ACLU-DC Testifies Before the D.C. Council Committee on the Comprehensive Police and Justice Reform Amendment Act
Statement on behalf of the
American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia
before the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
Hearing on Bill 23-882, the “Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2020,”
Monica Hopkins, Executive Director
October 15, 2020
My name is Monica Hopkins and I am the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia (ACLU-DC). I present the following testimony on behalf of our 13,500 members and residents of the District. The ACLU-DC is committed to working to dismantle systemic racism, improve police accountability, safeguard fundamental liberties, and advocate for sensible, evidence-based solutions to public safety and criminal justice policies.
Introduced by the Council on July 31, 2020, the stated purpose of Bill 23-882 is to provide for comprehensive policing and justice reform for District residents and visitors. The Council also passed a version of this legislation this June. We already know that police reforms on their own are not the solution, but this is an important step and the council has an opportunity here to be visionary and transform what both policing and public safety look like in the District. Our recommendations are informed by what we have heard from our clients, community members, and from best practices in other jurisdictions, but the recommendations in our testimony are not an exhaustive list. More than anything we urge the Council to really listen to and incorporate the input and solutions offered by those who are most directly impacted by policing in the District.
The ACLU-DC has identified three key areas of necessary reform under which we have organized our recommendations for amendments to Bill 23-882.
- Placing limitations on existing police powers, practices, and policies that regularly violate the rights of civilians interacting with police.
- Strengthening of transparency, oversight, and accountability measures to ensure proper implementation of police reforms and meaningful consequences for officers when they do violate civilians’ rights.
- Decentering policing and criminalization in favor of a public safety system that invests significant resources into the community and focuses on non-police responses to enforcing laws.
I. Enact Necessary Limitations on Police Powers and Practices
Bill 23-882 includes several provisions that place important limitations on current police practices. However, there remain many harmful practices that are not addressed by the current draft of the legislation. We outline some of the most harmful law enforcement practices that must be banned or severely limited below.
Stop and Frisk/Terry stops
Analysis of the most recent stop-and-frisk data released by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) revealed that Black people make up 72 percent of those stopped in the District despite, making up 46 percent of the D.C. population. Of the people under 18 who were stopped, Black youths made up 89 percent and were stopped at 10 times the rate of their white peers. The analysis further showed that only 0.8 percent of all stops, and only 2 percent of non-traffic stops, led to the seizure of any weapon, including guns. MPD’s stop practices are highly ineffective, ultimately amount to racial profiling, and potentially violate the constitutional rights of Black people in the District on a daily basis. We urge the council to adopt policies that not only reduce over-policing of the District’s Black and Brown residents, but also increase accountability for officers who abuse their powers.
One step the Council could take is to prohibit MPD officers from making stops based on certain common pretextual grounds. This includes things like presence in a “high crime neighborhood,” nervousness around police officers, “furtive gestures or movements” or running, a bulge in a person’s clothing, and time of day.
Additionally, the Council could increase the discipline for officers who make unlawful stops. One avenue for achieving this would be empowering the Office of Police Complaints (OPC) to collect data from federal and Superior Court each time evidence is suppressed or an officer’s testimony is rejected as not credible. The Council may even consider requiring the Superior Court clerk to transmit this information directly to OPC. OPC could then use this information to create a list, similar to the Lewis List but public, that would basically track officer credibility. The Council could go a step further by requiring that MPD consider this list in making promotional decisions involving officers.
Ban the use of no-knock warrants
No-knock warrants issued by judges allow police to enter homes without announcing themselves, typically in an effort to obtain evidence that could be otherwise be quickly destroyed or disposed of. These searches are an exception to the usual Fourth Amendment rule barring unreasonable searches and seizures. The history of no-knock warrants in the District dates back to the racist anti-crime policies of the Nixon administration, when the District did not have home rule. Since then, the use of no-knock warrants has increased nationally, as they have been a staple of the failed war on drugs, which turned communities into war zones.
Every year, police execute about 20,000 no-knock searches across the U.S. From 2010 through 2016, at least 94 people (81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers) died in no-knock raids; many others were seriously injured. While police departments have defended such procedures based on the need to prevent destruction of evidence and concern about officer safety, in reality, the execution of such warrants poses significant dangers to the lives of innocent civilians and police alike. Time after time, these raids lead to property damage, gruesome injuries, trauma, and most alarming, tragic and completely preventable deaths, as evidenced by the recent murder of Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in Louisville, Kentucky.
