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After a months-long legal battle, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department has released the first batch of data it collected on police stops. While the data collection only lasted a month this time around, the results seem clear: 70 percent of individuals stopped by MPD in that month were black.
Critics of MPD say the data verifies what might as well have been a foregone conclusion. But in the data report itself, MPD “caution[s] readers not to simply compare the demographics of persons stopped in DC with the demographics of the city’s population.”
And this data can’t be assessed in a vacuum. Differences in the location and circumstances of police stops often reflect other nuances, as do the endnotes and asterisks of the report. For example, of the 136 firearms MPD says they confiscated over the four weeks, 9 were actually BB or Airsoft guns.
We’ll dive into the results of the data and examine where other NEAR Act initiatives stand — and ask where they’ll go from here.
Produced by Maura Currie
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast a look at the local legacy of an American spoken word and jazz artist and his collaborator and the reggae band giving their tunes new life. But first after several months of legal tangles the Metropolitan Police Department has released the first month of data on who officers stop and why.
KOJO NNAMDIThis data was collected as part of the NEAR Act, which was passed in 2016 and not fully implemented until this summer. The thinking behind one part of the act was to create accountability in the MPD and identify areas of bias. And at first glance the numbers are jarring. Seventy percent of people MPD stopped are black, but data is complicated and there are some nuisances here that need to be explored. So joining me in studio is Peter Newsham. He is the Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. Chief Newsham, thank you for joining us.
PETER NEWSHAMKojo, thank you for having me on. I appreciate it.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone is Kenyan McDuffie. He is the D.C. councilmember who authored the NEAR Act. Councilmember McDuffie, thank you for joining us.
KENYAN MCDUFFIEAlways a pleasure to be on with you, Kojo.
NNAMDICouncilmember McDuffie, let's start at the beginning. When did you author the NEAR Act and what was your thinking about how it would help the District at the time?
MCDUFFIESo I assume the chairmanship of the District in Public Safety Committee back in January 2015. And began about really working on a comprehensive way to address, you know, crime prevention and intervention. We had a homicide spike over that summer and so I sat down with a lot of folks from people in the community who were working on preventing, you know, homicides to experts including folks, who were part of the President Obama's task force on 21st century policing. And one of the things that they were doing innovatively was work around the White House Police Data Initiative. And so we brought the NEAR Act together. And it's 20 titles, Kojo. A lot of folks don't know how extensive that bill is.
NNAMDIYeah, it is important to note that this data collection is just one piece of the NEAR Act.
MCDUFFIEIt's just one component. Yes, exactly.
NNAMDIWhat else does it seek to do?
MCDUFFIEWell, it seeks to establish an office of violence prevention and health equity to make sure they're doing research around what kinds of strategies you can have to address homicides. It established the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, which specifically is designed to implement the Cure Violence motto, violence prevention and intervention strategies to address what we see in communities across the District of Columbia. There obviously is a data collection provision. But it also reestablished the homicide elimination strategy task force. It established a community police working group and it still requires a survey around community police relations in the District of Columbia. And so 20 titles, very extensive all designed to make the District of Columbia safer and to enhance transparency, and hopefully improve police community relations in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIWhat about this part of it? What do you think are the main takeaways from this first round of data?
MCDUFFIESo it is very important. And really I want to thank the ACLU and Black Lives Matter D.C. for their efforts to really press this issue and litigate it to the point of us getting where we are today. And I want to acknowledge them publically for their efforts. It really shouldn't have taken, you know, a lawsuit to get it to this point since it was a Council mandate where it was voted on unanimously. But ultimately I think we can look at this data that we're seeing. You mentioned some of the numbers earlier. And ultimately, you know, what this is really about is trust.
MCDUFFIEPolice community relations at its core is about trust and when you have data around stops, frisks, searches, arrests being reported in a manner that is transparent the ultimate goal is to better police community relations. When people can go online and see what's happening in their communities in their neighborhoods, if it enhances the trust between law enforcement and the community, then ultimately MPD, our prosecutors and others can rely on those interactions to get the support they need to prosecute crimes successfully and hold people accountable.
MCDUFFIESo the system of Criminal Justice in the District of Columbia really relies heavily on trust and this measure, again, taken from what was happening nationally with President Obama's White House Data Initiative really seeks to implement locally and enhance police community relations. And that data is key.
NNAMDISo what's next? And what do you hope happens with this data?
