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More Transparent Policing: Open Government Coalition Agenda in Talks with Reform Commission

Fritz Mulhauser | February 6, 2021 | Last modified: February 9, 2021

The D.C. Open Government Coalition has urged the D.C. Police Reform Commission to recommend expanded public information access as one key way to improve trust and accountability—specifically access to body-worn camera video and to complaints and investigations of misconduct.

The D.C. Council established the 20-member commission last year, with a mandate to review policing practices in the District and provide evidence-based recommendations for reforming and revisioning policing, including topics such as police in schools, alternatives to police, discipline of officers, and justice in policing. The co-chairs are Robert Bobb, former city administrator and deputy mayor in the District, and Cindy Lopez, professor at Georgetown University Law Center and former police misconduct investigator in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.  The Council issued a $338,500 purchase order to Impact Justice, a consulting firm in Oakland and the District, for staff support to the commission.

In a session January 29, members of the Coalition’s board discussed D.C. policing with the commission’s MPD Accountability and Oversight Committee. The Coalition members emphasized public information as essential to responsive government generally, but especially in policing, where community trust is badly frayed.

The conversation went in depth into two areas:

  • the need for faster and cheaper access to video from police body cameras, to fulfill their promise for public education and accountability — since the video now is slow to be released, and both very expensive and hard to view because of incorrect redaction policy; and
  • the need for transparency of police complaints (now completely unavailable) and of the investigation and discipline that results when misconduct is substantiated (also with rare exceptions unexplained—in a system that the Office of Police Complaints director has called “opaque”).

The Coalition members discussed Coalition work on both topics (along lines of October 2020 Council testimony on both here), including research findings on body camera video access policy in other states and information on the potential for D.C. to learn from long-awaited opening of police discipline records in dramatic legislation in California and New York.

Commission members said the five working groups are drafting recommendations to the D.C. Council that will be discussed in three meetings of the full group in February.  The first will be February 8 at 6:30 p.m. Virtual meeting details are here. The committee’s final vote on its recommendations will be at a meeting February 22. Meeting log-in is here.

With recommendations in hand, drafting and editing of a report will go forward in March, aiming for publication in early April.  The Commission sunsets April 30, which allows some time for members to discuss implementation with the Council and executive agencies.  

Coalition members ended a discussion on transparency with a question for the commission (which as an advisory body to the D.C. Council is covered by the Open Meetings Act) —  whether draft materials scheduled to be discussed in the upcoming public meetings would be available to the public. Staff said they would check.