(Washington, DC) – The District of Columbia Police Complaints Board (PCB), the governing body of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), released a report today to Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Council of the District of Columbia and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Robert J. Contee examining unlawful warrantless misdemeanor arrests made by MPD officers.
Over the years, OPC has received several complaints about MPD officers arresting individuals for misdemeanor offenses without a warrant. Under D.C. Code § 23–581, Arrests Without Warrant by Law Enforcement Officers, an arrest without a warrant for a misdemeanor can only happen if the officer has probable cause to believe that a suspect “has committed or is committing an offense” and witnessed the offense taking place.
In a recent complaint filed with OPC that involved a verbal dispute and threat between a community member and convenience store employee, which resulted in the community member being arrested, OPC learned that the misdemeanor offense committed by the community member is not one of the offenses arrestable without a warrant. None of the officers who detained the community member witnessed the verbal dispute take place.
As result of this complaint and others, OPC reviewed D.C. Code § 23–581 on warrantless misdemeanor arrests. In addition, OPC reviewed other policies relating to arrest procedures for MPD officers – General Orders 201.026 and 304.10. However, these policies do not address arrests without warrants, but only felony arrests procedures.
The PCB is concerned with MPD officers conducting unlawful warrantless arrests even after speaking with a high-ranking official for guidance. To that end, the PCB recommends the following to help improve and facilitate better relations and increase trust between MPD and community members:
- MPD should issue additional guidance for its members with respect to warrantless misdemeanor arrest procedures. MPD can accomplish this by, for example, updating General Order 201.26: Duties, Responsibilities and Conduct of Members of the Department and/or General Order 304.10, Field Contacts, Stops, and Protective Pat Downs to reference D.C. Code § 23-581, Arrests Without Warrant by Law Enforcement Officers, and include the statute’s main points. In the alternative, MPD should issue a comprehensive standalone general order exclusively devoted to all arrest procedures and ensure that it includes guidance for warrantless misdemeanor arrests.
- Updated training should be provided for all MPD members to ensure they are familiar with the law and regulations for warrantless misdemeanor arrests and the changes that are made to General Order 201.26, General Order 304.10, or the standalone general order so that the members can perform their duties in accordance with current law. In addition, MPD should ensure that supervisor members are properly trained to advise officers when they are making decisions regarding a warrantless arrest.
- MPD should encourage its members to review D.C. Code § 23-581 using their Mobile Data Terminals or their department issued cellular phones prior to making the decision to arrest any suspect for a misdemeanor that they did not contemporaneously witness. Specifically, MPD should advise its members to verify that the crime is an arrestable offense under D.C. Code § 23-581 prior to making any warrantless misdemeanor arrest. This can be accomplished with roll call training.
“When officers make an arrest, they must ensure that the arrest is lawful and according to policy,” said Michael G. Tobin, OPC’s executive director. “Unlawful arrests create distrust between the community and the police and can lead to unwanted lawsuits for the Department.”
To view the full report, visit www.policecomplaints.dc.gov.