The no-knock warrant exception is a part of the District’s criminal code and the practice is permitted by case law. Several jurisdictions, including Louisville, KY, Memphis, TN, and the Virginia state senate, have recently passed Breonna’s Laws and other legislation banning the practice. The Council should look to those pieces of legislation and follow suit.
Ban the use of jump-outs
For years, D.C. residents, advocacy and activist groups, and the ACLU-DC have been raising the alarm over the practice of jump-outs by MPD officers in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods. MPD and Police Chief Peter Newsham deny that MPD uses these paramilitary tactics, but countless reports from community members demonstrate otherwise. Most recently, the National Police Foundation’s (NPF) report on MPD’s Narcotics and Special Investigations Division (NSID) confirmed that MPD not only engages in jump-outs, but that the Department itself plans jumpouts. Another remnant of the disastrous War on Drugs era, jump-outs are an abusive and dangerous practice that should be banned altogether. Jump-outs sow fear and distrust of the police and escalate the possibility of violent outcomes; making it more dangerous for police and communities that they seek to serve.
Ban the use of additional restraint tactics beyond neck restraints
Though Bill 23-882 does ban the use of neck restraints and imposes penalties for officers who violate this provision or fail to intervene when other officers employ this deadly tactic, the bill does not ban other dangerous restraint tactics that police use. The Council should expand this provision to ban additional tactics that could be used by officers to similarly cause asphyxiation, or lead to serious injury or death in other ways, such as placing knees into people’s backs, placing a person in the prone position for long periods of time, or even placing a baton in someone’s mouth.
Strengthen use of force provisions to include non-deadly force
The “use of force” provision in the second emergency and temporary act that the Council passed removes language that was in the original emergency legislation proposed by Councilmember Allen on limitations for non-deadly use of force. We believe that such limitations are important to include in legislation and urge the Council to reinstate them. Incidents involving MPD officers’ use of force has increased significantly in the past several years, with force used disproportionately against black people (with the most frequent officer-subject pairing being white officers using force against Black subjects). There is an alarming pattern and practice of use of force, both deadly and non-deadly, that needs to be addressed. Additionally, we are concerned that the change in the definition of “deadly force” from “any force that is likely or intended to create a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death” in the original proposed emergency legislation to “any force that is likely or intended to cause serious bodily injury or death” in the permanent legislation before the Council may have the effect of weakening this provision by having it apply to fewer circumstances. This may not be the intent of the Council and we ask that it be reviewed to assess its impact and if it does in fact weaken the law, that the Council return to the original definition.
Ban the use of military weapons and harmful surveillance tools
The military-industrial complex has been brought to the door steps of U.S. households through federal funding and military weapons transfers—empowering police to terrorize civilians, particularly Black, Brown, and immigrant communities. The militarization of policing, with heavy artillery and surveillance technologies, encourages officers to adopt a “warrior” mentality and think of the people they are supposed to serve as enemies and continues the deterioration of trust in law enforcement.
The ACLU-DC supports Bill 23-882’s provisions restricting District’s law enforcement agencies from acquiring and using military weaponry as listed in the legislation, including requiring agencies to publish notices of requests or acquisition of any property from the federal government within 14 days of the request or acquisition and to return any such equipment that they’ve already acquired within 180 days of the enactment of the law. However, we recommend that the Council require periodic audits by an independent agency outside of law enforcement (such as the D.C. Auditor) to ensure compliance, and that the Council enact penalties for failure of law enforcement agencies to comply. Without such conditions, this provision is largely unenforceable. Additionally, we recommend that the restriction be expanded to ban District law enforcement from acquiring or purchasing such weapons from private companies in addition to the federal government. Finally, the provision should also ban District law enforcement agencies from entering into non-disclosure agreements with federal agencies or private companies that prevent public transparency or oversight of their acquisition of these harmful tools.
We also support the Bill’s provision prohibiting the use of chemical weapons and rubber bullets at first amendment rallies but urge the Council to expand this restriction beyond first amendment rallies. Police should not be using these harmful weapons on District residents at any time. We understand the Council is also considering another bill, the “Internationally Banned Chemical Weapon Prohibition Amendment of 2020,” (Bill 23-771), which amends the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act of 2004 to prohibit the use of chemical irritants at first amendment assemblies by MPD and includes a provision that the Mayor shall request all federal law enforcement officials also refrain from using chemical irritants at first amendment assemblies in the District. We support this bill and suggest that it be folded into the police reform legislation.
