PCJF forces D.C. Police to disclose General and Special Orders

Documents Released to PCJF Uploaded for Public Viewing

  • October 28, 2009
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The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund has just obtained a massive disclosure of previously withheld documents governing police operations. The PCJF forced the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C. (MPD) to disclose nearly all of its General Orders and Special Orders and related directives that dictate how officers are to exercise their authority. Most of this information has been withheld by the police from the public. Those orders, released in response to a PCJF lawsuit, are being posted and made publicly available on the PCJF’s web site or by visiting DCMPD.org. (See link at the bottom).

The PCJF filed a lawsuit on February 5, 2009 to force the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's operations out of the shadows through disclosure of its orders and policies. The DC MPD was in violation of its legal obligations as mandated by the D.C. Council in 2001 to make this information public and had further refused to make such information public upon written request under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act. The PCJF's lawsuit followed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for these documents.

The public can now review what the MPD internal policy dictates regarding police-resident contacts, stops and frisks, restrictions on MPD high speed vehicular pursuits, use of closed circuit television cameras, handling of property, obligations to release persons through the citation release program, electronic recording of interrogations, use of canines, traffic safety compliance checkpoints and a range of other issues that span the full scope of police authority.

Advocacy organizations now have access to orders pertaining to processing of deaf or hearing impaired citizens, juveniles, transgendered persons and other groups requiring special care.

The MPD has long refused efforts from civil rights and civil liberties and community based organizations for this disclosure, but the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund went to court to get the documents.

The MPD is still withholding a smaller number of orders claiming they are “law enforcement sensitive” and the MPD has yet to release, as demanded, copies of its staff manuals. These matters remain pending before the Court.

The PCJF has also sued to force the MPD to publish these materials on the Internet, and to maintain them as current, so that citizens and the public can access these materials on demand without even having to file a request. Internet publication is required by the D.C. Freedom of Information statute, but the MPD has refused to comply with the law. In response to the PCJF lawsuit, the MPD posted some "selected" Orders on its website. However the materials obtained by the PCJF and now being made available on the PCJF website are a vastly larger trove of records and resources.

Last month, D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith N. Macaluso ruled in favor of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund that it could proceed with its suit to compel the MPD to comply with those Internet publication directives.

"Public disclosure of the operational policies and practices, orders and staff instructions of the police department is essential for policing in a democratic society and to establish accountability," stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founder and attorney with the PCJF. "Disclosure is essential to ensure that the police department does not operate above the law and does not constitute the law, but performs those functions and exercises only that authority which the citizenry has deemed appropriate," she continued.

Click here to visit DCMPD.ORG and obtain the just released MPD General and Special orders as well as related documents.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), is a not-for-profit legal and educational organization which, among other things, seeks to ensure constitutional accountability within police practices. The PCJF recently won a unanimous ruling at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals finding the MPD's unprecedented military-style police checkpoint program unconstitutional. PCJF is counsel on the still pending class action lawsuits against the District for the mass false arrests of more than 1,000 persons during First Amendment protected demonstrations, among other litigation. The PCJ previously uncovered and disclosed that the D.C. police employed an unlawful domestic spying and agent provocateur program in which officers were sent on long-term assignments posing as political activists and infiltrating lawful and peaceful groups. For more information go to: www.JusticeOnline.org.

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