New D.C. Bill Would Mandate A Public Database Of Police Misconduct Records Advocates say that improving police accountability in D.C. requires knowing which officers have had disciplinary action, which is currently kept from the public.
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New D.C. Bill Would Mandate A Public Database Of Police Misconduct Records

Activists and residents in D.C. have been agitating for police reforms over the last year, and the D.C. Council is now working its way through dozens of recommendations from the Police Reform Commission. Diane Krauthamer/Flickr hide caption

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Diane Krauthamer/Flickr

The Metropolitan Police Department would be required to create a publicly accessible database of officer disciplinary and training records under a new bill introduced by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson this week.

The bill would also create a new deputy D.C. auditor for public safety position and strengthen the independent Office of Police Complaints, which investigates individual complaints against police officers and recommends training and policy changes to the department.

Mendelson's bill is largely drawn from recommendations by the D.C. Police Reform Commission, which the council created last summer in the wake of racial justice protests. The group issued its final report in the spring. Though the bill tackles only a small portion of the commission's 90 recommendations, advocates say the particular focus of the measure is on increasing accountability.

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"It holds the officers who wield great power in all of our names to a more appropriate standard and lets them know that people are paying attention to what they do with that power," says Naïké Savain, a member of the commission and policy counsel at the D.C. Justice Lab. "It's no different than we do with professionals who have much less of an impact on people's lives."

Potentially the most significant change would deal with police disciplinary records, which are now shielded from public disclosure. The bill would make the records eligible for release under public records requests, and also mandate that MPD create a database of disciplinary records, commendations and awards, and trainings for individual officers by Dec. 23, 2023.

While the majority of states still either keep the records private or only make them available to the public on a limited basis, several have recently opened them up. Currently, 15 states "allow these records to be mostly available to the public," according a recent AP analysis. Earlier this year New York City's police oversight agency also published its own database of misconduct records.

"One salient case is when George Floyd was murdered, Derek Chauvin had 17 complaints against him. Here in D.C., there would be no way to know," says Savain, adding that local prosecutors have long compiled a list of D.C. police officers who are under investigation or have been accused of misconduct — but the list has never been made public.

The bill would also create a new position of deputy D.C. auditor for public safety, allowing the existing office of the D.C. auditor to more consistently focus in on police.

Auditor Kathy Patterson currently does so on a more ad hoc basis; recent reports have touched on the police shooting of 18-year-old Deon Kay, internal police investigations of fatal incidents, and compliance with D.C. law on the surveillance of protest groups. The bill would also give more authority to the Office of Police Complaints, including by allowing it to accept anonymous resident complaints against officers and letting it investigate more serious uses of force.

Neither MPD nor the D.C. Police Union responded to a request for comment on Mendelson's bill, but this week the union claimed in a statement that ongoing police reform measures in D.C. were increasing the number of officers leaving the department and also fueling the spike in homicides. Homicides are currently 2% above where they were at the same point last year, the deadliest year in more than a decade. Killings are up in many U.S. cities; some experts say there's no simple reason why.

Last year, the union fought a number of proposed reforms, including a provision to speed release of body-camera footage and another that removed discipline for officers from collective bargaining over the police contract.

For her part, Mayor Muriel Bowser has said she supports some of the D.C. Police Reform Commission's recommendations — she announced that more non-emergency 911 calls will be routed to mental health professionals, for one — but called some of the proposals "irresponsible" and "extremist." One member of the commission also said he believed "anti-police bias at times pervaded the commission's discussions."

But Savain says Mendelson's bill, and many of the commission's recommendations, should appeal to a wide range of people. "Whether what you want is more police or fewer police... as long as people carry guns and badges in our name, they should be held accountable," she says.

The council is expected to continue debating police reforms in the fall, including a bill that would largely ban most police car chases and another measure that would limit interrogations and searches of minors.

This story is from, the local news website of WAMU.

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