The Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act, enacted in March 2016, included a key provision requiring the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to collect detailed and comprehensive data about stop-and-frisks that police carry out, including the race of the person being stopped. For over three years after the Act was passed, MPD failed to collect this data, violating its legal obligations. It was only after a court order in a lawsuit we filed, together with Black Lives Matter D.C., and Stop Police Terror Project D.C., that MPD overhauled its data-collection system and committed publicly to releasing stop-and-frisk data twice a year.
But MPD has failed to uphold its promise. As of February 2021, MPD has not published any data since March 2020, and its published data only covers 6 months in 2019. No data on stops conducted in 2020 has been published.
While MPD drags its feet, the public’s concerns about the policing of Black people are more pressing than ever and grow more urgent each day. Coming up in the spring of 2021, the D.C. Council will conduct a performance oversight hearing on MPD as well as a hearing on MPD’s budget and a confirmation hearing for Mayor Bowser’s nominee for police chief. But without any stop-and-frisk data from 2020, the Council and the public will not have the necessary data to assess how MPD is doing its job and whether it is overpolicing Black people in the District. Our analysis of previous stop-and-frisk data show just how stark the racial disparities are. The six months of data from 2019 showed that Black people made up 72% of individuals stopped by police despite composing only 47% of D.C.’s population. Furthermore, 86% of stops did not lead to a warning, ticket, or arrest, and 91% of searches that did not lead to a warning, ticket, or arrest, were of Black people, supporting an inference that Black people are more likely to have been stopped by MPD without justification. Data on stops is essential to understanding stop-and-frisk practices and ensuring that the police do not unfairly and unconstitutionally target Black people.
Because MPD failed to publish the data as they promised, we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on January 19, 2021 seeking all NEAR Act data from January 1, 2020 onward. Under FOIA, MPD had a legal obligation to respond to the request by February 10, 2021, which it did not. Accordingly, on February 16, 2021, we filed suit in D.C. Superior Court to enforce MPD’s obligations under FOIA.