WASHINGTON, DC – The District of Columbia’s Police Complaints Board (PCB), the governing body of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), today released two reports to Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Council of the District of Columbia and Interim Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Peter Newsham regarding MPD’s handling of the 2017 Presidential Inauguration protest demonstrations on January 20, 2017 and the “Women’s March,” on January 21, 2017 in Washington, D.C.
OPC staff monitored MPD’s response to the various inauguration protests held throughout the District of Columbia. OPC staff concluded that MPD’s general interaction with the public was positive and professional. However, OPC monitors did observe police activity that raised concerns on how the protests were handled, including MPD officers using force at times on some of the protesters, dispersing OC spray and stingers into the crowd without an order or warning and arresting individuals who were not involved in any rioting or acts of vandalism.
As a result of OPC’s monitoring efforts, the PCB has determined that there could be potential violations of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Handling First Amendment Assemblies and Mass Demonstrations by the MPD. The PCB also found that MPD’s coordination with other law enforcement agencies was less organized than it could have been, and there was not a clear inter-agency chain of command. Therefore, based on OPC’s observations, PCB recommends the MPD:
- Appoint an independent consultant to investigate and examine all planning, procedures, and activities used by the Department on January 20, 2017.
- Review and update the Standard Operating Procedure for Handling First Amendment Assemblies and Mass Demonstrations to include that warnings should be given when practical for all uses of less than lethal weapons (e.g. OC spray) in a crowd control situation, and there should be written guidance on the proper deployment and use of each less than lethal weapon.
OPC staff also monitored MPD’s handling of the “Women’s March” held the day after the 2017 Presidential Inauguration. OPC’s overall impression is that MPD performed in a professional manner and effectively balanced the interests of public safety with the right to free expression. But OPC monitors did observe several uniformed MPD officers wearing pink hats, which was the item worn by march participants to show their support of the event.
Additionally, MPD appeared to have very little presence at points further north and west of the original rally point at Independence Avenue and 3rd Street, SE. Several traffic intersections quickly became dangerous for pedestrians, there was little traffic control, and it was difficult to find any officers at many points along the march route and in the downtown area.
“MPD’s general interaction with the public during the inauguration and Women’s March was positive,” said Michael G. Tobin, OPC’s executive director. “However, there were specific situations observed by OPC that should be addressed immediately by the Department to avoid any future violations of the First Amendment Assemblies Act by their officers.
To view a full copy of both PCB reports, please visit www.policecomplaints.dc.gov.