Rights Groups Threaten Lawsuit Over Two-Year Delay in Implementing Data Collection Requirement

CONTACT: media@acludc.org

WASHINGTON – Black Lives Matter D.C., Stop Police Terror Project D.C., and the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia sent a letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser and filed a Freedom of Information Act request today with a twofold demand: that the Metropolitan Police Department provide the stop-and-frisk data it has been required to collect since 2016 under the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act or, if MPD has failed to implement the law, that it provide its plans and timetables for doing so.  The groups will take legal action if MPD does not provide either the legally required data or a concrete plan to implement the data collection requirement in the immediate future.

“Having worked on the NEAR Act from its inception almost three years ago, its full implementation is crucial for the residents of the District of Columbia,” said April Goggans, Core Organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C. “It is the cornerstone of efforts to turn the page on the era of mass incarceration while substantively addressing public safety. It is an important first step to a safer, more just, and more equitable D.C.” 

Signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser two years ago this week, the NEAR Act is a comprehensive policy framework that promotes public safety by reducing incarceration, employing a public health approach to violence prevention, and increasing data collection on police stops. The civil rights groups sending today’s letter are among the law’s key backers, and assert that one of the law’s most important requirements was the comprehensive collection of demographic data about individuals whom D.C. police stop and frisk. Despite being fully funded by the D.C. Council in the fall of 2016, the groups charge that implementation of the NEAR Act’s stop-and-frisk data collection requirement has been unlawfully delayed by the mayor’s office and MPD, which have issued contradictory statements regarding implementation over the past 18 months.

In February 2017, the ACLU-DC filed a FOIA request for the stop-and-frisk data; the mayor’s office responded that no records that met the NEAR Act’s data collection requirements existed. In early 2018, the mayor’s office released a report stating the NEAR Act had been “fully implemented.” However, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue and MPD Chief Peter Newsham have since contradicted that claim, indicating to the D.C. Council that the mayor’s office and MPD have taken few, if any, steps to implement the NEAR Act’s data collection requirements.

The need for this data is critical, according to the civil rights groups’ letter: African-Americans make up 47 percent of the population in the District, but represent 89 percent of the 2,224 reported use-of-force incidents by MPD in FY17, according to the Office of Police Complaints. Although anecdotal reports indicate a similar racial disparity in the use of stops and frisks by MPD, the lack of detailed data, the civil rights groups assert, makes it impossible to confirm or deny that perception.

“In city after city in the United States, robust data collection has revealed clearly racially biased practices in policing,” said Eugene Puryear, Co-Founder of the Stop Police Terror Project D.C. “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? 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 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.

The demand letter can be found here: https://www.acludc.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/near_act_dema...

The Freedom of Information Act request can be found here: https://www.acludc.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/near_act_2018...