Jaffe: Council Chairman Phil Mendelson still hates cops

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Local,DC,Harry Jaffe

Toward the end of Monday's council hearing on automated traffic cameras, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson revealed his true colors on the matter of law enforcement.

Mayor Vince Gray has suggested that some of the millions of dollars extracted from speeding drivers be used to hire more cops and bring the number of sworn police officers up to 3,900.

Mendelson said he had never heard anyone recommend that many cops except for the police union. Actually, former Police Chief Charles Ramsey suggested the number years ago. And Mayor Gray's transition report on public safety recommended the city "commit to achieving and maintaining 4,200 active sworn officers." The D.C. police used to number 5,100.

In doubting the need for more police, Mendelson said "crime is going down" in the District. Perhaps stickups and burglaries are not a problem where the chairman resides along Wisconsin Avenue in Upper Caucasia. But in less prosperous sections of town, walking home from the bus can cost you a cellphone if not your life, gun crimes are rampant and sexual assaults are skyrocketing. The MPD reports that violent crime is up 7 percent citywide.

"That's categorically false," police union President Kristopher Baumann says of Mendelson's crime stats. He adds that Mendelson's legacy as chair of the council's

Judiciary Committee for the past few years "is that violent crime is as high as it is in D.C., while it's dropping around the country."

That might sound harsh, but Baumann is not alone in pegging Mendelson as lax on crime. His council colleagues and staffers say his coziness with the ACLU and public defenders has helped make the city safer for thugs.

At the moment, both judiciary and education are in the Committee of the Whole, under Mendelson's control.

That's about to change.

"I expect I will be giving up Judiciary," he tells me.

The most likely next leader of Judiciary is Mary Cheh. The Ward 3 council member is a lawyer and teaches constitutional law at George Washington University Law School. Neither necessarily qualifies her to run the committee that oversees the police and fire departments. Cheh's passions seem to run more toward making the city safe for robotic cars, getting organic food to school cafeterias and protecting wildlife. She did help Kathy Patterson, her council predecessor, investigate police after the cops botched the 2002 Pershing Park protests.

Cheh also lives in Upper Caucasia, not far from Mendelson. I worry that she doesn't appreciate the value of a robust police department. Does anyone on the council? Marion Barry, perhaps?

As for Mendelson's debunking of the need for more police, see Sacramento. Its shrinking budgets forced the city to cut cops, and criminals are taking over California's capital city.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonian.com.

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