- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2021

The D.C. Police Union is planning to file a class grievance against the city after a cybergang leaked thousands of sensitive police documents in an extortion attempt.

“Our members’ information is protected by law and by our agreement with the city. It seems that they are unable to maintain this agreement or be trusted with protecting our data,” the union said in a statement Thursday. “Moving forward, it will be important to understand how this occurred, as well as how it could be prevented in the future.”

The Babuk ransomware group posted a massive trove of stolen data Thursday including intelligence reports and hundreds of officer disciplinary records, The Associated Press reported. Ransomware involves malicious software holding data or systems hostage until victims pay the attackers in exchange for restored access.

Earlier in the week, Babuk said its $4 million ransom demand was met with a $100,000 counteroffer, which it said was not enough.

Sensitive information from some police officers’ confidential background checks was also reportedly published over the past few weeks, including financial records, past drug use and at least one instance of sexual abuse.

D.C. Council member Charles Allen, Ward 6 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, told The Washington Times on Friday that the city needs to help those affected by the breach.

“Everyone whose personal information was released needs support from the city, and the hackers need to be held accountable for putting law enforcement and residents in danger,” Mr. Allen said in an email statement.

The city offered credit monitoring assistance to some members following the earlier leaks, which the union says is “completely inadequate given the nature of the data that has been released.”

The union, which represents 3,600 police officers, also wants the city’s inspector general to investigate the negotiations between the city and Babuk.

Union President Gregg Pemberton said, “This is just one more nail in the coffin for hiring qualified police officers.”

“The city is trying to take away our collective bargaining rights, trying to eliminate qualified immunity, and now it appears they cannot even protect the extremely sensitive and private data belonging to employees,” Mr. Pemberton said. “How we will ever hire anyone to work here is beyond me.” 

Earlier this month, he said the Metropolitan Police Department had less than 3,300 rank-and-file officers on duty — the fewest in decades.

At least 300 officers have quit or retired since last summer, and Mr. Pemberton says most of the union members who left cited the sweeping police overhaul passed in June by the D.C. Council.

Mr. Pemberton says he fears more will leave unless some provisions are changed, including eliminating a new rule that removed the union from engaging in police disciplinary negotiations.

Mr. Allen told The Times this month that the rule is an “important transparency reform.”

“Police officers should not be able to negotiate their own discipline behind closed doors,” Mr. Allen said in an email statement. “The Council passed legislation recognizing that holding public employees accountable by taking discipline off the bargaining table, while preserving due process protections, strengthens trust in government.”

The council also established a Police Reform Commission last year which recently released 90 recommendations, including shrinking the police department and budget, as well as ending qualified immunity for officers.

Mr. Pemberton said the report shows the commission is “clearly on a mission to defund the police in the District.”

The council is holding public hearings on the report and it is not clear when officials will vote on proposed legislation spurred by the recommendations.

MPD and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser did not immediately respond to email requests for comment sent Friday.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

• Emily Zantow can be reached at ezantow@washingtontimes.com.

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