A coalition of civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit against D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and two other top city officials for a delay in the legally required collection and reporting of police stop-and-frisk data.
Black Lives Matter D.C., Stop Police Terror Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia asked a court to order Bowser, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Kevin Donahue and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Peter Newsham to comply with a provision of the Neighborhood Achieves Results Act, or NEAR Act, that requires the city’s police to collect comprehensive data on all stop-and-frisks conducted in the District beginning in October 2016.
The groups filed the lawsuit Friday, May 4 but filed a motion for preliminary injunction Tuesday, May 8. The lawsuit follows a twofold demand letter sent to the mayor’s office and MPD by the coalition in late March ordering that MPD 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 if they have failed to implement the law.
The groups also threatened to take legal action if their demands were not met.
“The time for games is over,” said April Goggans, a core organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C. “The District’s unacceptable delay in implementing the NEAR Act’s requirement to collect data on stops and frisks suggests that Bowser and Newsham are scared of what the data will prove.”
Goggans said the data was necessary for the community to hold D.C. police accountable.
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 police in the District, but a lack of detailed data makes it impossible to back that claim.
In February 2017, ACLU’s D.C. chapter filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the city’s stop-and-frisk data, but the mayor’s office responded that no records exist that meet the NEAR Act’s data-collection requirements. Following the demand letter, Newsham admitted during a D.C. Council oversight hearing that MPD was “guilty” of not implementing the law. Donahue also told the Council the $150,000 initially allocated to make the necessary changes to implement that law, would be insufficient to achieve full implementation.
In testimony before the Council, Donahue indicated that few steps have been taken to implement the law’s data collection requirements.
He said currently the city collects information about the “most intensive” police encounters in the city through its arrest record though 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 portion of the NEAR Act that relates to collection of stop-and-frisk data does not have a reporting requirement, the data will nevertheless 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.
The coalition’s preliminary injunction 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.
“Bowser has abdicated her duty to follow the law,” said Monica Hopkins, executive director of ACLU D.C. “By stalling, then making excuses for not collecting this critical data, she has sent the message that police transparency and accountability are not D.C. values. It leaves us no choice but to ask the court to compel the mayor to enforce a law she’s sworn to uphold.”
A Bowser representative said the administration does not comment on pending litigation.