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Police Complaints Board Releases Report on the Police Department’s Consent Search Procedures

Monday, September 25, 2017
Consent to search form hasn’t been updated in 49 years

WASHINGTON, DC – The District of Columbia’s Police Complaints Board (PCB), the governing body of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), today released a report to Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Council of the District of Columbia, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Peter Newsham and DC Housing Authority Police Department (DCHAPD) Chief Joel R. Maupin regarding their procedures for consent searches.  

To date, in fiscal year 2017, OPC has received 45 harassment complaints related to searches, which is an increase from fiscal years 2015 and 2016.  These complaints include searches of a person, vehicle, or home that were conducted without consent.  In addition, of the 45 harassment complaints received by OPC, 71% of the complaints have been filed by African-Americans and 72% concentrated in the 5th, 6th, or 7th police districts.

The PCB also noticed that although there is full deployment of body-worn cameras for MPD officers and an executive order on the use of body-worn cameras with consent searches, OPC continues to receive complaints regarding searches.  Additionally, the form (PD Form 781) used for consent searches hasn’t been updated since it was published in 1968 and is rarely used for searches of vehicles or persons, as the form is designed for use with physical addresses.

The PCB is concerned about the disproportionate use of consent searches across police districts and race.  Therefore, the PCB recommends the following to help improve and facilitate better relations and increase trust between the community, MPD, and DCHAPD officers:

  • MPD should create a separate General Order on consent searches and update the PD Form 781 (consent search form) and its use should be mandatory for all types of consent searches.
  • MPD and DCHAPD should track various data variables for all consent searches such as location, time, circumstances, demographics of the subject and officers, and whether the search yielded contraband that resulted in an arrest.
  • MPD and DCHAPD should review training on consent searches and ensure that all training includes voluntariness of consent, procedures for conducting consent searches, how to properly use the consent search form, and how the consent searches affect community trust in the police departments.

“It is very important that the police department updates its policies on consent searches and implement a mandatory consent to search form,” said Michel G. Tobin, OPC’s executive director.  “The goal of the PCB recommendations is to make sure the police department is increasing community trust and not losing it.”

To view a full copy of PCB’s report, MPD’s consent to search form and their General Orders on consent searches, visit www.policecomplaints.dc.gov.