DC ‘Police Reform Bill’ Would Redefine Assault On A Police Officer

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A D.C. councilmember wants to loosen restrictions on protesters and redefine what it means to assault a police officer after the Baltimore riots following the death of Freddie Gray.

Councilmember Mary Cheh, from D.C.’s very affluent third ward, will introduce the “Police and Criminal Discovery Reform Amendment Act of 2015″ during a council voting session Tuesday. She said will redefine the terms of assaulting a police officer.

Cheh said currently the terms of what it means to assault a police officer are too broad for a misdemeanor crime that can carry a penalty of six months in jail.

Gwendolyn Crump, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police Department, said in an email it has not seen the legislation yet, but police chief Cathy Lanier recommended at a council hearing last year to more narrowly define a misdemeanor assault on a police officer..

According to Cheh, even simple actions like a protester stiffening to avoid being handcuffed or a person holding a door closed to stop a police officer from entering a home can be considered assault.

“We must always provide safeguards to protect our officers, but the law should not be so broad so that nearly any encounter with an officer could be considered an assault,” Cheh said in a statement. “This bill would narrow the scope of the District’s APO statute by limiting the language to those individuals who deliberately assault an officer.”

“There is great frustration with a justice system that is intended to protect our residents but which is perceived by many to be unfair. This bill seeks to restore greater confidence in the criminal justice system,” said Cheh.

Cheh’s bill will also make more information available to the Office of Police Complaints, including the number, types and dispositions of citizen complaints and any information about discipline related to those complaints.

D.C. is in the midst of rolling out a body camera program for all officers on the force, though it has received some criticism lately because of language Bowser put in a budget rider bill that would make the footage exempt from all Freedom of Information Act requests.

Members of the American Civil Liberties Union recently said that without the video being obtainable by members of the public, it would be just another surveillance tool for police. However, the mayor said the FOIA exemption is about protecting the privacy of innocent bystanders.

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