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Some Long Overdue MPD Stop-and-Frisk Data Issued After Second Lawsuit

Fritz Mulhauser | March 1, 2021 | Last modified: March 8, 2021

UPDATE 3/8/21: MPD released a full year of data for 2020 on Friday, March 5. Early write-up in dcist here. The dataset includes 81,000 stops and MPD provided a brief analysis.

The Metropolitan Police Department on February 22 published year-old data on street stops for part of 2020, required by a provision of the wide ranging 2016 law called the NEAR Act. The agency failed to gather the data for three years and, when sued, again failed to act on a court order it agreed to, to collect and publish the data every six months. The recent publication follows a new February 16 lawsuit by the ACLU of DC in Superior Court calling the agency conduct “egregious.”

When advocates and ACLU sued first in 2018, that court, in ordering the MPD to get going, called out the agency “inability, over the past three years, to offer any substantial explanation for their non-­action.” Yet despite that order in 2019, MPD inaction continued throughout 2020 until the latest lawsuit requesting an urgent decision ordering release of 2020 data in order to inform community discussions of policing policy in coming months.

The Council has scheduled its annual MPD oversight hearing March 11 and the Police Reform Commission recommendations are due soon afterwards. Committee discussions in the Commission show community members believe the data remain central to the discussion of over-policing in parts of the city.

And the requirement appears straightforward, that an MPD officer who orders someone in the street to stop walking or driving must record who, when, where, why and the results of any search. That interaction, known as “stop and frisk,” repeated many thousands of times each year (not all with any search), has generated enormous concern about the cumulative impact of huge differences in such intrusive stops in different communities.

Nor is the order an outlier, some Cambridge-Madison-Berkeley fringe notion. The D.C. Council 2016 action, directing collection and regular publication of stop-and-frisk data, followed national attention and widely reported court action. The federal court in New York reviewed police stops and in 2013 held the massive NYPD program was unconstitutionally biased. It was an article of faith in the “broken windows” theory of policing, comprising 685,000 stops in the peak year 2011, chiefly of African American and Hispanic young men, and without appreciable effect on crime.  Numbers dropped dramatically (to 12,400 in 2016) after the court ordered an end to stops unless accompanied by much stronger justification to support the standard in the Fourth Amendment that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing in its 2015 report encouraged posting data on police activity such as stops.

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, author of the 2016 Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act, said in a recent statement about the latest lawsuit seeking the stop data:

At a time when police practices have come under deservedly higher scrutiny, I find it disturbing that the MPD is, yet again, being sued over claims that it failed to release data that it is required to provide by law. … District residents deserve to know how the MPD is policing all communities—especially communities of color. 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.

The February 16 lawsuit evidently spurred some action. Just a week later, MPD published two massive spreadsheets with details of almost 48,000 stops in the first half of 2020 together with a brief summary. The agency promised the second half of last year’s data will be available in March, to be followed by a report in April.

It shouldn’t be this hard, especially when gathering and release is required in the letter of the law and the Council appropriated funds for any new systems needed.

The case is ACLU of DC v. District of Columbia, No. 2021 CA 000452 B, assigned to Associate Judge William M. Jackson. It remains pending. Attorneys’ fees are available in FOIA suits where the court action was a “catalyst” in gaining release of records improperly withheld. The ACLU filed multiple papers seeking rapid action, but the court has not acted except to set a scheduling conference in May.  

A thorough explanation of the background from the ACLU point of view is in their memo requesting an early court order releasing the data. The District of Columbia has not responded with any explanation of the lengthy delay. On the first case, see our blogs here and here. It was Black Lives Matter DC, et al., v. Muriel Bowser, et al. No. 2018 CA 003168 B.