Street Vending: Who Enforces What

Our community is understandably concerned about the rise in shoplifting over the past year, how this crime is being addressed, and the impact it has on our sense of safety and community. I take shoplifting and the reselling of stolen goods very seriously and have worked together with police, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, and business owners to address these issues.

There have unfortunately been efforts to misconstrue the role of a street vending law enacted in 2023 and whether it allows police to enforce laws against selling stolen goods. Let me be clear: police can and should enforce laws against shoplifting and selling stolen goods by any person or entity, including street vendors. I have spoken with the Mayor and I plan to provide support to the Metropolitan Police Department to ensure that officers are aware that the vending law does not prohibit them from addressing illegal activity.

The street vending law made no changes to the criminal code prohibiting retail theft (§ 22-3211), the sale of stolen goods (§ 22–3231), alcohol (§ 25-102), or other controlled substances (§ 48-903.01 et seq). These activities have always been illegal and enforceable by the Metropolitan Police Department, and MPD should continue to enforce them.

Street vending has been a part of the District’s economy since at least 1803. From 2008 to 2011, vendors were a common fixture at Unity Market in Adams Morgan’s Unity Park, including many vendors who now operate their businesses in Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant. Previous enforcement action against vendors typically only had the effect of relocating vendors to different areas around the city.

I introduced the Street Vendor Advancement Amendment Act passed unanimously and became law on July 1, 2023, to improve the management and organization of street vending, while preserving the vibrant culture and contributions of street vendors in Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, and diverse neighborhoods throughout the District. Street vendors sell cut fruit, hand-made goods, and other supplies; provide a service, pay taxes, and support their families. They contribute to the diverse cultural experience of living in the District and the unique character, especially, of Ward 1.

Councilmember Pinto’s Secure DC Omnibus bill – which encompasses dozens of elements from various pieces of legislation that have been working their way through the Council – includes provisions from the Mayor’s proposed ACT Now Act, which establishes a new offense of “Directing Organized Retail Theft.” This new offense goes after the organizers of retail theft and resale of stolen goods. I support this approach for its focus on organizers; going after small-time shoplifters is not going to solve the larger problem. My staff and I are also exploring other approaches to rein in the sale of stolen goods that were not part of the Mayor’s legislation.

Read more about my take on the Secure DC Omnibus.

In addition to these efforts on shoplifting, my Council colleagues and I are addressing the comprehensive challenges of public safety – through the omnibus bill and other legislation, including three pieces of legislation I put forward this Council period: one that would help police close more homicide cases by increasing rewards and witness protection for testimony in homicide cases; one that would bolster police recruitment through the Cadet Academy program; and one that would help fix 911 call center failures by diverting calls to Fire and Emergency Medical Services operators, allowing dispatchers to focus on getting police calls right.

I recently shared an update on the omnibus bill. I am seeking assurances on some aspects of the legislation (police transparency and the use of drug free zones, for example) and hope we’ll move quickly on this important omnibus bill.)

Read Frequently Asked Questions about the street vending legislation.


Councilmember Nadeau sent the following letter to the City Administrator and the Director of the Office of Unified Communications on Tuesday to express her deep concern over the 911 dispatch center's ongoing failure to dispatch assistance where it is needed. She called the failures "alarming and unacceptable."
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