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Police Complaints Board Releases Reports on D.C. Police Use of Hair Holds, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Guidance and Enabling Body-Worn Camera Sound

Tuesday, September 27, 2022
Reports details concerns with MPD’s policies and officer training

(Washington, DC) – The District of Columbia Police Complaints Board, the governing body of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), today released three reports: Use of Hair Holds by Metropolitan Department Officers, Improved Guidance on Communicating with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community Members and Enabling Sound During the Pre-Event Buffer on Body-Worn Cameras.

Use of Hair Holds by Metropolitan Department Officers
This report examined the use of hair holds by MPD officers against community members. Over the last three years, OPC has received several complaints from the public involving MPD officers use of unnecessary or excessive force by pulling their hair. OPC’s review of the complaints found that officers: (1) are individually making the choice to use the hair hold technique although it has not been explicitly authorized in MPD policies; (2) have not been properly trained on the use of hair holds; and (3) using hair holds for compliance are violating MPD policies procedures. Additional concerns include the speed in which MPD officers’ resort to the hair hold technique although other less dangerous compliance options could have been utilized and the possibility of racial bias as the hair holds used in OPC cases were by white officers against black men with dreadlocks.

Improved Guidance on Communicating with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community Members
This report addressed concerns with the Department’s lack of guidance on how MPD officers can identify a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Person (D/HH). A policy currently exists on how officers should respond after someone has already been identified a D/HH person, but not before. Also, MPD has a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Liaison Unit and best practices in place to comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, OPC’s review of MPD’s policies revealed that during arrests, officers are asked to take necessary precautions for their safety and others with accessibility needs considered secondary. Additionally, OPC noticed that MPD has not incorporated all of the Department of Justice updated guidelines for law enforcement agencies when communicating with the D/HH community into its policies.

Enabling Sound During the Pre-Event Buffer on Body-Worn Cameras
This report examined how enabling the sound during the two-minute segment (“pre-event buffer”) of silent video that occurs before a MPD officer activates its camera can increase community trust, accountability and transparency. OPC’s review of the technical specifications of the body-worn cameras (BWC) used by MPD revealed that the Department can choose to enable sound during reply of the pre-event buffer. And doing so will not affect any other audio or video settings of the BWC.

“Through our policy reports, we take an in-depth look at the issues that impede the public’s trust in MPD,” said Michael G. Tobin, OPC’s executive director. “And we make recommendations that can help improve and facilitate better relations, and increase community trust in the Department.” 

To view each report, visit www.policecomplaints.dc.gov.