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The ACLU-DC, along with local activist groups Black Lives Matter DC and the Stop Police Terror Project DC, are suing Mayor Muriel Bowser, Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham, and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Kevin Donahue for not complying with a key data collection portion of the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act of 2016.
The lawsuit centers on a data collection element of the NEAR Act, which the D.C. Council passed unanimously more than two years ago. It requires the MPD to record and collect data on all stops-and-frisks that occur in the District. Although MPD has been collecting stop-and-frisk data for some time—and recently released a report on that data in February of this year—the NEAR Act requires the department to collect more information for each stop than what was previously recorded, including whether the stop was consensual, whether officers conducted a search, as well as if and why an arrest was made.
“The District’s unacceptable delay in implementing the NEAR Act’s requirement to collect data on stops and frisks suggests that Mayor Bowser and Chief Newsham are scared of what the data will prove,” April Goggans, the core organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C., said in a statement. “The time for games is over. The data collection is necessary to enable the community to hold D.C. accountable for what its police are doing on the streets, particularly if the data matches what we experience every day: that MPD is disproportionately stopping people of color, especially Black people.”
A motion for injunctive relief filed today alleges that Bowser, Newsham, and Donahue “have unreasonably delayed the implementation of” stop-and-frisk data collection.
In January, Bowser’s office released “A Fair Shot: A Toolkit For African American Prosperity,” which stated that the NEAR Act had been fully implemented. But a Freedom of Information Act request filed by ACLU-DC this year revealed that the MPD hasn’t been collecting that data at all.
In recent budget oversight hearings for the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, Ward 6 Councilman Charles Allen, who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, grilled both Newsham and Donahue. The fiscal year 2018 budget allotted $150,000 to the MPD specifically for collecting stop-and-frisk data pursuant to the NEAR Act. But none of that money had been used. Donahue told Allen in a March 29 hearing that the department wasn’t collecting the data because they didn’t have the necessary tools. “So that would involve a fundamental change to either an IT system, a police protocol, in order to get it,” he said.
Addressing budget concerns for FY19, Bowser sent a letter to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on April 26 in which she requested an additional $500,000—$300,000 for the MPD and $200,000 for the Department of Motor Vehicles—in order “to fully fund an implement the data collection requirements under the NEAR Act,” and requested the funds would come from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which pays the back-rent of tenants who live at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty line, or $25,100 for a family of four. Both tenant advocates and council members were none too happy with that move.
Included in the lawsuit is a sworn declaration by Scott Stewart, an IT expert in Frederick, Maryland, who claims to have expertise and experience with the Content Management Systems and Record Management Systems similar to that the MPD uses. According to Stewart’s declaration, he estimates that it shouldn’t cost D.C. any additional funds that haven’t already been granted to implement the necessary changes to the MPD’s IT system.
The plaintiffs are seeking a court-ordered injunction requiring the MPD to “create a new form for collecting the required data” within 30 days, to “implement the IT changes necessary to collect and store the data” within another 30 days, and to train officers to use the new form within another 30 days, meaning that if the injunctive relief goes through, the MPD will have to be fully compliant with the NEAR Act within 90 days of the court’s order.
A spokesperson for D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine‘s office declined to comment on the lawsuit.
“Mayor Bowser has abdicated her duty to follow the law. By stalling, then making excuses for not collecting this critical data, she has sent the message that police transparency and accountability are not D.C. values,” Monica Hopkins, the Executive Director of the ACLU-DC, said in a statement. “It leaves us no choice but to ask the court to compel the mayor to enforce a law she’s sworn to uphold.”