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The Metropolitan Police Department released detailed data for all uses of force and stops three years after the D.C. Council passed the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act, which required the release of this data.
Of the 11,600 police stops between July 22 and Aug. 18 of this year, 80 percent resulted in a ticket or arrest, according to an MPD report released Monday. Additionally, 70 percent of people stopped were black, while 15 percent were white. Comparatively, 46 percent of the D.C. population is black whereas 37 percent is white.
“It’s too early to be upset,” Police Chief Peter Newsham told reporters on a press call. The MPD report also cautions readers to not jump to conclusions.
“It may be tempting to point to initial snapshot of data as evidence that stops are biased,” the reports says. “However, while the new data collection is an important step forward in understanding stops, additional data and comprehensive analysis will be necessary to determine whether stops are biased. There are many reasons why a simple comparison of demographics between those who live in DC and those who are stopped in DC cannot accurately answer the question of bias.”
The report adds that MPD is looking into public and private opportunities to “support this sort of rigorous and independent research.”
The release of the NEAR Act stop and frisk data has been highly anticipated. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of D.C. filed a public records request to access the data in Feb. 2017, and later, along with Black Lives Matter DC and the Stop Police Terror Project DC, sued in May 2018 to get it collected and released. In early August, Superior Court Associate Judge John Campbell ordered Mayor Muriel Bowser, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Kevin Donahue, and Newsham to provide the data to the ACLU of D.C. by Sept. 9.
“The report is very pretty,” says the lead counsel in the ACLU lawsuit, Black Lives Matter v. Bowser, Scott Michelman, “That doesn’t necessarily speak to its accuracy or completeness. And the history of this litigation, including three years of obstinate and delay on part of the District government means that we are going to scrutinize whatever they provide very carefully.”
Michelman says that the ACLU of D.C. is still reviewing the raw data to see if it fully complies with the NEAR Act, and watching for troubling trends. The District and the ACLU of D.C. have a conference with the judge in late September, and the group should have a response by then.
“There was a stark disparity based on race, in terms of the people who are stopped in the District of Columbia. I think that should be a concern to all of us. I do think analysis is required to think about the reasons for that,” says Michelman. “But the top-line number is really concerning—that said, we haven’t done our own analysis of the raw data yet.”
The data is just a four-weeks snapshot. During that time, 60 percent of stops were prompted by a traffic violation and 70 percent of those vehicles were registered outside D.C.; 14 percent involved a police pat down (sometimes called a frisk) or a pre-arrest search; and the average of all stops (ticket or no ticket) was 15 minutes or less. Illegal contraband was seized, including 136 guns, in 22 percent of all stops where a frisk or pre-arrest search was conducted. And arrests were made in 78 percent of all stops where contraband was seized.
The most stops (2,078 total) were made in the sixth district, which covers parts of Northeast and Southeast. The second district, which is largest geographic area and covers neighborhoods like Chevy Chase, has the largest number of ticket stops whereas the sixth district has the most arrests.
MPD again warns readers against speculating, writing that “services provided within a police district may affect the stop data for that police district. For example, the highest number of non-ticket stops are recorded at the Department’s Youth and Family Services Division in the Sixth District, primarily for arrests on court orders.”
This post has been updated to include D.C. population data.