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Office of Police Complaints Prepares to Monitor Protest Events

Monday, September 19, 2005

Under new authority recently granted to the Police Complaints Board (PCB) by the District of Columbia, the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), which is overseen by PCB, will monitor antiwar and anti-globalization protests that will be held on September 24, 2005.

The "First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act of 2004" which took effect on April 13, 2005, authorizes the agency to monitor and evaluate the Metropolitan Police Department's (MPD) handling of First Amendment assemblies.

The legislation establishes a policy for MPD's handling of large crowds that gather for protests or demonstrations, emphasizes communication and voluntary compliance, and eliminates preemptive police actions that could chill First Amendment expressions.

Provisions of the new law curtail the use of police lines to entrap demonstrators who have not broken any law and restrict the use of wrist-to-ankle restraints. The legislation also prohibits the use of tear gas and pepper spray on peaceful demonstrators. The upcoming monitoring will allow OPC to conduct an initial examination and review of MPD's handling of protests and assess the needs of the agency to carry out its monitoring work into the future. In preparing for upcoming events, the agency has been coordinating with MPD and contacting various police accountability agencies around the country to learn about their procedures for protest monitoring.

A total of 12 OPC employees, including many of the agency's investigators, will monitor the protests. The OPC employees will operate in three teams along the protest route. In addition, some OPC staff will be present at MPD's main command center and mobile command center. All OPC observers will be clearly identifiable with blue t-shirts that have "OBSERVER" printed on them.

"Under the authority of the new law, we intend to fulfill our role in ensuring that people can exercise their First Amendment rights to protest peacefully," said Philip K. Eure, OPC's executive director. "We hope to be a positive force for fairer and better policing of large demonstrations in the Nation's Capital."

PCB is OPC's governing board, and together they form the District of Columbia's independent police accountability agency. The agency's primary mission is to investigate and resolve individual police misconduct complaints filed by the public against MPD and DC Housing Authority Police Department (DCHAPD) officers.

For additional information or questions, please contact OPC's public affairs specialist, Melanie Deggins, at (202) 727-3838.