Coalition Sunshine Week Summit 2022: Centered on Police Issues With the Chief and Community Observers
According to D.C. police chief Robert Contee III, in a remarks in a March 16 webinar, the Metropolitan Police Department
- is already transparent with data, for example releasing details on discipline and use of force
- shouldn’t be judged by misconduct cases settled; decisions by government attorneys to settle even winning cases just to avoid costs of litigation are “out of our hands” and the result therefore proves nothing about officers’ fault
- hesitates to release full police misconduct investigation files until the same is required of all government employees since others (such as teachers) can also pose risks to the public
- must redact body-worn camera video extensively before release to protect the safety of officers and civilians,
- won’t blacklist any requesters of records on his watch, and
- fears misuse if more police records are required to be proactively released.
Check the video available here for full details of the chief’s lively exchange with Tom Susman, president of the D.C. Open Government Coalition.
The discussion took place at the Coalition’s annual summit, held virtually for the second year. Mid-March is the birthday of James Madison, considered the founding father of government transparency and one of the designers of the U.S. Constitution. He once wrote, “a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives” and perhaps most famously, “popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps, both.”
Following the session with the chief, Coalition board member Ginger McCall moderated a further dive into police transparency with Naïké Savain, attorney with D.C. Justice Lab; Michael Perloff, attorney with ACLU of DC; James Berry, member of MPD’s Citizen Advisory Council; and Steven Rich, data editor of The Washington Post.
The panel offered contrasting views from diverse perspectives:
- Savain, a member of the D.C. Police Reform Commission, told of data MPD wouldn’t provide the Commission, data gathered but not used, and data never gathered that she believed are essential, as well as missing mandated reports, lack of answers to Council oversight questions, and opposition to legislative mandates on open data.
- Perloff described a “lack of commitment, even intransigency” he’s seen in D.C. police response to transparency pressure. He detailed, as one example, the long fight to get stop-and-frisk data originally required by the Council in 2016. MPD gathered and released the data only after multiple court orders. He noted recently filed litigation alleging this delay was among others ordered from the senior agency leadership as a deliberate tactic to discourage requesters who might prove critical. The data had potential of revealing unlawful and unproductive action, just as stop-and-frisk data did in New York City.
- Berry, with a long career in criminal justice in the District as well as citizen advisor to police, noted improvement over the years in police community outreach. Even so, he supported the Reform Commission’s agenda of recommendations for further transparency.
- Rich, from a journalist’s viewpoint, explained the Post’s efforts to gather data nationwide on police operations to shed light on systems underlying vivid anecdotes of policing problems that make headlines. He and a team reviewed, for example, 23,000 court settlements for the recent story the chief mentioned on the $1.5 billion spent by governments to end misconduct lawsuits. He echoed from his own nationwide data-collection experience the surprise of other panelists at the lack of interest in solid data: “most departments won’t seek data until mandated, or even then.”
Panelists addressed audience questions with practical tips on negotiating high fees proposed by agencies for releasing records under DC FOIA, ideas for greater enforcement of FOIA law, even proposing a new separate entity for gathering and analyzing police data since police leaders appear to lack incentive to amass details across thousands of officers interacting day and night with the public in situations of stress and conflict.
Niquelle Allen, director of the D.C. Office of Open Government closed the summit, reporting on her testimony this year to the Council calling for a FOIA Task Force to rewrite the aging statute long overdue for updating.
The Coalition’s program was cosponsored with the DC Office of Open Government, the NAACP Washington, DC Branch, the Society of Professional Journalists DC Pro Chapter, and EmpowerEd and was arranged by Coalition board members Liz Hempowicz and Sandra Moscoso, with technical assistance by Molly Moore of Ropes & Gray LLP.
Coalition Continues “Digging Into DC” Trainings — Oct. 12, 2021
The second in the series addressed law enforcement records. Presenters included:
- Mitch Ryals, managing editor, Washington City Paper
- Amy Phillips, defense attorney in DC
- Michael Perloff, staff attorney, ACLU of DC
- Catherine Young, DC resident
Video is available here.
Coalition Kicks Off “Digging Into DC” Trainings — July 20, 2021
Want to know how much DC spends on your child’s school? Worried about staffing cuts?
Interested in the health and safety conditions of school facilities?