Besides tactical and chemical weapons, police also use a number of surveillance tools that harm communities. The unchecked use of surveillance technologies by government agencies and law enforcement threatens everyone in our communities. We hope the Council addresses this issue in the permanent legislation by including a provision that bans the use of facial recognition technologies. These technologies are particularly threatening to people who are already overpoliced and face significant discrimination: Black and Brown residents, immigrant communities, sex workers, and Muslim communities, among others.
II. Strengthen transparency, oversight, and accountability measures
The ACLU-DC has testified many times about the significant obstacles to enforcement and proper implementation of laws and policies that the D.C. Council has enacted to address racial profiling, over-policing, excessive use of force, and other violations of civilians’ civil rights and civil liberties at the hands of law enforcement in the District. Many reforms have fallen short of resulting in meaningful changes in police practices due to poor oversight, lack of public access to information, and few meaningful consequences for officers when they do violate civilians’ rights.
The recently released National Police Foundation report on MPD’s practices is yet another reminder of the Department’s complete indifference to analysis of its own tactics, efficacy, and procedures. The fact that MPD’s data reporting and conflicting General Orders delayed and made difficult the NPF’s report emphasizes that we cannot rely on general orders and internal policies when MPD routinely flouts its own policies. We therefore recommend the following amendments to Bill 23-882 to strengthen accountability measures.
Improve access to Body-Worn Camera Program and strengthen access to public records
We support the provision of Bill 23-882 that requires public release of body-worn camera footage and names of officers following incidents of officer-involved death or the serious use of force following consent of victims or surviving next of kin. However, as the July 31st release of body-worn camera footage by MPD revealed, the full intent of the Council in passing this legislation was not achieved. This was also apparent in the release of footage following the killing of Deon Kay by Officer Alexander Alvarez. In complying with the letter, but not the spirit of the law, MPD released only the body-worn camera footage of the officers most directly implicated in the actual killing of the victims, but not those of other officers on the scene. To provide the public with the clearest picture of what took place, which is one key purpose of this provision, the law should require public release of body-worn camera footage of all officers on the scene during the incident.
Additionally, the ACLU-DC has several recommendations for strengthening the oversight and transparency role of body-worn cameras in this legislation. Last October, we testified about necessary changes to the District’s policies and practices regarding the body-worn camera program. We are pleased that some of our recommendations were incorporated into Bill 23-882, but we urge the Council to consider amending the legislation to address the following concerns:
- There are situations that are of significant public interest but do not necessarily involve an officer shooting or serious use of force for which there should be a presumption of release of BWC footage. Currently, release of BWC footage after such situations is left to the discretion of the Mayor, but this discretion is often not exercised or exercised inconsistently even when there is a clear public interest in the footage. Body-worn camera footage for incidents of significant public interest can be released to the public with appropriate privacy redactions to protect civilians in the videos and would go a long way in demonstrating a sincere commitment to transparency. The D.C. Council should appoint an independent arbiter (other than the Mayor or Police Chief) to determine when BWC footage is of “significant public interest.”
- In its report on the Body-Worn Camera Program Amendment Act of 2015, the Judiciary Committee noted that when “anyone could witness an incident with the naked eye,” the resulting “recordings should be public in their unredacted form unless otherwise required by law.” MPD consistently refuses to release body-worn camera footage of events occurring on the public streets using the excuse that it is protecting privacy. MPD also sometimes releases these videos, but they are heavily redacted and the excuse of redacting images of people on public streets from the footage slows response times and increases costs. The question of when privacy redactions are necessary should also be reexamined and defined clearly in legislation.
- Body cameras cannot advance accountability when —despite video-recorded evidence of police wrongdoing—officers can continue to abuse their power with little consequence. There are currently no clear meaningful disciplinary consequences for failure to comply with the law. Bill 23-882 should include meaningful penalties that go beyond referrals to additional trainings for officers who repeatedly fail to activate their body-worn cameras ahead of an interaction or who repeatedly turn their cameras off in the middle of a police incident.
- Additionally, the Council intended D.C. agencies to waive fees when furnishing the information would primarily benefit the general public, and yet, leaving fee waivers at the discretion of the agency has allowed MPD to adopt what we believe to be a standard practice of denying fee waiver requests to anyone except media members and individuals depicted in the recording, an approach that denies the public access to critical information. The Council should update D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act to address this, and the Council should also investigate why MPD’s redaction fees are so high.
