Charlottesville Police Department changes how stop and frisk data is collected, presented

Data will now include additional context, details about how the searches are conducted

dsc-5308

Local civil rights attorney Jeff Fogel, who has pushed the Charlottesville Police Department to release greater detail about its stop and frisk data for years, spoke at the Monday City Council meeting. 

Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney debriefed the City Council at its meeting Monday on the police department’s newest methods of collecting, organizing and synthesizing stop and frisk data. Brackney’s unannounced presentation came amid vocal criticisms in recent weeks — chiefly from local civil rights attorney Jeff Fogel — regarding the manner in which the data is digitally stored and presented to the public. 

Stop and frisk data — also formally known as investigative detentions — includes the information collected by the Charlottesville Police Department pertaining to officers stopping and searching citizens with or without consent. 

During her presentation, Brackney said the department will collect more data on the causes of the police-civilian interactions. They will also collect data to determine whether warrantless searches were legally justified. Brackney also said the searches would be examined to deem if they were consensual, where the encounters occurred, the demographics of that area and the individual and whether or not the same citizens or officers were repeatedly involved.

According to the police department’s 2017 investigative detentions report, 73 percent of people stopped and frisked were African-American. This report only included how many interactions there were, whether officers were dispatched to an encounter or initiated it and the race of the individuals.

The data collected for September 2018 has already been expanded to include how many interactions resulted in arrest. 

The data includes all encounters, whether they were consensual or based on reasonable suspicion —  a legal standard that allows an officer to briefly detain an individual if they have a well-founded suspicion of criminal activity —  or probable cause, in which an officer has reasonably trustworthy facts that warrant them to believe a crime has been committed. 

They also give more detail into what caused arrests, whether it be an alcohol or narcotic-related crime, a traffic crime or some other major or minor crime. 

This data showed that 33 percent, or 2 out of 6, of individuals stopped and searched were African Americans. However, no data was given about the race of the owner of vehicles searched, which totalled nine. 30 of the 62 total incidents resulted in arrests. 

Only 2 of the 32 encounters that did not result in arrest were consensual, with 19 nonconsensual interactions being backed by probable cause and 11 by reasonable suspicion. 44 percent of interactions were officer initiated, with the remaining 56 stemming from 911 calls or people flagging down officers. 63 percent of interactions were caused by alcohol and narcotic related crimes.

Brackney said the department has already bolstered their information collection by adding body camera data to the reports so investigations do not solely rely on an officer’s given statements. 

“If we don’t get the correct information and pull the exact data points out correctly, then it’s easy to skew data. It’s easy to just put percentages out there and then not be held accountable or responsible for them,” Brackney said. “This sends a message to the officers that every single thing that they’re doing is being looked at.”

Councilor Wes Bellamy noted his improved perception of officer’s mannerisms under Brackney, who started as police chief in June, but expressed concern on whether the new data and techniques would be able to repair relations between the police department and individuals that have already had unwelcome encounters with law enforcement. Brackney said officers who have fallen short of the department’s standards are retrained, and noted that she would be open to hearing more community feedback once the reports are published online.

Brackney also explained newly emphasized expectations that could improve relations. For example, officers cannot pat down an individual without explaining to that individual why they have the reasonable suspicion that they are armed and dangerous, unless there is probable cause that a crime has been committed, to promote transparency. 

Earlier this month, Brackney held a press conference explaining the current state of the new report system after local attorney Jeff Fogel expressed his concerns over the changes in the reports. Fogel has been an outspoken critic of the Charlottesville Police Department for the past five years, focusing on the reform of stop and frisk data collection and presentation in particular. 

Fogel said he felt the new system would cause delay in resolving the current issues and was an attempt for the police department to diffuse responsibility for misconduct committed by officers. 

“We are in a lot of trouble,” Fogel said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “We spent five years studying statistics provided for us by the police department. They decided, well they claimed that they went to a new computer system and didn’t remember that they had to include this in the new software. And this is to say that they didn’t like the statistics so they buried them.” 

After Brackney’s presentation to the Council, Fogel told the Council that he did not trust her debrief.

“I don’t believe the police chief, nor should you. This would be the fourth police chief in a row that has bamboozled you about stop and frisk,” Fogel said. “The only way that this can be worked out, is let’s look at the raw data. Let’s compare the raw data to what you’re being told to see if it’s the truth. Maybe it is. But there is no reason to trust this police department or unfortunately right now this police chief.”

Fogel pursued a Freedom of Information Act request in an email to the CPD July 5, stating he wanted all stop and frisk data from Jan. 1 to June 30, including the date and location of the stops, whether the person was frisked or consensually searched, the reason for the stop, the race of each person stopped and/or frisked and the outcome of each stop, including the principle charge if the person was summoned or arrested. 

FOIA requires local governmental entities to grant public access to certain documents and other data which are possessed or communicated by such public agencies or bodies with regards to official business. However, some documents may be exempt via an internal affairs investigation of CPD would be excluded under Virginia state law due to FOIA exemptions for law enforcement records and personnel files. 

Brackney’s presentation to the Council included those requested details, but only for the month of September, not the longer period that Fogel had requested. The report did give the location of the stops, with the most common areas being the Corner and Belmont. 

Brackney explained in a press conference Oct. 3 that the reports requested had been deemed exempt for the FOIA by the Charlottesville Circuit Court in 2015. Brackney said at the time that the department did not have existing statistics that were formatted in the way Fogel requested for the dates requested. 

“He was additionally informed, as you know, the police department has been reevaluating our method for collecting the data,” Brackney said. “Our goal is to provide the community with a more thorough, comprehensive picture of the data collected and reported … and we’re working diligently to overcome all of the barriers associated with that implementation.”

Community member Rosia Parker, a member of Charlottesville’s recently established Police Civilian Review Board, expressed her frustrations with Brackney at the Council meeting. 

“I would appreciate her to stop lying to the black and brown people,” Parker said at the Council meeting. “Just because you feel that you don’t do your duty there will still be another black woman who still will be able to stand in your place … You’re already not protecting us. When you come to our place, make sure you stop lying because every time you lie you get proved wrong, and not only do you get proved wrong you do not own up to yours the way that you say you own up to.”

Brackney concluded her presentation with her hopes of what the new data could accomplish.

“I understand that these contacts are wedge issues between the law enforcement community and the communities of color we serve,” Brackney said. “I understand everyone wants answers. But we must be reasonable, thorough and transparent in our dissemination of data. Failure to do so will only create more chasms, fear and delegitimize police agencies, not only here in Charlottesville but throughout the nation.” 

related stories