Brianne K. Nadeau, a Democrat, represents Ward 1 on the D.C. Council.
On the D.C. Council, I represent the most diverse ward in the District. I have seen an evolution in the way my constituents think about public safety. As recently as four years ago, a violent incident would have resulted in calls for more police on every block or tougher and longer prison sentences. Today, even with an increase in homicides across the District, the call is largely to do something different, something deeper that addresses the causes of crime rather than just treating the symptoms. We need to acknowledge that increased police presence doesn’t always make everyone — especially residents of color — feel safer.
That’s why I am calling on the mayor and my colleagues on the council to fully invest in implementation of the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (Near) Act and end the practice of stop and frisk in the District. Fluctuations in violent crime are no excuse to pull funding or support for the groundbreaking work the District has done to address community violence at its root, work that has only just begun. Our constituents are demanding a change in how we create safe communities, particularly ending stop and frisk.
The Near Act, passed unanimously in 2016, is a comprehensive public-health approach toward reducing violent crime through diversion programs, counseling, mentorship and violence interruption.
Implementing the Near Act means undertaking the hard work of systems change. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not even happening in its entirety.
A key part of the Near Act is data collection on stop-and-frisk tactics. To date, the Metropolitan Police Department is not providing complete reporting on the tactic and is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for noncompliance. Worse, the limited partial data the MPD has released is deeply troubling. It shows that the practice is highly discriminatory: Eighty-three percent of all stop and frisks were of black residents, who make up 47 percent of the District’s population.
Stop and frisk traumatizes our neighbors without making our neighborhoods safer. The American Journal of Public Health published a study of the effect of stop and frisk on those who had been the subject of such searches. Participants who reported more police contact reported more trauma and anxiety, associations tied to how many stops they reported, the intrusiveness of the encounters and their perceptions of police fairness. Evaluations of stop and frisk in New York City showed that few of the searches resulted in meaningful arrests, and even fewer assisted with the recovery of firearms.
The MPD doesn’t officially use the term “stop and frisk.” “Protective pat-down,” the preferred phrase, is different in name only. We recently heard about the practice of “randomly trawl[ing] high crime neighborhoods asking occupants who fit a certain statistical profile . . . if they possess contraband.”
The Near Act must be embraced in its entirety. Better data leads to better policing, more accountability and safer communities. As long as the mayor and police chief are not complying with the Near Act and all of its requirements, it is disingenuous to raise concerns that our approach isn’t working. It is especially misleading to compare the effectiveness of an $8 million violence-prevention program to that of the MPD’s $500 million operating budget.
The council and mayor must implement the law as written, which requires the MPD to fully comply with the required stop-and-frisk data reporting. If the police chief is unwilling to share MPD practices with the public, the MPD should not be permitted to carry out those practices on the public, which is why I’m joining community members calling for a ban of stop and frisk. Once the Near Act is fully funded, studied and implemented, we can begin our clear-eyed review of its efficacy.
I’m proud to support the Near Act, and I’m proud to invest in community policing efforts that allow for cooperation between the MPD and residents in making our communities safer. I voted to fund gang-violence prevention, supported body-worn cameras and wrote the District’s red-flag law that allows authorities to remove guns from people who are planning to hurt themselves or others.
We must address racial inequity, poverty and violence perpetrated by easy access to illegal firearms from neighboring states. The way we fix those problems is by doubling down on our investment in systems change. I’m going to keep asking how we can fully support evidence-based approaches to violence prevention, and I look forward to others doing the same.