Strengthen and move the disciplinary process completely outside MPD and expand the role of the Office of Police Complaints
The ACLU-DC supports the provisions in Bill 23-882 that give the Office of Police Complaints (OPC) the discretion to open investigations into police misconduct that are not complainant-driven and which expand the Police Complaints Board to nine members and remove law enforcement seat from the board. We also support the provision of Bill 23-882 which removes disciplinary procedures from the negotiating table in collective bargaining. However, in recognizing that union contracts alone do not shield officers from being held accountable, we have serious concerns about all disciplinary decisions resting within the Department, not only because superiors are not likely to discipline members of their team who break rules, but also because it nearly guarantees arbitrary action. This change does not go far enough in ensuring true accountability because ultimately, it still leaves police to police themselves, which decades of experience has indicated simply does not work.
The bill should therefore be amended to completely move the disciplinary process out of MPD. We propose that the role of the OPC be significantly expanded to give it the authority not only to investigate complaints into police misconduct, as it currently does, but to actually impose and enforce discipline when there has been a determination of wrongdoing. We also recommend that the authority of the OPC be expanded to allow the agency to receive and investigate anonymous complaints. This would address the concerns raised by community members before the Council that fear of retaliation by MPD officers keeps them from filing complaints.
We support the Council’s decision to expand OPC’s authority but the bill contains an sizable loophole that must be closed. Currently, OPC can only investigate misconduct expressly raised by complainants. That means, if someone complains about an act of excessive force but doesn’t mention that the officer performed an illegal search as well, OPC is powerless to act on the search—even if an investigator sees it happen through body-worn camera footage. Subtitle C of the bill attempts to address this problem by allowing OPC to act if it discovers “evidence of abuse or misuse of police powers that was not alleged by the complainant in the complaint.” But the bill proceeds to limit this provision, stating in proposed subsection (g-1)(2) that this power “shall include circumstances in which the subject police officer failed to” intervene in or report misconduct. This language could easily be interpreted to mean that Subtitle C only applies in the circumstances listed. So construed, the bill would only vest OPC with the power to conduct sua sponte investigations if it uncovers evidence of an officer failing to intervene in or report on misconduct; the Office would remain unable to take independent action when its staff catches officers using improper force, making unlawful arrests, or otherwise infringing on core rights that the complainant didn’t mention in the complaint. We doubt the Council intended such an odd result. To ensure the scope of OPC’s new powers is clear, the Council should remove proposed subsection (g-1)(2) from Subtitle C of the bill.
When officers repeatedly violate the law and policies of MPD in ways that violate civilians’ rights, there are repeated calls for additional training which are insufficient to hold officers truly accountable. There also must be a reexamination of the consequences for repeat violations.
In addition to expanding the role of OPC, we recommend that the put in place other mechanisms that strengthen and allow greater accountability in disciplinary procedures. The Council could follow the example of jurisdictions like New York and Oregon by including provisions that expand retention, public access, and use of police disciplinary records, and make disciplinary decisions more enforceable. Lack of access to police disciplinary history makes it nearly impossible to use prior records of misconduct to hold officers accountable.
Expand and make enforceable limitations on consent searches:
The ACLU-DC supports the intention of Subtitle F of Bill 23-882 to strengthen procedural justice in cases where a police officer’s search of a person or their vehicle, home, or property is based only on the person’s consent to the search (e.g., there is no warrant and no other exception to the warrant requirement applies). Also known as a “consent” search, this requires officers to explain to the individual whom (or whose property) they hope to search that the person is being asked to consent and that they can refuse the search, and to obtain “affirmative consent.” We also support the presumption that a search is nonconsensual if the evidence of consent is not captured on a body-worn camera or provided in writing. However, the requirement for officers to obtain this consent on BWC should be more explicit in the legislation—namely that officers must ask for this consent and obtain it audibly on their BWC.
Additionally, there remain significant barriers to ensuring that such a provision is enforceable and that officers are held accountable for violations, the first being this provision lacks a private cause of action. We urge the Council to remove that limitation on line 356 of the Bill. Another barrier is the access to BWC footage and officer failures to comply with BWC rules as mentioned. Officers should be required to carry cards that identify their names and badge numbers and include the consent question clearly in writing along with the number for the Office of Police Complaints for civilians with whom they conduct these consent searches. The legislation should be explicit that any evidence resulting from such a search will then be inadmissible in court.
There is an argument to made about whether searches by law enforcement are ever truly “consensual.” The power imbalance between an officer and a civilian often forces individuals to inadvertently waive their rights. Even reasonable adults are susceptible to coercion under such circumstances. As we see frequently with the waiving of Miranda rights, youth often fall victim to such susceptibility. While we recognize the Council’s attempt to address the issue of consent with regards to youth, we agree with others that the legislation does not go far enough to protect young people from this type of coercion.
