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Coalition Urges D.C. Council to Remove Anti-Transparency Provisions in Latest Crime Bill

Fritz Mulhauser | January 15, 2024 | Last modified: January 23, 2024

UPDATE 1/22/24 The Coalition today (22) wrote the full Council asking that police transparency and accountabiliy sections of the pending crime bill be removed to allow thorough consideration they have not yet received. This is important since many details of the bill are a 180-degree U-turn on the road to police reform laid out in last year’s unanimous reform legislation. Read the letter here.

UPDATE 1/17/24 The Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety voted unanimously today (17) to send an omnibus crime bill to the full Council, substantially along lines in a draft released last week. Most predictions had suggested no roadblocks, given widespread community concerns about a range of spiking crime indicators and business pressure to deal with concerns of customers, employees and visitors downtown. Committee members had reservations similar to those in Coalition advocacy described below, including Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) who said, according to the DC Line, “he is concerned about rolling back certain accountability and transparency measures affecting MPD officers — an issue also highlighted by the DC Open Government Coalition.” Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large) also remarked to a WAMU news reporter, “I don’t know how limiting public access to information about MPD disciplinary procedures will address crime trends.”

Still, the Coalition’s advocacy against police secrecy was not successful in two major respects:

  • FOIA access to police disciplinary records is narrowed from the general access the Council voted just a year ago — by allowing MPD to assert the privacy exemption to withhold virtually all records in the common situation where specific charges were not sustained (as the Post headlined its story on a 97% rate across 250,000 citizen complaints in Chicago a few years ago, “Police think they can get away with anything. That’s because they usually do.”) and a large range of records even in sustained cases.
  • The public will also get less access to video from police body-worn cameras required to be released after serious uses of force — as the committee bill endorses the legally dubious arguments for redacting officers’ faces and badge numbers (a position the Council also rejected just a year ago).

The Coalition plans further advocacy before the two readings in the full Council in hopes that the bill can be amended to restore the greatest possible police transparency — a value previously endorsed by this Council and which is the essential foundation of public trust that successful policing requires.


The latest D.C. crime-fighting legislation, headed for initial action this week, includes three provisions that will have “very significant, detrimental impacts on law enforcement transparency and accountability,” according to a letter today (15) from the Open Government Coalition to the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.   

The 93-page, 24,000-word proposal from committee chair Brooke Pinto (Ward 2), the Secure D.C. Omnibus Amendment Act of 2024, is set to be considered by the committee and passed on for voting by the full D.C. Council as early as January 23. Initial press reports found Council members expecting the measure to pass, though amendments are always in order.

The Coalition letter applauds how the new draft rejects anti-transparency changes the administration, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), and the police union sought. The Coalition urges specific amendments to remove remaining troublesome segments, warning the latest draft still includes “legally unsupportable” changes that “will not increase public safety but will fuel long-standing distrust of law enforcement.”

Three provisions in particular would make public access to information harder in different ways—keeping secret the officers shown in body-cam videos, burying some officer gun-discharge incidents, and limiting relevant details of officers’ history in released discipline files.

Specifically, these would:  

  • Repeal a provision in the police reform act that prohibits the MPD from redacting law enforcement officers’ faces and badge numbers from body-worn camera (BWC) videos before release to the public. 
  • Allow MPD to deny the public access to BWC video of police-involved shootings in which an officer shoots an animal or negligently discharges a firearm, but the department deems the shot not to have endangered humans. 
  • Allow MPD, when responding to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for disciplinary records, to withhold medical records and records of an officer’s “use of an employee assistance program, including mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment service, counseling, or therapy,” even when those records are directly material to the complaint or disposition of it. 

Details about these three concerns are in the full letter from the Coalition to Committee Chair Brooke Pinto and members.

Council “mark-up” sessions where legislation is voted out of committee are open. Still, public comment is not allowed even though bills often differ greatly from those aired at hearings. Instead, the public may email members and ask for changes in draft bills before markup. Here’s how to reach committee members:

Charles Allen (D-Ward 6),

Anita Bonds (D-At Large),

Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7),

Christina Henderson (I-At Large),

Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2),

For additional information, contact Coalition Board Member Robert Becker at (202) 306-2276.