MCDUFFIEWell, ultimately I want to call some residents that were talking about, you know, one month worth of data. And we really have to think about how this helps to break the cycle of implicit bias, which frankly isn't limited to our Metropolitan Police Department, but runs through the entire course of interactions not only in the District of Columbia, but in the country and our world. So it's something that is not going to happen overnight. But looking at what this data and why the disparities in the data are disheartening, they're not surprising. But it's important, because we're going to have to continue to look at this data before we can see some trends.
MCDUFFIEAnd so what I'm encouraged by is Chief Newsham's pronouncement that he wants to engage someone in the outside to help parse the data to see what's really in the data, because ultimately what we want to do is extract and extrapolate from that data ways that we can improve our policymaking and our decision making in our laws in the District of Columbia to make our community safer.
NNAMDIKenyan McDuffie, is the D.C. councilmember, who authored the NEAR Act on which this data is based and was provided under. Thank you very much for joining us.
MCDUFFIEThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAs I mentioned earlier Peter Newsham, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia joins us in studio. Chief Newsham, the big headline about this report has been that 70 percent of all MPD stops were of black people and over 80 percent of non-traffic stops, but the report cautions this isn't necessarily evidence of bias, why?
NEWSHAMSo, yeah. I think that this is one of those issues where we have to read beyond the headlines. We actually have to read the report and I think those who are so inclined need to avail themselves of all of this data that we put up on our website to go in. And I like what the councilmember said to work collaboratively to make changes if we need to make them here in the District of Columbia.
NEWSHAMYou know, one of the limited things that this police -- or this report on data does is that it shows what the stops in the District of Columbia look like. From what I know in policing circles this is an unprecedented release of data. It's very transparent. I'm very happy that it occurred. I know that there are people who are concerned about the delay, and, you know, we can hash over those things. And people can disagree with what occurred regarding the delay. But I think right now that we have the data it gives us a unique opportunity here in Washington D.C. to move forward in a collaborative way to ensure that we are where we need to be with regards to stops.
NNAMDIOne part of the report that I'm not sure I quite understand so I'll quote from it, characterizes it this way, "Differences by race in the exposure to the police and/or the rates of committing offenses may also contribute to racial disparities in police stop decisions." What does that mean?
NEWSHAMSo I think that that's one of the unanswered questions that we have. You know, there's a lot of things that go into a police stop. You know, and the way that I've looked at this data and people are going to look at it at a lot of different ways. Like you said, the headline is that 70 percent of the people that the police department stopped were African American. If you look at -- there's really a kind of a significant dividing line if you ask me with regards to the nature of stops. And those are stops that are done for traffic versus stops that are done for arrests and/or investigative purposes. I think that's a pretty significant difference. And I'll tell you why. You know, one of the things that was interesting to us is that with our traffic stops 70 percent of the folks that were stopped, their vehicle wasn't registered here in the District of Columbia.
NEWSHAMSo I think that what that showed us was that a comparison to the demographic of Washington D.C. doesn't really give you a sense as to whether or not these stops are biased or not. I think we need to look at things like time of year, time of day, location of stops. And that's why I think it's important that we call some independent research group in, somebody that we can all agree on to come in and tell us what these stops should look like.
NNAMDIIndeed. Let me go to Richard in D.C., because I think his question might help us to better clarify what we're talking about here. Richard in D.C. Richard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RICHARDHi. I just had a comment and I think it's in line with what the chief just said. But I think it sounds like people are jumping to the conclusion that there's implicit bias in the stops. And I think it may be more of an issue of correlation to race versus causation. Just because 70 percent of the stops may happen to be African Americans doesn't mean that those stops are automatically the result of bias. There's definitely maybe a correlation there that might have to do more with the plurality of the population in the District of Columbia as well as the, you know, the percent of the population of the African American that lives in poverty. And crime tends to correlate to people who live in poverty. So I don't know if there's a causation or a correlation there. And I think it just seems premature to jump to the conclusion that there's implicit racial bias.
NNAMDIWell, I haven't heard a lot of people jumping to conclusions at this point. So let me not put that down as yet. People I think are still trying to understand this data. But thank you very much for your call. What Richard said?
NEWSHAMYeah. I think that's right. And if you talk to folks, who deal in data I think they would come to the same conclusion that Richard did. You know, one of the things that people need to understand is that the reason why police do make stops in the first place and there's two main reasons why make stops. One is for traffic safety. And we all know the issues that we've had with traffic fatalities here in the District of Columbia. And the other one -- the other reason that police generally make stops for is to address crime in our city. And we've all seen the burgeoning homicide rates.
NEWSHAMLast year we had a really bad year for homicides. This year we're outpacing last year's numbers. We have a police department that I have tried to focus on violent crime. I think some numbers, which are important to share is that when we get lookouts for violent crime -- and this is based on 2018, 87 percent of the lookouts we get in violent crime cases are for African Americans.
