Crime On and Around Capitol Hill Takes Center Stage at Longworth Briefing
WASHINGTON — Washington, D.C.’s, frustration with rising crime was taken up in Congress Monday when federal officials held a briefing to warn staff members about their personal safety.
The crime that already has claimed victims among Capitol Hill staffers also is driving arguments between Congress and city officials about how to handle it.
In February, Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., suffered minor injuries when a man assaulted her in the elevator of her apartment building.
“This morning a man, who is believed to be homeless, hit the congresswoman and grabbed her neck while she was in the elevator of her Washington, D.C., apartment complex,” local police said in a statement after the attack. “The congresswoman received a minor injury to her chin.”
More serious injuries were suffered by an aide to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., just over a month later as he walked along a downtown sidewalk. He was stabbed multiple times, causing what police said were “life-threatening injuries.”
The attacks were mentioned by Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wisc., in the U.S. Capitol’s Longworth Building during the briefing Monday on “best practices, safety tips, and precautions.” Other presentations were given by representatives from the House sergeant-at-arms, Capitol Police and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Union.
“Violent crime is up 39%, 5,000 cars have been stolen this year, an average of 20 to 25 a day, and there have been 190 homicides so far this year,” Steil said in a statement. “The reality is crime is skyrocketing in D.C., and it is impacting all who live and work on Capitol Hill.”
Outrage over how the D.C. Council is handling crime spilled over into one of the rare vetoes by Congress of local legislation in March.
Congress voted to disapprove a D.C. criminal code reform bill that reduced some criminal penalties and expanded rights to jury trials for misdemeanor charges. The District of Columbia Home Rule Act of 1973 gives Congress a right to veto bills passed by the D.C. Council.
It was the first congressional resolution to overturn a local law in more than 30 years. It also led Republicans to call for closer congressional oversight of the District of Columbia.
Some Democrats in the heavily Democratic District of Columbia joined in voting for the congressional resolution.
The local criminal code reform bill “sends the wrong signal” about crime, said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.
As the backlash continues against local officials, a member of the D.C. Council on Monday proposed another round of crime-fighting measures. Like other get-tough campaigns against crime, it prompted lawyers to caution about potential civil rights violations.
The proposals from D.C. Councilmember Brooke Pinto, chairwoman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, include a provision to allow police to randomly search persons on pretrial release who are charged with violent offenses. Random searches also would be allowed for persons on parole, probation or court-ordered supervision.
It drew a quick warning in a letter from D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Anita Josey-Herring and Court of Appeals Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby. The letter said “the proposed legislation appears to violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on warrantless searches of individuals without probable cause.”
Pinto says dangers created by crime leave no better options.
“We are experiencing a crisis of violence in the district, and we must address the gaps in our legal system in order to prevent the proliferation of violence in our communities,” she said in a statement. “Too many of our residents are afraid.”
Other provisions of Pinto’s “Secure DC Plan” would increase police surveillance in densely trafficked areas and impose more restrictions and penalties for gun crime convictions.
During the Capitol Hill security briefing, the chairman of Washington’s police union blamed the D.C. Council for contributing to crime by placing too many restrictions on police. They include greater chances for discipline in cases of police misconduct and bans on controversial tactics.