WASHINGTON -- D.C. council approved funding Tuesday for the stop and frisk data collection requirement of the NEAR Act, which was designed in part to identify and protect against potential racial bias by officers.
The city said D.C. police was not following the stop and frisk data requirement because the funding provided by the D.C. council in 2016 was not enough to pay for the computer upgrades needed to comply with the now two-year-old law.
D.C. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue, whose office oversees the police department, now admits D.C. police knew almost immediately the District had woefully underfunded the stop and frisk data collection law. They were also aware that city hall let nearly two years go by before doing anything about it.
But Donahue says his office wasn’t ignoring the law.
“When I have a 20-provision act there are some choices we do have to make,” Donahue said in an interview with WUSA9.
That 20-provision act, known as the NEAR Act of 2016, was an overhaul of the way the city approaches policing. It included title 2-G, stop and frisk and use of force data collection which required D.C. police to increase the amount of data they record about stops.
An ongoing investigation by WUSA9 uncovered 8 out of 10 people stopped by D.C. police are black even though African-Americans make up just 47 percent of the city’s population according to the 2016 census.
The data collection piece of the NEAR Act was specifically designed to identify and protect against potential racial bias by officers. It was funded back in 2016, based on a recommendation from D.C.’s chief financial officer Jeffrey DeWitt.
DeWitt estimated it would cost the police department $150,000 to make the required computer system changes to start collecting that stop and frisk data. But it now appears DeWitt didn’t consult one important group coming up with that number: the people who run the computers at the D.C. Police Department.
“Right away, the MPD IT folks looked at that and recognized when they looked at the requirements of the NEAR Act and those elements that $150,000 simply wasn’t enough to get it done,” Donahue said.
Days after, $150,000 was sent to the police department in October 2016, Donahue wrote a letter to Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie telling him “MPD’s software development team is still working on modifications…” and that “implementation of data provisions of the NEAR Act will be scheduled in future upgrades.”
But six months later, Donahue started raising red flags.
At a Committee on Judiciary & Public Safety budget oversight hearing on April 12, 2017, McDuffie questioned Donahue about why the stop and frisk data collection hadn’t started.
“It will take more time and money than envisioned in the original law,” Donahue told McDuffie.
“Do you know how much? Do you know much time and money it will take to do that? Because that’s a very important aspect,” McDuffie pressed.
“Collecting information, demographic information about police stops requires changes to the data base and I can get that number for you,” Donahue said at the time.
But it appears that never happened because one year later, comprehensive stop and frisk data still was not being collected as required in the NEAR Act.
At another Committee on Judiciary & Public Safety hearing, this one on February 22, 2018, Donahue still did not have any answers as to what it would take to get the stop and frisk data collection started.
“We haven’t gotten to all those answers yet in terms of here’s what we would need to carry out every aspect of this part of the law,” Donahue told chairperson Charles Allen.
“That’s the source of frustration, seems like we had than conversation a year ago,” a frustrated Allen shot back.
Donahue now says the reason for the delay is that his office prioritized other aspects of the NEAR Act that he felt were easier to implement, and would make a more immediate impact.
Like expanding the authority of the office of police complaints and collecting a different kind of data, about crime victims, suspects and court outcomes.
“We prioritized the things that are going to save life and safety,” Donahue said.
That’s not good enough for April Goggans, the core organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C.
“I think it has everything to do with life and safety,” Goggans said of the Stop and Frisk data requirement.
Goggans is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the police department and city over the failure to collect the stop and frisk data. That lawsuit cited WUSA9’s ongoing reporting in making its case that city leaders, including Donahue, willfully ignored the data collection law at the expense of people in D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods.
“I think he just doesn’t get it. I think he doesn’t get the human component of all of this,” Goggans said.
“I don’t think he thinks of the numbers as individual people and individual human experiences.”
City leaders have now told D.C. council it will take more than twice its original estimate to pay for the computer upgrades needed to start collecting the stop data required by the NEAR Act: $300,000 for the police department and another $200,000 to DMV so traffic stops can be better monitored.
But what about that original $150,000 council sent the police department to get the job done back in 2016? Regarding that Donahue says he thinks it was spent on other IT needs for Police. But he could not provide any specifics.
“If I thought the money was spent on something that was completely outside of the IT investment of the systems, I’d be concerned,” Donahue said.
“What I was most concerned about is we were given $150,000 and then saddled with an expectation that required us to spend $500,000. And that was a very difficult predicament to be placed into.”
The new round of funding for stop and frisk data collection of funding will be available October 1.
Donahue says it will take nine months to do the computer system upgrades and officer training, meaning the stop and frisk data collection required by the NEAR Act will finally start in July of 2019, almost three years, after that law was passed.