Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Amid the District’s spike in gun violence, at-large Councilmember Anita Bonds this week suggested that police ought to undertake more searches on individuals to nab illegal guns.

In a city where criminal justice advocates have long charged that law enforcement disproportionately target non-white communities, her comments drew rebukes from a candidate and also activists.

Speaking at a Ward 3 Democrats candidate forum Monday night, Bonds said the city needs to be more “vigilant” on crime as the weather warms, since crime tends to go up in the summertime. She added that police ought to check people for illegal weapons.

“One way is to just have some random, ‘Hello, how are you doing, Mr., Ms., do you have any weapons with you?’” Bonds said. Following audience laughter, she continued: “Seriously, seriously. Sometimes that works. And we really have to recover these guns quickly.”

Her opponent, sitting next to her, Marcus Goodwin, mouthed “stop-and-frisk.” The next day, he wrote in a tweet that stop and frisk is a “failed, racist policy.”

In an interview Tuesday, Bonds denied that she suggested police should step up the use of stop-and-frisk, saying she was against the practice. Giving the example of a motorist being pulled over for erratic driving, she said that a cop should ask if they can search the person or vehicle for weapons. “You can do traffic stops and safety checks,” she said.

Bonds faces two challengers in the at-large race, one of the closely watched races this year. Goodwin and Jeremiah Lowery, who is running farthest to the left, have largely attacked Bonds’ record on affordable housing at recent forums. Bonds left the Ward 3 Democrats forum early, citing a prior commitment, but said the city needs to invest more public money into building affordable housing units.

Shana Knizhnik of the D.C. chapter of the ACLU, which is suing the city for delaying on collecting certain data from stop-and-frisk cases, says the councilmember’s suggestion to collect guns may be a slippery slope.

“Specifically what she described is not equivalent to stop-and-frisk, but I think what we’re concerned about is it would lead to such practices, and officers would interpret such a command from a D.C. councilmember to do more of these things,” says Knizhnik.

In order for an officer to stop an individual, police need “articulable suspicion” that the person is engaging in criminal activity, according to Knizhnik. To frisk that person for illegal weapons would need further cause.

MPD Chief Peter Newsham admitted to the D.C. Council in late March that the department was not collecting all the data required during stop-and-frisks, including what led to a stop, whether and why a search took place, and whether an arrest was made during a stop. In next year’s budget, $500,000 has been added to collect that data. (The limited stop and frisk data that MPD has released for 2017 show that a vast majority of cases involved police stopping a black person.)

On Bonds’ suggestion that police ask individuals whether they are carrying illegal weapons, Knizhnik says: “I’m not sure if that is the way to rebuild or increase the trust between law enforcement and the communities most affected by violence—and gun violence, in particular.”