The Washington mayoral race is being driven by a surge of violent crime in the city with Democratic candidates pitching themselves as best equipped to restore law and order.
Mayor Muriel Bowser, who is running for a third term, has been touting her push to hire hundreds of additional police officers, as the rising crime rate depletes her approval rating among District residents.
“We and many cities across the country are facing spikes in violence, and we’re throwing every resource that we have into curbing that violence,” Ms. Bowser said in a recent interview with Axios.
Since 2021, overall violent crime rose 20% in Washington.
Last year, there were 1,233 reported violent crime incidents compared to 1,482 reported by May, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
Homicides rose by 4% with 70 reported in all of 2021 and 73 reported in the first half of 2022. Robberies went up by 47% with 578 reported last year, compared to 848 acts committed this year.
Ms. Bowse is facing three Democratic challengers in the city’s June 21 primary: attorney James Butler and City Council members Robert White and Trayon White.
Stacia Hall, a small business owner, is the sole Republican running for mayor.
The Democrats have all pitched their vision to enhance public safety in the city, though their solutions on how to mitigate the crime wave differ.
Ms. Bowser is touting her plan to expand the city’s police force with 347 more officers this year and she is offering incentives to retain at least 300 current officers.
She’s distanced herself from the far left’s calls to “defund the police” and has painted a vision for a more diverse police force with better relationships with the communities they patrol.
Part of her plan includes getting at least 30% of D.C. police to be women by 2030 — a 7% increase from the current level of female officers on the force.
Ms. Bowser’s campaign said her plan was the only one that sought to diversify and expand law enforcement which can help curb violent crime.
“All of the candidates agree that we must work together to connect residents to opportunities and to support violence interruption efforts, but voters have one candidate who is fighting to add more women and DC residents to the police department and that is Muriel Bowser,” her campaign said in a statement.
Robert White, who is an at-large council member, wants to fund crime prevention programs, create more affordable housing to mitigate the homeless population and invest in after-school programs for youth.
He also wants to hire more behavioral health specialists to intervene in crises often handled by police, expand mental health care, and foster better community relationships with law enforcement.
Trayon White said increased police would not resolve the high crime rate, promising to take a public health approach to the root causes of crime.
“I don’t believe the police are the end-all solution to addressing crime because that individual knows that something is about to escalate before the 911 call is made,” he told WAMU radio. “We have to empower our communities to police our own community and stand in the gap.”
Mr. Butler, an Ohio native with the least name recognition in the race, has run a tough-on-crime campaign, proposing hundreds of more officers to the city’s force.
Under Mr. Butler’s plan, some of the hired officers would intercept illegal and unregistered weapons, and his administration would create partnerships between the local force and federal agencies.
The Butler campaign said his goal is to make Washington one of the safest cities in the country.
“Mr. Butler is best suited to handle crime as the current mayor has shown she can’t reduce the rising rate in the past eight years,” the campaign said in a statement.
The city’s crime rate is also Ms. Bowser’s biggest liability in the race.
She had a 58% approval rating in February, which declined from the 67% she maintained in 2019, according to a Washington Post poll.
The poll, which surveyed 904 District residents between Feb. 2-14, also found that 36% of respondents felt that crime and violence were the biggest problems facing the city.
In 2019, just 18% of residents cited crime and violence as top issues.
Despite Ms. Bowser’s dip in popularity, 47% of residents said they would support the incumbent mayor if the election were held today, compared to 19% who would vote for Robert White and 17% who supported Trayon White.
The poll had an error margin of +/-4%.
Leann Matthews, 84, who lives in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, said crime is one of her biggest concerns, and she plans to vote for Ms. Bowser because she pushes for more police.
“There is a concern about crime in the city,” Ms. Matthews said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to defund the police. I would not support that.”