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The ACLU-DC is again suing the Metropolitan Police Department over stop and frisk data. It’s a continuation of a years-long legal battle to bring more transparency and accountability to D.C. police.
According to the ACLU-DC complaint, MPD only published stop and frisk data once in 2020, despite committing in writing to publish this data twice a year. And the agency has never published data related to stops that happened in 2020. After failing to publish this data—data the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act of 2016 requires MPD to collect—the ACLU-DC submitted a Freedom of Information Request, which the agency received on Jan. 19. But 18 business days later, MPD has yet to offer any records, request an extension, or deny the request, according to the complaint filed on Feb. 16. D.C. law gives agencies 15 business days after receiving a FOIA request to respond.
“It’s outrageous that we are still fighting with MPD five years after the NEAR Act has passed,” says Megan Yan, an ACLU-DC legal fellow who filed the suit. “This case is fundamentally about failure to follow the law.”
MPD did not respond to a request for comment.
“NEAR Act data is vital to the ongoing debate about policing in the District. Mass protests against police brutality swept the District in 2020 after police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked nationwide outrage,” the complaint says. “Members of the public as well as [the ACLU-DC] and other organizations have called for sweeping changes to MPD and its operations.”
The ACLU-DC is asking D.C. Superior Court to declare that MPD violated FOIA law and to order the agency to produce the requested records “promptly.” The complaint says ACLU-DC hopes to use stop and frisk data for 2020 during a MPD oversight hearing scheduled for March 11, along with upcoming hearings related to the budget and confirmation of MPD Chief Robert Contee. The complaint argues that this data provides transparency and accountability because the public “cannot know how the police are interacting with citizens” without it.
In May 2018, the ACLU-DC, along with Black Lives Matter DC and the Stop Police Terror Project DC, sued Mayor Muriel Bowser, then-Deputy Mayor Kevin Donahue, and then-MPD Chief Peter Newsham for failing to adequately collect stop and frisk data. And in June 2019, D.C. Superior Court ordered MPD to comply with the NEAR Act. ACLU-DC agreed to dismiss the case with the understanding that MPD would release stop and frisk data semiannually.
MPD ultimately published stop and frisk data three years after the NEAR Act. This data revealed large racial disparities. The data first published on Sept. 2019 showed 70 percent of people stopped between July 22 and Aug. 18 of that year were Black and 15 percent were White. Altogether, that accounted for 11,600 police stops. Comparatively, 46 percent of the D.C. population is Black, while 37 percent is White. “It’s too early to be upset,” said Newsham at the time to reporters. “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.”
But MPD has only ever published five months of stop and frisk data, or stops between July 22 and Dec. 31 of 2019. Of the 62,842 police stops between July 22 and Dec. 31 of 2019, 72 percent of persons stopped were Black while 14 percent were White. Of those stops, 82 percent of the individuals received a ticket or were arrested. In a Sept. 2020 report, MPD said it would partner with The Lab and Georgetown University Law Center to analyze possible bias in MPD’s stops. In 2020, they held a 10-day workshop. It’s unclear what came of that partnership.
“You sort of have to wonder why they are trying to stop this data release,” says Yan. “Is it more of what we saw in 2019?”
Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie called MPD’s failure to release stop and frisk data “disturbing,” especially considering this is the second time the agency is being sued over this data.
“District residents deserve to know how the MPD is policing all communities—especially communities of color,” said McDuffie in a statement. “Publication of stop-and-frisk data is not only required by the NEAR Act, it is essential to increasing transparency and building trust between the police and the community. The MPD must immediately release this data.”
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