WASHINGTON (AP) – Internal statistics don’t back up the claim that police in Washington are disproportionately stopping and frisking African-Americans on the street, Police Chief Cathy Lanier said Monday.
Testifying at a D.C. Council hearing on aggressive police tactics, Lanier said the department gets more complaints about officers’ conduct during traffic stops and the behavior of vice officers, and she proposed reforms that she believes will address some of those concerns.
Citing an internal audit, Lanier said the department stopped and frisked more than 3,000 people last year. Most of those occurred after officers had been told to be on the lookout for a possible criminal suspect, she said. In those cases, police were told to look for a Black man 84 percent of the time, and 79 percent of the people stopped were Black men, she said.
“If a lookout was for an African-American male 30 percent of the time but 79 percent of the time we’re stopping African-American males, I know we have a problem,” Lanier said.
At a previous hearing on the subject, Councilmember Tommy Wells said there was “a deep racism” in city police practices, and numerous Black residents testified about difficult encounters with police. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who is Black, said he’s lost count of the number of times he’s been stopped and searched “for no reason.”
Lanier said she couldn’t be sure that people complaining to the council or other officials about aggressive stop-and-frisks were describing encounters with Metropolitan Police Department officers, noting that more than 30 other law enforcement agencies operate in the District of Columbia. The department followed up with residents who complained about police tactics at the previous hearing, she said, and none were able to provide enough details for the department to launch an investigation. She urged anyone who has a troubling encounter with police to file a complaint immediately.
“I know we have some members that aren’t meeting our standards,” Lanier said. “I’m committed to making sure they are identified and removed from our ranks.”
The department has taken steps to address concerns about officer misconduct. This month, Lanier launched a pilot program under which some officers will wear cameras that record their interactions with the public.
While she did not propose any changes to the stop-and-frisk policy, Lanier saidMonday that she is seeking changes that would address complaints about traffic stops and the behavior of vice officers, sometimes referred to as “jump-out” squads.
Lanier said the department would be rolling out a new drug-enforcement strategy in early 2015 that would deemphasize enforcement of street-level transactions, reflecting the new reality that the city has few remaining open-air drug markets.
She also said she wants to limit the number of citations an officer can write during a single traffic stop to address concerns about excessive ticketing.
Lanier also said a poorly written law has led to people being charged with misdemeanor assault on a police officer when all they’re doing is resisting arrest, and she urged the council to reform that statute.
“The council has inadvertently established a system where officers who are following the law are perceived to be harassing the community,” she said.
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