Civil rights groups have threatened to sue D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for a two-year delay in the implementation of a law that requires law enforcement to collect data on police stops in the city.
Provisions of the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act, which passed in March 2016 and received full funding in October 2017, require D.C. police to collect information on all “stops and frisks” conducted by police in the city. However, the ACLU-DC, Black Lives Matter and the Stop Police Terror Project say there are very few signs that the city has taken steps to implementing the collection of police-stop data.
Last week, the coalition sent a twofold demand to the mayor’s office, calling for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to either provide the legally required stop-and-frisk data collected since the passing of the NEAR Act or provide a plan and timeline for doing so. The coalition said it will take legal action if the demands are not met.
The group’s threat to sue the mayor is based on the power of the D.C. courts to compel action that is mandated by law but has been “unreasonably delayed” by the executive branch.
“They are not in compliance with the law,” ACLU-DC Policy Director Nassim Moshiree said of the city’s failure to implement the data collection changes. “It’s ridiculous to keep having this conversation over again.”
In February 2017, ACLU-DC filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the city’s stop-and-frisk data, but the mayor’s office responded that no records that met the NEAR Act’s data collection requirements existed.
In testimony before the D.C. Council, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue indicated that few steps have been taken to implement the law’s data collection requirements.
“We are concerned with their motivation to do this and concerned with their effort to get compliant,” Moshiree said. “This should be a priority for them even if it wasn’t legally required.”
In testimony to the council in February, Donahue said that full implementation of the law will require changes to police protocol and MPD’s database.
“There is a gap between what we currently collect and every item of the NEAR Act,” he said. “Some data we already collect as listed, some data we collect but not consistently or have to clean and sometimes we don’t collect [the required] data at all.”
He said the city currently collects information about the “most intensive” police encounters in the city through its arrest record. But the NEAR Act requires MPD to collect information on all stops and frisks, including the date, location and time of the stop; the approximate duration of the stop; demographic information about person stopped; the alleged violation; whether a search was conducted; and whether the stop resulted in an arrest.
Donahue said that though the section of the NEAR Act that relates to collection of stop-and-frisk data does not have a reporting requirement, the data will be publicly shared.
“We are putting [the data] out there because I think that is the intention and the spirit of the NEAR Act,” he said.
Increased data collection is a portion of the NEAR Act, which is a comprehensive policy framework aimed to promote public safety by employing a public health approach to violence prevention. The civil groups were key backers of the of the law and have made efforts to ensure its full implementation.
“It is the cornerstone of efforts to turn the page on the era of mass incarceration while substantively addressing public safety,” said April Goggans, core organizer for Black Lives Matter. “It is an important first step to a safer, more just, and more equitable D.C.”
According to the groups’ letter, African Americans represented 89 percent of the reported 2,224 reported use-of-force incidents by MPD in fiscal 2017 despite making up only 47 percent of the District’s population. They said anecdotal reports indicate similar racial disparity in the use of stop-and-frisk by MPD, but a lack of detailed data makes it impossible to confirm or deny that perception.
“If the Metropolitan Police Department won’t collect the data that would hold them accountable for racial bias and unconstitutional behavior, can we assume anything other than that they condone it?” said Eugene Puryear, co-founder of the Stop Police Terror Project D.C. “Without full implementation of the data collection requirements of the NEAR Act, there will be an even more serious deficit of trust between many parts of our community and MPD.”
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.