Young people are both impressionable and fearful of—even conditioned to obey—authority figures. This is especially true for Black and Brown youth, whose perception of law enforcement is typically not positive, due to their experiences with being harassed and overpoliced. Given history and evidence from developmental research, which show that the adolescent brain is not fully developed to give adolescents the capability to make well-reasoned decisions, especially under intense stress or fear, it is unreasonable to expect youth to waive their rights and provide affirmative consent. We therefore support an outright ban on consent searches for youth.
End Qualified Immunity and Qualified Privilege
One of the greatest barriers to police accountability nationwide and in the District is the inability of civilians who are harmed by police officers’ actions to hold them accountable in court.
A major obstacle is the doctrine of qualified immunity, a legal defense that shields police officers from liability for even egregious misconduct. Under this doctrine, even if officers violate the Constitution, courts cannot hold them liable unless binding precedent previously held very similar conduct unlawful. Ending qualified immunity for law enforcement has rightfully become a central focus of demands for police accountability nationwide because of how it has emboldened police officers to use excessive force and otherwise violate the constitutional rights of civilians without fear of repercussions. In a recent opinion granting a Mississippi officer qualified immunity, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves lamented the harms of the qualified immunity doctrine, tracing the origins of the doctrine to the Reconstruction era. Following a list of cases where qualified immunity impeded police accountability, Judge Reeves expressed the complicity of courts in practically turning the doctrine into “absolute immunity.”
While the fight to end qualified immunity continues through the courts, D.C. can and should pass a law providing that anyone who suffers a constitutional violation has a cause of action to challenge it, and that qualified immunity will not serve as a defense. Colorado has recently adopted such legislation, and the Virginia House has too. Under Colorado’s recently-passed statute, victims of police misconduct will be permitted to bring a lawsuit against officers to enforce the Colorado Constitution, and officers will not be allowed to shield themselves with the doctrine of qualified immunity which has served to protect officers from accountability and deny families justice. D.C. should look to these examples, and pass similar legislation that would allow community members to hold police responsible when they violate laws, policies, and community trust.
Qualified privilege is a legal rule that protects police officers from tort liability under the D.C. common law. Under this doctrine, officers who reasonably believe that their actions are legal can get away with using unconstitutional amounts of excessive force or arresting people without probable cause. There’s an easy fix to qualified privilege: the Council can abolish it! This change would not impose liability on officers who make legal arrests or use legal amounts of force, because then no one’s rights have been violated. Instead, the proposed change would mean that when officers exceed their powers—even due to confusion—their victims can still hold them accountable.
Create a private cause of action for violations of the First Amendment Assemblies Act
We also urge the Council to add a right-to-sue provision to the First Amendment Assemblies Act, D.C. Code §§ 5–331.03 to 5-331.17 (the “FAAA”). That statute, enacted by the Council in 2005, provides significant protection to the rights of peaceful demonstrators in D.C. But when MPD doesn’t follow the rules, people can suffer real injuries—for example, when MPD improperly uses chemical weapons, or assaults and arrests people who didn’t leave an area because the police didn’t give an audible dispersal order as the FAAA requires.
Increase oversight of acquisition and use of surveillance technology by law enforcement
As previously stated, law enforcement agencies often use surveillance tools to police communities. Currently, MPD and other District agencies are able to acquire and use powerful surveillance technologies without any oversight from the D.C. Council or community, because the District has no laws that require such oversight. This means significant decisions about surveillance occur in secret, without meaningful discussion about the ramifications and costs for D.C. residents. Current laws have not been able to keep up with the evolution of these technologies, which threaten civil rights and civil liberties of all DC residents. But communities that are already overpoliced—including Black and Brown communities, low-income communities, Muslim communities, immigrant communities, LGBTQ communities, and political activist groups—face the greatest threats to their civil rights. The Community Oversight of Surveillance-D.C. coalition (COS-DC), of which the ACLU-DC is a member, has been working on legislation to bring very necessary oversight. We urge the Council to adopt this legislation, or at minimum, commit to holding a hearing on the issue.
III. Remove policing and criminalization from public safety response
As we testified earlier this summer at the budget oversight hearing for the Metropolitan Police Department, in order to have real transformational change, the District must divest from policing and reimagine a system of public safety that decenters criminalization and policing in favor of one that invests significant resources into the community and focuses on non-police responses to enforcing laws. Some of our recommendations for doing this include:
Remove police officers from schools
The ACLU-DC is a strong supporter of the Police-Free Schools campaign being spearheaded by the Black Swan Academy.
