Washington mayor backs police chief after union’s no-confidence vote

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser vowed support for the U.S. capital’s police chief on Monday after a police union voted that it had no confidence in her amid a sharp upturn in killings.

Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Bowser have come under increasing public pressure as killings surged this summer. The District of Columbia has recorded 105 homicides this year, the same number as in all of 2014.Bowser backed Lanier in a one-sentence statement after the city’s Fraternal Order of Police said 97.5 percent of officers who participated in an online poll voiced no confidence in her leadership. Less than a third of the union’s more than 3,600 members took part in the survey.“After 25 years of policing D.C. streets, deploying officers and strategies, and building a force of highly qualified officers and leaders, in the good times and the tough times, too, I have every confidence in Chief Lanier,” Bowser said.Lanier declined to comment on the union survey. “But I will defend the work of the members of this agency” and continue to provide reliable statistics that show that the department is effective, she said.Washington is among a number of big U.S. cities seeing an upturn in violent crime.

Nationally, crime rates hit half-century lows in 2013 after falling since the 1990s.Lanier and Bowser, a Democrat, have blamed the rise in crime in Washington on illegal guns in the wrong hands, greater use of synthetic drugs, and repeat violent offenders on the streets.In a statement on the online poll, the police union said officers were fed up by issues that included lack of manpower, inadequate pay increases and an inability to keep the city safe.Bowser outlined a $15 million program last week to combat crime in the city of 660,000 people.

Hundreds of officers were ordered onto streets over the weekend in an effort termed “all hands on deck.”Officers seized 34 illegal guns during the weekend, compared with seven in the same period last year, and violent crime fell 39 percent, Lanier said in her statement.Big-city police chiefs who met in Washington in August said homicides in 35 cities were up 19 percent on average this year.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Peter Cooney)