We’re excited to bring together transparency advocates for the first in a series of “Digging into
DC” trainings to help you find almost anything you’ve ever wanted to know about DC’s public
and charter schools.
This virtual kickoff session will be held from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 20 via Zoom.
- Sandra Moscoso, parent activist and D.C. OGC board member
- Fritz Mulhauser, open government expert and D.C. OGC board member
- Niquelle Allen, Director of the DC Office of Open Government
- Miranda Spivack, journalist and open government expert, D.C. OGC board member,
- Karen Janka (she/her) – D.C. Library Association, cohost
This is the first in a series of free open government trainings that will continue through the fall and focus on how to locate a range of information such as criminal justice data, social services data, and data from multi-government and multi-state agencies
Please come prepared with your questions about the best ways to get information from DC’s public and charter schools. We look forward to seeing you at Digging into DC!
The event is sponsored by the D.C. Open Government Coalition, the DC Library Association,and the DC Office of Open Government
Questions? email diggingintoDC@gmail.com
2021 Open Government Summit: Save The Date — Thursday, March 18, 1:00 – 2:30 p.m.
Fritz Mulhauser | February 20, 2021 | Last modified: February 23, 2021
3/26/21 UPDATE: Video of the program is available here.
The D.C. Open Government Coalition invites you to this year’s Open Government Summit. Dive in with Coalition leaders and guests to examine public and charter school transparency, the coronavirus pandemic’s ongoing impact on government records access, and the views regarding government transparency of two recently elected D.C. Council members.
This year, the annual Sunshine Week event is sponsored by the Coalition together with the Society of Professional Journalists Washington, D.C., Pro Chapter; OpenTheGovernment; EmpowerEd; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; and the D.C. Office of Open Government. Join us via Zoom (register here).
The program includes three main segments:
- Leading off, Coalition board member Ginger McCall will talk with D.C. Council members Christina Henderson (I-At Large) and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2). The session will explore their views on the laws about open data, meetings and records that foster greater public knowledge and participation in government and enhance accountability.
- The second segment centers on education, with D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson and EmpowerEd’s Scott Goldstein joining Sandra Moscoso, another Coalition board member, exploring gaps in basic education data on students, teachers, and learning (subject of a new audit), tracking the corona virus in schools and daycares, and special issues of access to board meetings and records at charter schools. They will discuss how greater access can empower parents and teachers to play a more effective role in shaping the District’s school system.
- Third, Nate Jones, FOIA Director for The Washington Post, Niquelle Allen, Director of the Office of Open Government, and Fritz Mulhauser, DCOGC blogger-in-chief, will assess the state of access to D.C. records in an extraordinary year and looking ahead. Expect observations on D.C. agencies’ compliance with public requests during the pandemic, the Metropolitan Police Department’s particularly vigorous resistance to transparency, and agencies’ common failure to post records as the law requires.
Tom Susman, Coalition president, will conclude the Summit with a community call to action, outlining how individuals and organizations can use (and advocate to improve) transparency tools to make local government more efficient and accountable.
Background on Sunshine Week and the OGC Summit
March 16 is the birthday of James Madison, who once wrote:
“[a] popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps, both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”1
He also wrote “the advancement and diffusion of knowledge” is “the only Guardian of true liberty.”2
Jonathan Make wrote up the 2019 summit event in a post on Medium, March 12.
The Coalition’s summit is the annual event where the open government community comes together to celebrate accomplishments and look ahead to next steps.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Council members have joined us, as well as top officials such as the Chief Technology Officer, directors of the Office of Open Government, and the D.C. Auditor.
News breaks sometimes, as in 2019 when summit presenters included charter school teachers who detailed their advocacy for change in the law after secret board and management actions at their schools, along with Council member Charles Allen who previewed a dramatic charter school transparency bill he would introduce just 48 hours later. Two elected ANC commissioners also joined us in 2019 to describe their own efforts to find the government information they need to do their job of being the voice of their neighborhoods, And civic hackers over the years have showcased amazing applications built on open data.
1 Letter from James Madison to W.T. Barry (August 4, 1822), in The Writings of James Madison (Gaillard Hunt ed.).
2 Letter from James Madison to George Thomson (June 30, 1825) (on file with The James Madison Papers at The Library of Congress).