Three civil rights groups are accusing the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department of violating the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act, which mandates every police officer to record any interactions with residents to prevent racial bias incidents.
Black Lives Matter D.C., the Stop Police Terror Project D.C. and the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit May 4 stating that the department’s failure to record the data violates the NEAR act, passed by the D.C. Council in 2016. One provision of the act requires officers to keep detailed information about every police stop, including the gender and race of the person stopped, as well as the reason for the search and whether an arrest resulted.
“Almost two years have passed since the D.C. Council passed a statute mandating that defendants collect this essential data,” the 12-page complaint says. “However, the D.C. government has dragged its feet, indicating at best recalcitrance and at worst and institutional antipathy towards the law.”
The groups are asking the D.C. Superior Court to order Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), MPD Chief Peter Newsham and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Kevin Donahue to enforce the provision related to stop and frisk data collection.
The data is critical to detecting and preventing potential racial bias by officers, according to a leading organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C. branch April Goggans.
“This 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,” Goggans said in a May 8 press release published by the ACLU. “This lawsuit is the first, necessary step in the fight for fair treatment of all who live in the District.”
The inaction of the District is an affront to police transparency and accountability, according to executive director of the ACLU of D.C. Monica Hopkins.
“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,” Hopkins said in the May 8 statement. “It leaves us no choice but to ask the court to compel the mayor to enforce a law she’s sworn to uphold.”
The lawsuit came after the civil rights groups requested information and records on two different police stops in February and March. The District failed to produce documents of the interactions, however, and did not provide a plan to enforce the stop and frisk data requirement.
On March 29, the day after the second demand letter was sent, Chief Newsham admitted at a D.C. Council budget meeting that his department is “guilty” of not implementing the law.
“To the extent there has been a delay to this data piece and not a complete understanding of the necessary infrastructure changes that would be required, we’re guilty,” Newsham said at the meeting.
The budget allocated to funding the stop and frisk data collection law is not sufficient to cover the technical costs of achieving full implementation, according to Donahue.
“Right away, the MPD IT folks looked at that and recognized when they looked at the requirements of the NEAR Act and those elements that $150,000 simply wasn’t enough to get it done,” Donahue said in an interview with WUSA9.
Despite the complaints, MPD claims to be working on improving its data collection efforts to effectively record all police encounters.
“The work of reviewing the data and sorting it into “usable” content is both laborious and costly,” MPD wrote in an email to WUSA9. “MPD continues its efforts to find a workable solution to providing the data in a manner that is consistent with the intent of the legislation.”