PCJ Sues MPD to Force Disclosure of Orders and Policies

PCJ Sues MPD to Force Disclosure of Orders and Policies

PCJF v. District of Columbia

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund announced today that it has filed a lawsuit to force the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department to disclose its orders and policies. The DC MPD is in violation of its legal obligations as mandated by the D.C. Council in 2001 to make this information public and has further refused to make such information public upon written request under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act. The PCJF's lawsuit follows a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for these documents.

"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.

The lawsuit states:
"The MPD may prefer to operate in the shadows, but this would be a negation of democracy. Moreover, there are clear, unambiguous requirements about disclosure from which the MPD cannot exempt itself. Since 2001, the MPD has been statutorily obligated to make public, produce upon demand, and publish on the Internet the public records at issue herein.

"Eight years have passed, and the MPD still refuses to release the basic public records about its operation, orders and policies.

"Of all agencies of the District of Columbia Government, the Metropolitan Police Department possesses the greatest authority to interact with (or against), or to surveil and observe personal and public activities of, D.C. residents and others present within its jurisdiction. The MPD monitors and intervenes in the lives of District of Columbia residents in a multitude of ways, in some ways more intrusive than others, sometimes overtly and sometimes surreptitiously. ...

"These are truly wide-reaching, but not unrestricted, powers. Limitations on the authority granted to, and conduct of the police arise from many sources. In its greatest particularity, authority is to be given effect through the police department’s policies, orders and staff instructions. The written policies, orders and staff instructions provide notice to the public of how the police force is to conduct itself, at least according to formal rules. The policies, orders and staff instructions disclose to the public what operations the MPD may (or may assert itself as authorized to) engage in, what protections are in place for civilians, and what restrictions are in place as to collection and usage of data."

"The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund has filed this Complaint seeking injunctive and declaratory relief compelling production of the requested public information and also requiring the MPD to publish the requested information on the Internet on the MPD web site for the benefit of all of the citizenry and residents of the District of Columbia," stated Carl Messineo, co-founder and attorney with the PCJF.

Prior to initial demands from the PCJF, the MPD had posted none of its General Orders online. In apparent response to the PCJF's demands, the MPD has grudgingly posting some "selected" General Orders but is still maintaining a massive cloak of secrecy and refusing to comply with their obligations. The people do not need a sliver of information, but full disclosure.

Many other jurisdictions have adopted similar requirements for publication of police procedures and policies, including Seattle and Minneapolis. The MPD has not only failed to comply with its legal requirements under the D.C. FOIA since 2001, but has apparently rejected the 2005 entreaty from the D.C. Police Complaints Board for MPD policies, procedures and other information to be published on the Internet. 

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 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 and the lawsuit challenging the MPD's unprecedented military-style police checkpoint program, now before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, 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.

Details about the PCJF's FOIA request can be found in the legal complaint, which you can access by clicking here or going to http://www.justiceonline.org/.