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Councilor, lawyers force release of BPD data

Kenneal Patterson
Councilor, lawyers force release of BPD data
The Boston Police Department released data of pedestrian stops in 2018. BANNER PHOTO

After months of delayed response to requests, which violated the city’s public records laws, the Boston Police Department has finally released some  data on 2018 pedestrian stops.

District 4 City Councilor Andrea Campbell, chair of the council’s Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice, said that she had to take the “drastic step” of issuing a 17F — a subpoena demanding that the information be turned over to the council.

“It is extremely important that all leaders in government be transparent,” Campbell told the Banner last week. “So in the spirit of transparency, I think these stop-and-frisk records should be released.”

The data comes from the BPD’s records of field intelligence observations, or FIOs, and documents incidents of people stopped by police. Criminal justice advocates find such data especially important because it can reveal racial disparities.  In 2016, black people were involved in 70% of stops. Between 2011 and 2015, subjects were 58.5% black and 22.8% white.

“When you think about the police department in particular, and the role they are required to play in making sure that we are safe, it is absolutely essential that there be trust between the police department and the community, and especially communities of color,” Campbell told the Banner.

In 2015, BPD officials agreed to release FIO data annually, but up until recently, they had only released data through 2017. The 17F request, said Campbell, was simply asking the administration to adhere to its own policy and release annual reports.

Lawyers for Civil Rights sues

Sophia Hall, a supervising attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights, told the Banner that her organization “engages in a lot of advocacy and litigation geared towards furthering the diversity of departments like BPD.” LCR recently filed a lawsuit against the BPD for its frequent delays in releasing public records. A Suffolk Superior Court judge ruled that the case may proceed.

“We filed a records request Jan. 2 of this year because we wanted to be able to gauge the progress in some of the areas that we’re advocating in,” Hall said. “When we submitted this request, we were aware, obviously, that the law requires BPD to comply within 10 business days. Instead, despite numerous requests and lots of follow-up phone calls and emails, 116 business days passed, and we still hadn’t gotten these records.”

Hall said this isn’t the only time this has happened. She said that in two cases,  BPD ignored records requests over the past few years and suddenly complied when a lawsuit was filed.

“Our case is more than being about [this] violation of the public records law,” she said. “It’s really trying to get at the blatant disregard for the public records law, and the pattern in practice that we see across the board, of simply failing to comply in a timely manner.”

Hall said even if public records are eventually released, it’s often too late. She said that there are people that needed that information months ago, people who expected the BPD to release the documents in 10 days.

“We’re not the only ones,” she said. “There are lots of community members, there are journalists, there are concerned citizens, there are other lawyers, there are other people out there who also expect the law to work the way it should, and expect people to be held accountable to it, that BPD would just completely disregard.”

So far, it is not clear that the 2018 data released includes all the details necessary to create a full picture of FIO stops.

“Offering limited data, as they have here, is not real transparency,” Hall said. But her organization will continue to work toward fuller and more timely BPD accountability.

The lawsuit has entered a period of “discovery,” said Hall, where the BPD has 30 days to produce information about its failure to comply. Hall said that if the lawsuit is successful, the LCR will have gained a valuable tool that will “hold BPD accountable to everybody.”

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