Washington D.C., police chief Robert Contee said law enforcement officials have issued warnings over the years that the loss of police officers would be problematic for the city, which has seen a recent spike in gun violence following "intentional efforts" to defund his department.
"This is something that we’ve been warning about for years," Contee told Fox News on Friday, following a news conference where he gave an update on a brazen double shooting in D.C.'s popular Logan Circle a day earlier that sent bystanders running for their lives. "We don't really have the ability to hire officers right now. We have a defined amount of resources to deal with a very large city that continues to grow."
Earlier in the week, he said the Metropolitan Police Department was down almost 215 officers. In July 2020, as calls to defund the police grew louder following the death of George Floyd, the department had 3,800 officers, he said.
By September 2022, the police force is projected to have around 3,460 officers.
In addition, last July, city leaders reduced police department funding by $15 million and issued a hiring freeze. Mayor Muriel Bowser's 2022 fiscal year budget didn't include extra funding for the department, though it had more than $40 million for public safety initiatives.
"There’s been intentional efforts to not provide the full resources, in my opinion, the police department needs," Contee said. "Right now we're in this budget season. The police department's budget should have been fully supported."
Washington is grappling with a series of high-publicized shootings in the past week, including Thursday's incident, gunfire outside Nationals Park and the killing of a 6-year-old girl.
The city reached 103 homicides Friday, up from 106 in the same time frame last year, according to police figures.
On Friday, the chief voiced his biggest criticism on the district's judicial system, which he said has released violent criminal suspects arrested during the COVID-19 pandemic into communities with GPS monitors while they await their trials.
"People have asked police to reform. That’s been posed to me for now for a year-and-a-half," he said. "I’m saying that we have to stretch beyond the police and look at the entire ecosystem to see what other things is everybody doing in the ecosystem to ensure that our communities are safe."
"It’s not just ‘What are the police doing?’" he added.
D.C. court spokesman Douglas Buchanan refuted Contee on Friday, arguing there was not a backlog forcing the release of violent criminal suspects being turned back onto the street. He noted only around 5% of felony cases make it to trial.
"There is not (a backlog)," he told Fox News. "That was the theme last night that we're trying to wrap our heads around … how we were dragged into this."
Currently, around 800 criminal suspects are being held in detention while awaiting trial since the beginning of the pandemic, Buchanan said.