorize more overtime funding necessary to sustain the presence for as long as it takes.

Whenever prudent, we will use civilians instead of police to perform administrative duties. We will explore every opportunity to move cops from a desk to a police beat.

We will use financial incentives to retain our most experienced officers and attract new ones, too.  

Like a lot of organizations, our police department is experiencing a retirement bubble made acute by the time it takes to recruit, vet and train qualified police. 

We funded and we’re working with the police union to retain more officers.

Second, we will ensure our police officers have every tool to prevent crime in our community.

MPD relies heavily on information from the public to solve crimes. I am proposing an incentive program to grants businesses, homeowners and churches so that they can install crime cameras to keep us safe.

And to give our police the information that they need and prosecutors the evidence that will help bring people to justice.

I am investing more resources in the Department of Forensic Sciences.

More crime investigators, prioritizing the closure of homicide cases will lead to justice for residents of the District of Columbia.

In addition, we will expand our law enforcement’s access to data from

GPS trackers to make sure we can keep people away from violent places.

Third, we will….

And this, I know everyone wants to hear.

We will increase the penalty for anyone who commits a violent crime in our public transit system… for any crime in our parks and recreation centers.

When you get on a metro bus, when you ride the metro train, when you come to our parks and recreation centers, you should not take your life in your hands.


And like I said, I will not be shouted down because I am telling the truth. It is time to draw a line in the sand.

Who’s with me?

Who’s with me?

Who’s with me?

Mr. Puryear, you may not stand there, sir.

You may not stand there, sir.

Mr. Puryear, you may not stand there, sir.

Here’s the fourth thing.

Number four, as I said, a small number of people… a small number of people…


…the people of the District of Columbia want to make sure that a small number of people will not disrupt our peace.

Nearly half of the individuals arrested for homicides in 2015 had prior gun-related arrests. 

And at least 21 of those arrested for homicide this year were on parole, probation or awaiting trial.

If an individual is on parole, probation for committing a violent crime, we should do all we can to make sure that they have no access to a gun.

No access to a gun.

And if we do find an illegal gun in their living quarters then we need to be able to bring the full weight of the law to bear and send them back to jail.

Now, let me tell you what my proposal will do.

There have been erroneous reports, you notice that they don’t want you to hear the truth. They don’t want you to hear about the law I’m proposing. But I’m going to tell you anyway.

There have been erroneous reports in the media that we want to give the police unfettered authority to basically search anyone, anytime, anywhere.

That is blatantly false.

First of all, this proposal is to search for illegal guns. It only relates to individuals who have been convicted of a violent crime - like murder, armed robbery, or sexual assault. 

Let us be clear. This is not stop-and-frisk.  My proposal restricts searches solely to the living quarters of individuals convicted of violent crime.

Let me now talk about what we want to do for our communities and our families who are hurting.

We are doing the things we need to do to fight crime and we do them. But we know that fighting crime is only a part of the solution.

In the next few weeks, I will bring proposals to the Council that will increase the employment readiness of our returning citizens and strengthen community and police relations

By doing things like eliminating pretextual traffic stops and amending the misdemeanor assault on police officer law, we will reduce conflicts between the community and the police.

We also need to support our communities like Trinidad and Congress Heights and Benning Terrace and Woodland Terrace that have seen significant violence. And we need these communities to heal and address the root causes of violence.

In the coming week we will initiate a neighborhood-focused approach that expands the community stabilization. We will help families and we will help entire neighborhoods. We will fully leverage employment services, social services to families who need it. We will work to implement obstacles for ever single family. We are going to do our part and we want families to step up and do their part, too.

Now, we know that government can’t heal a community alone. We will offer grants to accountable community organizations and nonprofits and trusted effective individual community members who join us. These grants will be driven by our priorities and will be designed to strengthen each community’s capacity to meet its own needs.

We are here at Malcolm X School because Delores when we were in Congress Park people said that there was no recreation, no opportunity, and there is a shuttered school across the street, that’s what they told me. And I said with Councilmember May’s support, direction, pushing, advocacy… that we would reopen the old Malcolm X School as a temporary pop-up facility where people who want to heal, where people who want opportunity will come through these doors.

Now, we’re having a tough time right now, D.C… But Washington, D.C. is a resilient city. We are growing and we are thriving. But not for everyone.

I tell you often my family has been here for five generations through the good times and the bad ones, too. And I can tell you firsthand we are nowhere near the bad old days of the ‘90s and we’re not going back there, either.

Anybody who would suggest otherwise would be appearing to breathlessly ignore the facts.

We have concentrated problems and we will have concentrated solutions.

So everything on my agenda, and I know you’re going to fight with me, is focused on improving opportunity for residents of the District of Columbia.

Are we going to have to have a lot of conversations? You bet we will.

Are we going to have to listen to divergent views? I always have.

Are we going to have to make tough decisions? That’s why you elected me mayor.

And that’s my job and I’m going to do it.

God bless you, Ward 8.

God bless you, Ward 8.

**End of remarks**