NNAMDIWhat's a lookout?
NEWSHAMA lookout is when a victim of a crime provides a description of the suspect that was involved. And then the police come and then they will attempt to makes stops of someone who fits that description. So 87 percent of the time the lookouts were for African Americans. Eighty-seven percent of the arrests that we had for violent crime in Washington D.C. in 2018 were African American. And then homicide arrests were 95 percent African American. I think all of that context is really important when we're looking at the non-ticket related stop. That's a context that you can't ignore. It's an unfortunate set of circumstances that we have here in the District of Columbia, but it can't be ignored when you're evaluating this information.
NNAMDIPerhaps the second biggest headline, the report says that MPD seized 136 guns during those stops. But nine of those 136 were actually BB or airsoft guns. Had MPD always counted those in firearm counts?
NEWSHAMWe do capture that in our firearm counts. We seize about 1700 to 1800 firearms a year. That four week snapshot between July 18 and August 22 that 136 number is consistent with that 1700 firearms we recover in a year. One of the things that people have to understand is that we do have a number of cases here in the city, robberies in particular where somebody will take out a BB gun or a gun that appears to be a real gun and use that in a robbery here in our city. So the recovery of those weapons in my mind is just as important in some cases as recovering the illegal firearms.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. What do you want to see MPD do with the information that they have gathered? Give us a call or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You told us earlier this summer that curbing flare-ups and gun violence would require more vigilance on illegal guns. Is this early data encouraging as far as the fight against gun violence in the District?
NEWSHAMI don't know if it's encouraging, because we had -- we are trending upward with regards to gun violence here in the city. And to me it's very concerning. We just had a 16 year old who was murdered over in Ward 8 just the other day. This is a kid, you know what I mean? Has absolutely no reason to lose his life to gun violence. And to see that those things are occurring on a more frequent nature in our city is very troubling to me. So I'm going to go back to, you know, the reasons that police officers makes stops. One of the main reasons that we make stops is to address violent crime in our city and particularly gun violence in our city. And we're going to continue to do that. This information is extremely helpful. And I think we all need to take a very close look at it. But I don't think it should dissuade us from doing what is critically important to keeping our city safe.
NNAMDIIf a stop involved physical contact between an MPD police officer and a civilian mostly it was known, because of a protective pat down commonly known as a frisk. When are MPD officers told it's appropriate to pat down or frisk someone?
NEWSHAMSo the standard for a pat down when you conduct a stop is if you believe or you have information that suggests that a person is armed. And that doesn't necessarily mean that they're armed with a gun. They could be armed with any kind of a weapon. I can give you a scenario which maybe will help people understand. Say, for example, we have a police officer that responds to a domestic violence call. And the victim of domestic violence tells the police officer that the suspect is out in the courtyard. He's wearing blue jeans, a white shirt. And his name is John. Let's use John as an example. And the victim says he carries a knife.
NEWSHAMThe police officer goes out there. They will conduct a stop on John because there's been a domestic violence assault. And because they have information to suggest that the person is armed for the safety of the suspect and the officer they will conduct what's called a productive pat down or a frisk, and that is a safety issue to ensure. And this is something that the Supreme Court has upheld as a necessary approach to investigating crimes to ensure the safety of everyone who is involved. And I think it makes commonsense to people when they hear that type of a scenario.
NNAMDIBut only 13 percent of these pat downs led to contraband being seized. Is that an indication that most of these frisks may be unnecessary?
NEWSHAMI think when you are conducting a protective pat down for the safety for human beings I would not say that it's unnecessary. So the idea for the police officer is to ensure that there is not a weapon there. They don't have 100 percent certainty that there is a weapon. But if they do have reasonable suspicion, if they have information to suggest that the person is armed, I think it's in everyone's best interest for them to conduct a limited protective pat down to ensure that there are no weapons.
NNAMDIThe ACLU of D.C. tweeted us, what is Chief Newsham's to reporting from Eric Flack of WUSA 9 that MPD conducted more than 1,470 protective pat downs in a single month? Almost 500 more than you testified were reported in a year by D.C. police.
NEWSHAMSo my response to Eric Flack is the same response that I have shared with his supervisors is that he has been one of the only reporters that I have dealt with in the city, who has a reputation for purposely misleading the public. I don't exactly what he's talking about. I think that, you know, to the extent that people want to get into arguments and disagreements about this information, I'm going to avoid that. I think this information is critically important. It's in the best interest of our city to collaborate on the right path forward based on this information. If somebody wants to get into a tit for tat with me, I'm just going to try to avoid it.
