- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2021

D.C. Council members on Monday pressed the Office of Police Complaints on why the oversight agency recently reported its highest number of complaints in its 20-year history.

The Office of Police Complaints (OPC) has seen an ongoing rise in complaints over the last four years and most recently reported a 3.5% increase in complaints (841) for fiscal 2020, compared to the previous fiscal year (811).

During a performance oversight hearing Monday, OPC Executive Director Michael Tobin told members on the council’s Public Safety and the Judiciary Committee that the uptick is due to “several drivers.”

“I’d like to think [people] are more confident with our agency and the word has gotten out that we are trying to do a better job,” Mr. Tobin said. “We’ve kinda come a long ways from years’ past where things kinda sat around for a year and then nothing happened.”

He said “people are more confident in knowing that something is going to happen with their complaint” because the agency now has “more tools at our disposal.”

The tools, he said, include an independent review of body-worn camera footage and a mediation program in which a third-party mediator works to resolve issues between complainants and officers.

About 1 in every 10 complaints goes through mediation, which has been conducted virtually during the pandemic — a change that Mr. Tobin said appears to be “working out better for complainants” because they do not have to leave home or work to attend the meeting.

The executive director also pointed out that extending the filing deadline has “helped with a handful of complaints.” Part of the increase also is linked to protest-related complaints specifically following the racial justice protests last summer, he added.

The number of complaints referred by the Metropolitan Police Department has “greatly increased” because of the “microscope” put on the agency, he said.

Council member Janeese Lewis George, Ward 4 Democrat, asked Mr. Tobin to further explain the rise in referred complaints.

Mr. Tobin said the OPC is now receiving civil lawsuits filed against MPD in which the filer did not submit a complaint before the lawsuit and other complaints that “fell through the cracks.”

“[T]here’s no way for me to double check it, I don’t have full access to MPD records, I have to rely on what they give me and what they tell me that they have,” he said, adding that it is an issue that needs to be addressed moving forward.

Monday’s oversight hearing comes days after MPD released data showing nearly three-quarters (74%) of all people stopped by officers in the first half of the 2020 were Black.

In response to an inquiry about the data, MPD spokeswoman Kristen Metzger told The Washington Times that “MPD is committed to working with our community to earn the public trust in order to better serve and protect all.”

Ms. Metzger said part of the commitment is shown in the upcoming “community listening” sessions hosted by Acting Police Chief Robert D. Contee III, the first of which is scheduled for Tuesday night.

The police chief also is scheduled to testify Thursday before a committee oversight hearing.
Ms. Lewis George told The Times Monday that she plans to use the hearing to “address some of the most pressing issues regarding policing in the District.”

“I [have] questions about the disparate treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters compared to white supremacist protesters, particularly when it comes to the use of tear gas,” Ms. Lewis George said in an email. “And I also plan to ask about the Department’s plans to comply with required data reporting and to increase transparency when it comes to the use of force, police complaints, officer stops, and other topics of vital public interest.”

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