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Friday, April 19, 2024

Allen Testimony at Wednesday House Oversight Hearing

On Wednesday, March 29, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) appears before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Accountability. The committee hearing on “Overdue Oversight of the Capital City: Part I,” will also hear from DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), DC Police Union President Greggory Pemberton and DC’s Chief Financial Officer Glen Lee. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) was not called to appear.

The hearing comes after Congress voted to repeal DC Council legislation that would have reformed the capital city’s criminal code and is set to vote on a disapproval resolution on a District Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Act. A Constitutional provision gives Congress authority over the federal district and oversight of the District’s laws and budget. But Congress has not used that authority to block a District bill since 1991.

The following is prepared oral testimony from DC Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6) before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Accountability for the hearing, which began at 10 a.m.

Watch the hearing here. Testimony can also be found on Allen’s website.

“Good morning, Chairman Comer, Ranking Member Raskin, Congresswoman Norton, and distinguished members of the Committee. I’m Charles Allen, and I represent Ward 6 on the Council of the District of Columbia. I’m currently the Chair of the Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment, but I served as the Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety previously. I’m assuming that’s why I’ve been invited today, and I’ll therefore speak mostly to public safety in my testimony.

The 13 members of the Council are elected to represent the nearly 700,000 DC residents who pay federal taxes, proudly serve in our nation’s military, and deserve full statehood, autonomy, and representation in Congress. I’m honored to represent my constituents and all those who call the District home. I echo what Chairman Mendelson outlined about how strong, how well run, and how vibrant the District is.

During my tenure as Chair, the Judiciary Committee passed more than 120 bills – many of which are listed in my written testimony – and held nearly 250 oversight hearings. Public safety was my top priority, with a focus on gun violence.

Public safety is also personal for me. I’m a gun violence survivor. I was the victim of an armed robbery, and the scar on the back of my head is an ever-present reminder. But the experience has also given me purpose and a real-world understanding of the urgency of preventing and reducing crime. It’s also part of why it was so hard to hear a member of the Majority say this week, following just the latest massacre of children in our country, that “we’re not gonna fix it”, and “I don’t see a real role that [Congress] can do”. That’s a heartbreaking perspective, but in an effort to be solution-oriented: I’d refer the Committee to the ten recommendations for congressional action at the end of my written testimony, some of which I’ll mention in a moment.

Despite a 39% reduction in violent crime and a 25% reduction in property crime during my time on the Council, we still have a lot of work to do. Many residents feel unsafe, and the District is experiencing persistent, troubling increases in two areas of violent crime in particular: homicides and carjackings. These trends are being seen nationwide, and the District is not immune. Forty lives have been taken due to gun violence this year, including five in my Ward. This. Is. Unacceptable.

Our strategy to reduce gun violence requires consistent and focused coordination between government and community. This involves what I call a “both/and” response. Successful interventions for the relatively small, identifiable group of people who are most at risk of committing or being victims of violence and crime will require both law enforcement and the other agencies that have roles to play in improving public safety, as well as the community. I believe police are central to ending gun violence. And people also need jobs, education, stable housing, mental health services…all the other components of successful participation in society. This isn’t radical. It’s realistic.

It’s also our reality that meaningful progress is confounded by the absurdity of the District’s criminal justice system – which is within Congress’s power to remedy. You couldn’t have designed a more complicated and unsafe system if you tried.

For example, we have a local police department, but almost all adult crimes are prosecuted by the federally appointed U.S. Attorney. This position is unaccountable to DC residents. We can’t control whether an arrest is papered or tried in court – frankly, we aren’t even respected enough to be told the outcome of a case on our block.

We also have no control over the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which has custody over residents sentenced for felonies. This is dangerous, because people are sent hundreds of miles away and disconnected from everything they need to reintegrate successfully once their sentence is complete. And when they do come home, DC isn’t notified, and they’re  most often placed under federal supervision unaccountable to us locally. You can act by conducting oversight on conditions of confinement in the BOP and helping us bring back residents in federal custody close to their release so we can better connect them with jobs and housing.

Further, our courts are run federally, and our judges are all federally appointed and federally confirmed. Congress can improve public safety by quickly confirming judges for our eleven vacancies. Meanwhile, evidence is growing stale, memories are fading, victims can’t get closure, the innocent are being jailed, and the guilty aren’t being held accountable.

Congress also must address gun trafficking. Illegal gun recoveries increased by 143% from 2013 to 2022. Our top five source states include Georgia and North and South Carolina, and we need leadership to stem the tide.

And lastly, don’t overturn critical legislation passed by the District’s duly-elected representatives. The Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act improves trust in law enforcement, which in turn, improves public safety. This is a commonsense bill. It prevents MPD from hiring officers who committed serious misconduct in other jurisdictions, requires deescalation training for officers to protect themselves and others, grows the Cadet Academy, and gives the Chief of Police the authority he needs to discipline for misconduct. He shouldn’t have to rehire officers he fired for sustained misconduct like child abuse, domestic violence, or sexual assault – at great expense to DC taxpayers.

To conclude: we’re making meaningful progress to reduce violence and crime in the District, in large part due to the unwavering commitment of the many residents in this room and watching at home today. [to residents in attendance:] I’m proud to represent you and call the District of Columbia my home.

Thank you to the Committee for your time, and I look forward to the conversation.”

Emphasis in remarks is in the original.

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