Secure DC is now the law: here's what to know

THE SECURE DC omnibus crime bill (the “Crimnibus”) was passed 12-0 by the DC Council on March 5, 2024 (with Councilmember Trayon White voting Present). Its many repressive policies include:

  • Establishing drug-free zones: Cops can designate 1,000 square foot zones as “drug-free zones” and ask any group of two or more people to disperse immediately from these zones if suspected of engaging in a drug-related activity. Several people have already been arrested for refusing to disperse, and there are already concerns about abuse of police power. (Note: Drug-free zones were unanimously repealed by the Council in 2014 as unconstitutional. Councilmembers Mendelson, Bonds and Bowser all voted to repeal at the time.)
  • Metro fare evasion crackdown: If Metro Police stops you for fare evasion (a civil violation), and you refuse to give them your name and address, they can arrest you for the crime of not giving them your name and address. Citations for fare evasion tripled in the first week of the new law, and riders have already been arrested for the new crime.
  • Reestablishing a mask ban: You can be arrested if a cop thinks you’re wearing a mask with the intent to avoid identification while committing a crime – even though a cop has no way of knowing what you intend to do based on your appearance. At least one person has already been arrested under this new law. (Note: A similar mask ban was unanimously repealed by the Council after the 2020 racial justice uprisings.)
  • Enabling further police violence: Cops can restrict your movement using neck restraints that cause serious head, neck and spinal injuries – as long as air and blood flow are not affected. Cops can also engage in deadly high-speed car chases where they can ignore all traffic laws, even if the person they are chasing is likely to be seriously injured or killed. (Note: This rolls back a hard-won 2021 law put in place after police chases killed two young Black men, Karon Hylton-Brown and Jeffrey Price.)

Metro DC DSA’s Abolition Working Group, alongside a citywide group of allies called the Us Not Crimnibus coalition, was able to achieve some small but important wins that will help community members stay safe, including:

  • Maintaining felony theft thresholds: The original bill would have lowered the threshold for theft to be a felony from $1,000 to $500, even though DC already has the longest average sentence for burglary in the country. But the Council approved Councilmember Janeese Lewis George’s amendment striking this provision. This means that if someone steals a phone or a bike that is worth more than $500 but less than $1,000, they will not be charged with a felony or punished with up to 10 years in prison.
  • Maintaining police transparency: The original bill would have allowed MPD to remove cops’ names and badge numbers from public notices for police misconduct hearings, giving cops more privacy than the rest of us. But the Council approved Councilmember T. White’s amendment striking that provision. This means that the public will continue to know the names of cops who are reported for serious misconduct, including sexual assault, domestic violence and abuse of power.
  • Watering down the mask ban: Although the mask ban did become law, Councilmember Lewis George’s amendment prevents it from criminalizing those exercising their First Amendment rights or covering their faces for religious, health and safety reasons, as well as  other reasons not related to concealing identity. (However, cops are the ones who get to determine your intent.)
  • Sunsetting pretrial detention: The original bill would have permanently expanded pretrial detention – locking up more children and adults before they can have a trial. But the Council approved Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie’s amendment making the expansion of pretrial detention temporary. This means the expansion of pretrial detention will end after about seven or eight months. At that point, a study must demonstrate if pretrial detentions actually improve public safety. (Pro tip: they don’t.)
  • Limiting DNA collection: The original bill would have significantly expanded DNA collection in certain cases after a person is arrested. (Under the current law, DNA can only be collected after a person is convicted.) At first, the Council approved Councilmember McDuffie’s amendment striking this provision. But during the Council’s second hearing, it approved Councilmember Pinto’s amendment that allows DNA to be collected after a person is charged and there is a judicial finding of probable cause. While the change is still harmful, charging is later in the criminal process than arrest, so the change will likely impact fewer people than the original proposal.

Next steps: The Us Not Crimnibus coalition of DC civic groups have allied to fight this legislation. We are continuing to meet and are working to become a permanent voice for the creation of a new society, one without these authoritarian systems of policing. We are currently figuring out our next steps — both to combat future legislation and to generally dismantle the pro-police narrative being pushed in our city – by creating political education resources and attending and monitoring DC Council and local ANC meetings. 

We need all the help we can get. To get involved, fill out the Metro DC DSA Abolition Working Group Interest Form.

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