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Why did D.C.’s police chief reprimand lawmakers for doing their jobs?


By Colbert I. King Colbert I. King Columnist covering D.C. issues and politics Email Bio Follow March 1 at 4:25 PM It’s not every day that a police chief publicly scolds lawmakers who oversee his department. But in January, and again last month, D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham unceremoniously rebuked two D.C. council members who had the unmitigated gall to look into actions of his department. The objects of Newsham’s scorn were Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), chairman of the council’s Judiciary Committee, and Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who chairs the Human Services Committee.

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In an interview with The Post on Jan. 4, Newsham bluntly charged that drug dealers in a trouble spot in Northeast D.C. had “become emboldened by the hearing” conducted by Allen’s committee that, in Newsham’s view, conveyed “the suggestion the police had acted inappropriately there.” Think about it: the police chief chastising the council for conducting oversight of policing strategies and tactics in a troubled neighborhood — a major concern of residents. In fact, Allen’s committee was acting properly, in keeping with the council’s mandate

This week, Newsham, in a letter to the editor , accused Nadeau of spreading “misinformation” about the police department’s use of stop-and-frisk tactics. Nadeau said during a telephone interview that she rejects “Newsham’s characterization.” Her Feb. 15 opinion piece in The Post did call for the police to end stop-and-frisk tactics until the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (Near) Act, which the council unanimously passed in 2016, is fully implemented. The Near Act mandates an approach to violent crime that focuses on diversion, counseling and violence interruption. The act also requires data collection on stop-and-frisk tactics, which Nadeau said she will use to evaluate the practice. Nadeau was within her rights as a lawmaker to question the use of stop and frisk and to criticize Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and the chief for, as she wrote, “not complying with the Near Act and all of its requirements.”

Newsham, of course, should defend his department where a defense is due. Reprimanding city lawmakers for doing their jobs, however, is way above his pay grade, and out of line. Policing in the District, including the use of stop-and-frisk tactics, is very much in the council’s bailiwick. And for good reasons

Consider the experience of M.B. Cottingham, an African American ice cream vendor and father of three who has lived in Southeast D.C. all his life

Excerpt from an ACLU lawsuit against D.C. police Officer Sean Lojacono :

“Late in the afternoon of September 27, 2017, in a peaceful encounter with D.C. police concerning an open container of alcohol, Mr. Cottingham gave Officer Sean Lojacono permission to frisk him. Ranging far beyond what should have been a limited pat-down for weapons, Officer Lojacono jammed his fingers between Mr. Cottingham’s buttocks and grabbed his genitals. Mr. Cottingham physically flinched and verbally protested, making clear that this highly intrusive search was not within the scope of the frisk to which he had consented. Officer Lojacono responded by handcuffing Mr. Cottingham and returning to probe the most sensitive areas of his person — two more times

“No warrant, probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or consent justified the scope of these probes, which were conducted in broad daylight in public and with no other discernible reason than to humiliate and degrade Mr. Cottingham and to display the officer’s power over him.”

In December, the District and Lojacono reached a settlement that involved the city forking over an undisclosed payment to Cottingham

Allen’s public hearing last summer — for which Newsham reprimanded him — covered the same turf: aggressive police tactics in troubled neighborhoods

Of course, the police must fully investigate and quickly identify criminal offenders, as Newsham maintains. Officers can and should stop someone whom they reasonably believe to be involved in crime or to be armed with a weapon. That includes conducting a frisk if they reasonably suspect a person has a weapon

We clearly have guns galore on our streets. For instance, from Monday, Feb. 18 through Monday, Feb. 25, the department’s detectives and officers recovered at least 33 firearms

The trajectory of homicides is alarming, too. As of Feb. 28, the city has racked up 29 homicides — that’s up 71 percent from the 17 homicides at the same time last year. These tragic numbers come on the heels of the 160 homicides in 2018, which were up 38 percent over 116 in 2017

Layered on top of the guns and murder statistics is the traumatic impact of unsolved homicides that tally more than 2,500 since 1991 , with more than 1,700 concentrated in Northeast and Southeast D.C

Chief Newsham’s frustration with numbers that don’t go his way is understandable. Antagonism toward those who look over his shoulders? Better policing, reducing violent crime and creating a safer city are everybody’s business — including those who make and oversee the laws. Far wiser to focus police attention where it belongs

Read more from Colbert King’s archive .

Read more:

The Post’s View: Homicides were up in 2018. Is D.C.’s approach to violence prevention working?

Brianne K. Nadeau: End stop and frisk in D.C.

Jonathan Smith, Emily Gunston and Marques Banks: Chief Newsham is wrong. Police oversight is essential.