WASHINGTON (WUSA9) — For the first time leaders of the District of Columbia admit the D.C. Police Department doesn’t have a system in place to collect critical stop and frisk data as required by law. This remains an issue, even though the law requiring officers to track that data was passed two years ago.
In a stunning admission during a D.C. council budget oversight hearing Thursday, D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said his department was “guilty” of not following a law requiring it to collect comprehensive data every time they stop and frisk someone.
“So to the extent there has been a delay to this data piece and not a complete understanding of the necessary infrastructure changes that would be required, um, we’re guilty,” Newhsam told Judiciary and Public Safety Chairman Charles Allen.
During the hearing at the John A. Wilson government building, Allen scolded the chief for the department’s failure to comply with the data collection law.
“The thing that we have to say is unacceptable is that we are just not going to do those things because we don’t want to do it,” Allen told Newsham. The chief didn’t push back.
“I agree with that sir,” Newsham said. “I 100 percent agree that it’s not acceptable.”
Collecting comprehensive stop and frisk data is something many major police departments across the country already do. The information is critical to ensuring police officers aren’t unfairly and unconstitutionally profiling African-Americans.
RELATED: DC Police: Stopping, frisking innocent people necessary to fight crime
But right now, D.C. police officers only log basic information in their stop and frisk reports, like the date, age, race and location of the stop.
The Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results or NEAR Act of 2016 requires police to record much more, including:
- The violation that led to the stop.
- If a search was conducted.
- The reason for the search.
- And whether an arrest was made because of the stop or search.
But two years after that law was passed, Newsham now admits that still isn’t being done the way the law requires.
The chief said his department didn’t fully understand what it would take to implement the stop and frisk data collection when it told D.C. council it would only need $150,000 to make the necessary changes.
The D.C. council gave that money to D.C. police in 2016, but the department now says, it never spent it. It wasn’t nearly enough to update DC’s data collection systems to collect the stop and frisk data.
“Why were we wrong when we said $150 thousand dollars, and then the second part of that is, when did we determine that was not going to be sufficient?” Allen asked Newsham.
“I think we were probably a little bit guilty on the second question, of prioritizing,” Newsham answered.
Prioritizing by implementing other provisions of the NEAR Act first like collecting data on felony arrests and use or force, before the department figured out how to do that comprehensive stop and frisk data collection. This is somethingNewsham said is a much more complicated task.
Reporting by the WUSA9 Special Assignment Unit revealed improving stop and frisk data collection in the district, should have been a priority. A six-month investigation revealed 8 out of 10 stop and frisks in the district are being done on African-Americans.
Sometimes those stops are based on vague descriptions leading to thousands of police stops on innocent black people.
A second investigation by WUSA9 exposed what Chief Newsham now acknowledges is true. That D.C. police were not following that stop and frisk data collection law, aimed at ensuring police don’t unfairly target any specific race.
Black Lives Matter DC core organizer April Goggans believes the timing of D.C. police’s surprising admission, that not only were they NOT collecting that wider stop and frisk data, but also that the department had no solid plan to do so, is not a coincidence.
“I think they’re back tracking and honestly I think it was your reporting and community pressure that got them to finally admit they didn’t have it,” Goggans said. “I think they’ve got to be honest about what they need.”)
D.C. police still doesn’t know what they need to get this done. Neither does Deputy Mayor Kevin Donahue who has oversight over the department.
“I know it’s going to cost more than what was set aside in the budget,” Donahue said.
How much more? When can it happen? Those questions are all still a mystery. The only thing Donahue knows for sure is that it’s going to take revamping two different city data collection systems to do it.
Donahue said the city is now seeking bids from its vendors, but a cost and timeline for when the work can be completed is unknown. Still, Donahue says people shouldn’t forget all the progress D.C. has made on nearly every other of provision of the NEAR Act, which was designed as a holistic public health approach to stopping violence in D.C.
“The stop and frisk data, based on the need to change out data systems, inherently takes longer to do,” Donahue explained.
Chief Newsham told Councilmember Allen that even after the updated data systems are in place to collect comprehensive stop and frisk data, it will be another year before any of that information can be effectively studied.
DC Government Data Release and Timeline
- 07/10/2017: WUSA9 filed Freedom of Information Act request for D.C. police stop and frisk data (2010-2016)
- 11/22/2017: Stop and frisk data (2010-2016) released to WUSA9
- 2/20/2018: Stop and frisk data (2010-2016) posted publicly by D.C. police for first time
- 2/23/2018: WUSA9 releases D.C. police stop and frisk investigation on wusa9.com
- 2/26/2018: WUSA9 broadcasts D.C. police stop and frisk investigation on WUSA9
- 3/09/2018: WUSA9 files Freedom of Information Act for all records of felony arrests obtained for the purpose of creating the NEAR Act 2016 report on felony crimes and all Records of Superior Court criminal cases obtained for the purpose of creating the NEAR Act 2016 report on felony crimes
- 3/16/2018: Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice posts DC felony arrest data publicly for the first time.
- 3/27/2018: WUSA9 investigation exposes D.C. police were not following stop and frisk data collection law in NEAR Act aimed at ensuring police don’t unfairly target any specific race.
- 3/28/18: ACLU District of Columbia, Black Lives Matter DC and Stop Police Terror Project DC send demand letter to D.C. Government, citing WUSA9 reporting, that threatens a lawsuit if D.C. police does not release required Stop and Frisk data or release plan to collect it.
- 3/29/18: D.C. police Chief Peter Newsham publicly admits for first time the department is “guilty” of not collecting comprehensive stop and frisk data, and that the $150,000 given to the police department by council to do so is well short of what’s needed to make changes. Newsham apologizes, but has no cost estimates or timelines on when that data collection can begin.