Community members will have an opportunity to discuss support for police funding at the September 10th meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6A. Residents aired concerns on the issue at a meeting of an ANC committee that recommended the matter be added to the September agenda.
The discussion was prompted by a letter to DC Council supported by ANC 6A at their June 11 meeting. The letter, dated June 14, outlined ANC support for “a modest budget increase” for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), opposed calls to defund the police and argued that a fully-staffed and well-trained department are essential to a safe and just community.
ANC 6A residents said they were surprised by the letter, which many learned about from the Hill Rag report on the June meeting.
“I was disappointed and angry that following weeks of protests against MPD violence, led by Black DC residents, as well as an unprecedented surge in support for defunding the MPD, my ANC would write such a letter,” said ANC 6A resident Madeline Gitomer.
Gitomer said she and other constituents attended the next monthly meeting of ANC 6A, held July 9th, to voice their concerns but were placed on mute and not given time to speak.
Community Listening Session
In response to these concerns, the ANC Community Outreach Committee (COC) hosted a ‘community listening session’ August 24 to discuss resident concerns in an extended fashion. According to attendees, a dozen or so residents participated in the meeting, expressing views on the letter and sharing experiences with MPD and observations of police behavior.
Commissioner Mike Soderman (6A03), who proposed the funding letter in June, said that the lack of comment on the letter was an error, which he attributes to unfamiliarity with online meeting platform Webex as well as to time management. “It wasn’t done intentionally,” he said, “it was done because we ran over [time] and there was a mistake.”
After the August 24 meeting, the COC committee recommended that the topic be added to the agenda for the Sept. 10 meeting, and that the commission “provide adequate time for Commissioners to comment on input from residents.”
The committee also recommended that the ANC consider drafting a follow-up letter to the DC Council to include comments from residents “that outlines what investments should be prioritized by the DC Council for any funding adjustment,” and that the commission allow for a 30-day comment period for other residents to share written comments related to this topic.
Questions from the Community
Commissioner Sondra Phillips-Gilbert (6A07) was unable to participate in the June 11th meeting or the vote on the letter held at the meeting due to technical issues. She said that as a result, she had no idea that the public was not given a chance to comment on the letter until she began to receive constituent comment on the letter and the lack of notice.
Phillips-Gilbert said that she would have preferred the ANC hold a Special Call meeting of the full commission, rather than referring the matter to a committee. That’s because the full commission could have voted immediately on any business at an August meeting, she said, whereas any recommendations COC committee made would only be voted on when the committee report was considered by the ANC in September.
Phillips-Gilbert said that the ANC should have directly heard the concerns of constituents. “It is not the COC Chair’s responsibility to hear and address our constituents’ concerns, nor is it fair to her and her Committee Members to be placed in the line of fire to answer questions from the community,” Philips-Gilbert said.
However, Soderman said that the COC committee was the best forum for community members to voice their thoughts.
ANC 6A is among several commissions that conduct primary discussion of topics in committee, as opposed to before the full commission. Soderman said this allows commissioners to be more efficient in their consideration of business, and that the COC was also the most appropriate forum because the committee could devote more time to the discussion than could be allocated at a meeting of the full commission, when commissioners tackle a much longer list of business.
A possible follow-up letter is a matter for consideration by the entire commission, Soderman said, adding that he is interested in having a discussion about what such a letter might say. He acknowledges that there is a need to re-examine the ways that police are doing their jobs and room for adjustment.
Still, he points out that many of his constituents express a desire for police presence in the form of foot patrols and programs like the summer initiative. “When you call 911, who shows up every time?” Soderman asked. “Don’t we want them to feel that their community, when their doing their jobs well, is giving them full support?”
Soderman noted that that the June 14th letter expressed support for MPD funding, which the letter says is critical to retaining “the best, brightest and most ethical officers” as well as to providing “expensive and necessary” training. It also notes support for “efforts to improve mental health, housing and violence interuption and prevention services to help ensure better outcomes for those in crisis and to help reduce the burden on the police department” responding to those needs.
“I don’t believe that I would vote in favor of a letter to council that is different from the one we have already sent,” Soderman said.
‘Every Resident Should be Heard’
Kris Garrity, who was one of the signatories on a letter written by residents opposing ANC support for MPD funding, said the commission should allow every resident to be heard on Thursday.
“My expectation is that every member of our community who wants to comment is given the opportunity to do so,” Garrity said, “and that our community is not again silenced.”
“The letter that the commissioners have tentatively committed to writing should accurately represent the views of the community,” Garrity added, “and should demonstrate some serious self-reflection on the part of the commissioners.”
ANC 6A meets at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10 via Webex. Access details will be posted online at https://anc6a.org/community-calendar/. Learn more about ANC 6A, see past agendas, reports and video of past meetings as well as dates and access for future meetings by visiting https://anc6a.org/agendas/