Police presence in our schools does not make young people safer, but instead causes further trauma when normal adolescent behavior or trauma responses are criminalized. 92 percent of school-based arrests are of Black students. Black girls in D.C are 30 times more likely to be arrested than white youth of any gender identity. 60% of girls arrested in D.C are under the age of 15, and many are disciplined and referred to police for their trauma responses to experiencing sexual violence in their lives. Our youth need our support, not to be pushed away from education and down a path of criminalization. We urge the Council to eliminate the MPD School Safety Division and remove police officers from DCPS public and charter schools.
Limit police enforcement of traffic stops
We also urge the Council to follow the example of jurisdictions like Berkeley, CA, which passed legislation transferring traffic enforcement away from the police. We recommend that most traffic enforcement be shifted to a non-police agency like the Department of Motor Vehicles. Police should not be tasked with enforcing laws that can be enforced by other agencies.
Create a robust non-police crisis response system
As we continue to reckon with state-sponsored violence in our communities, we must all think deeper about building a world that reimagines what public safety looks like. It is critical that we shift away from the paradigm that public safety centers around policing, and instead address public safety from a public health perspective.
It is clear that we cannot continue to ignore the startling connection between crisis prevention-based 911 calls and police brutality. However, 911 has become the only option for people looking for non-violent and non-carceral alternatives. Regardless of the role people feel that police serve in public safety, the facts are they often arrive at the scene armed with deadly weapons and a lack of mental health training, with devastating results. We must invest in a system of crisis response that centers the real needs of the community—following the leadership of and listening to the communities most violently impacted by a lack of options, to those already engaged in crisis prevention in this city, and to those providing direct services. D.C. should look to program models CAHOOTS, based in Eugene, OR.
Significantly expand the role of violence interruption and trauma-informed approaches
The tragic shooting and death of Deon Kay is not only the ultimate example of the ineffectiveness of MPD’s approach to violence intervention (namely through its gun recovery program), but is also the logical conclusion of a policy that not only meets violence with violence, but actually escalates and incites it — especially in our Black communities. Kay, who had turned 18 less than a month prior to the incident, was connected to various DC agencies, which means there were various nonviolent avenues for engagement that would have spared his life.
The District must make greater effort to fully realize the vision of the NEAR Act, which the created violence prevention and interruption programs. District’s budget still equates policing with public safety and funds MPD at the expense of other critical programs. We needs to move away from relying on police to solve problems that can be addressed through other means and should invest more in those critical violence prevention and interruption programs. It is imperative that the Council expands the role of violence interrupters in the community and invest more in non-police trauma-informed approaches to intervention.
Rehaul the District’s Criminal Code to decrease penalties and decriminalize offenses
As we know, D.C. is not immune to the tough on crime policies that have proliferated the country over the last 40-50 years. Like other cities, the District expanded harsh penalties for acts that should be addressed with a public health approach. It is our understanding that CCRC has substantial recommendations that are forthcoming in the Spring and we look forward to working with the Council as it considers the commission’s recommendations.
Automatic License Plate Readers
The use of automatic license plate readers (ALPR) raises serious concerns and have the potential to violate people’s First Amendment right to privacy and Fourth Amendment right prohibiting unreasonable searches, as indicated by OPC’s report. With regards to First Amendment violations, ALPRs can track people’s movements and determine where someone is at a particular time on a particular day. Data stored from ALRPs overtime, and later aggregated, can be used to track people’s associations, and patterns of behavior. There is also the issue of transparency because we do not know how and with whom law enforcement shares data collected by ALPRs.
IV. Other Recommendations
As it is currently written, Subtitle D of the legislation, which establishes a “Use of Force Review Board” only authorizes the Board to shall review uses of force. The Council should expand the Board’s role to include such duties as making reports, making recommendations, or even imposing discipline. In addition, the Council should consider empowering the Board to subpoena records and the power to compel testimony.
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Marqueese Alston, Jeffery Price, D’Quan Young, Raphael Briscoe, Terrence Sterling. It is important to remember the tipping point that got us to this moment, but also important to remember that the ACLU-DC, coalition partners, community members have been demanding change for years. This Council has a rare moment in time when real, visionary, transformational change is possible. The ACLU-DC supports this proposed legislation but urges the Council not to squander the opportunity to go much further.
We look forward to working closely with the Council, with community partners, and with the recently formed police reform commission to incorporate these and other changes.