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Police Complaints Board Issues Protest Monitoring Report

Thursday, September 24, 2009

(Washington, DC) The Police Complaints Board (PCB), the governing body of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), today submitted a report and recommendations to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the Council of the District of Columbia, and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Cathy L. Lanier concerning MPD’s handling of a protest event held Saturday, April 25, 2009.

PCB deployed 12 OPC staff members to monitor MPD’s interactions with anti-globalization protesters who demonstrated at the April 25, 2009, spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank held in Washington, DC, that day.

This was PCB’s third monitoring effort since enactment of the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act of 2004.  The Act articulates the District’s official policy on First Amendment Assemblies, which seeks to safeguard the right of people to gather publicly and peaceably express their views.  The law also established specific standards of conduct for MPD officers in handling First Amendment demonstrations.  The Act also authorizes PCB to monitor and evaluate MPD’s compliance with the Act.

An estimated 100 to 200 protesters, who had not obtained a protest permit from the District, marched and rallied in the streets near the IMF/World Bank complex Saturday morning, April 25.  The demonstration ended abruptly, however, in a brief clash between protesters and police just before 10 am. 

PCB’s overall impression is that MPD substantially complied with the Act and remains committed to implementing the law’s objective of facilitating First Amendment expression.

PCB is concerned, however, about action taken by federal law enforcement officers who assisted MPD.  Because the Act does not apply to federal officers, they handle demonstrations differently from MPD, even when assisting with protests on District-controlled public space.  PCB believes this double standard has the potential to undermine accomplishment of the goals of the First Amendment Assemblies Act.

Based on its review of the April 2009 demonstration, PCB recommends that the District, through the combined efforts of the Mayor, the DC Council and the MPD Chief, seek to obtain federal law enforcement agencies’ voluntary compliance with the First Amendment Assemblies Act when assisting MPD officers with protests on District-controlled public space.

“It is in the District’s best interest to have consistency in police handling of First Amendment demonstrations that take place on District property,” said Philip K. Eure, OPC’s executive director.  He added, “Obtaining the federal government’s voluntary compliance with the First Amendment Assemblies Act would allow the District to show the nation and the world that the interests of public safety and the right of free expression can be effectively balanced in Washington, DC.” 

To view a full copy of PCB’s full report and recommendations, select the link below:

Monitoring of April 2009 IMF/World Bank Protest  [PDF]