NNAMDISo you're saying that his information is basically incorrect?
NEWSHAMI don't know what he's talking about. At MPD we don't deal with Eric Flack because we believe he purposely misleads the public. And I deal with hundreds of reporters. You can have other reporters call in here today. We do not avoid dealing with the press, but this particular person I have concerns about.
NNAMDIIt's always important to note that this data is not the report notes in several places that figures are quote, "subject to change due to ongoing data quality audits and delayed reports." It also notes that some traffic tickets are still handwritten and therefore delayed. Could either of those things impact the results of this report substantially?
NEWSHAMI think that they obviously could, but I don't think it would be dramatic. So I think that the numbers suggest that any changes would be very minor.
NNAMDIThe report also indicates that during the four weeks of data collection there was an increase in homicides, robberies and thefts in D.C. compared to the same period in 2018. What do you think is causing this spike in crimes?
NEWSHAMYou know, we're trying to get a handle on the violent crime here in the city. I always go back -- and I know, Kojo, you've heard me say this before. It's the access of illegal firearms. And that's one of the reasons that we're out there. You know, and we're investigating crimes. We're making stops where necessary. The last piece that I think is really important to add to this and I've talked to some research folks about this. Really the number one thing we need to ensure as a police department is to make sure when we do make stops that they're fair and that they're procedurally just.
NEWSHAMSo I think one of the follow-ups that we need from this report is perhaps a survey of people, who have been stopped in the District to see if they feel as though their stop was procedurally just. If the police officer acted appropriately, if they weren't targeted, because of a particular -- of who they were, who they are. We're very fortunate here in Washington D.C., because all of our police officers wear body worn cameras.
NEWSHAMAnd we have an independent agency here in the District, the Office of Police Complaints who people can go to in the event they feel they were mistreated during the course of a stop. So I think that we have a lot of protections here in Washington D.C. We just have to make sure that people take advantage of it.
NNAMDIJose in Virginia has a complaint along those lines. Jose, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOSEChief, I was targeted, because of who I am. On September 12 of 2001 way before your time, I recognize that. I was assaulted by a police officer right next to the old Executive Office Building in northwest. I was carrying a 30 pound broadcast camera with White House credentials around my neck. I don't know how much more credible I could be. And this guy winds up shoving me. Of course, I made a complaint, and for the next four or five years, I would get a call or I would place a call and try to get a human being who knew their butt from their elbow on the line. And what I got was differed attention.
NNAMDIYou mentioned that this was before the chief's time. And that was -- it happened 18 years ago. So what do you want the chief to do?
JOSEI talked to Chief Lanier about this on your show.
NNAMDIOkay, but what -- we don't have a lot of time. What do you want Chief Newsham to do?
JOSEI want the chief to tell us what he's done to make sure that this is not going on today? That his office of citizen complaints --
NNAMDIOkay. That's good. Chief Newsham.
NEWSHAMSo I think, though, Kojo, the passion that the caller has in his voice is indicative of the impact that a negative police reaction can have on a human being. And that's why as the chief of police I will do everything I possibly can to ensure that when there are interactions between our police department and the community that we serve that those interactions are positive. So the things that we have implemented started under Chief Lanier, a huge proponent of it is to ensure that we have body worn cameras. I enjoy the fact in this city that we have an Office of Police Complaints where people can go to. And, you know, perhaps in the gentleman who called in his case, if OPC was around and we had body worn cameras at the time we would have been able to sustain his complaint and remove that person from the police department.
NNAMDIAnd finally Kimberley emailed us, how might the new data be incorporated into the ethics training of the MPD?
NEWSHAMYeah. So, you know, we do have a lot of highly regarded training that we give to our officers. I know you're aware of the training we have over at the National Museum of African American and the one at the Holocaust Museum. We also have a Policing for Tomorrow program with Georgetown University where we're addressing all of the current trends in policing and implicit bias and all of those things. So I think that when we perhaps get a research firm in here, who can tell us exactly what our stops should look like and if we can see anything that we can do in policing to make sure that when we are policing we're doing it in a professional constitutional, a fair and an unbiased way we are 100 percent open to adjusting our training in anyway necessary to ensure that happen.
NNAMDIPeter Newsham was the Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. Thank you for joining us.
NEWSHAMThank you for having me on. I appreciate it.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break, when we come back, a look at the local legacy of the Gil-Scott Heron and his collaborator Brian Jackson and the reggae band giving their tunes new life. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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