APO Rebuttal

By: Greggory Pemberton
Treasurer
DC Police Union

Please click here to read the full article with complete citations.

Last week, revealnews.org published an article titled, “DC’s assaulting an officer charge could hide police abuse, critics say.” I always love the scapegoat, “critics say”. It’s a red flag that what you’re about to read is likely flawed and the writer wants to distance themselves from ownership.

The article attempted to establish that analysis of 2,000 arrests in the District of Columbia showed a possibility of police abuse in the city; however, it does not specify if those 2,000 arrests were all of the Assaulting a Police Officer (APO) arrests, or exactly what time frame in which they occurred. It also does not cite what agency made those arrests. The data the writers refer to is not published or cited, nor is it even elaborated upon, giving the reader no opportunity to examine the findings on their own. While the article cited a number of unsupported statistics, it failed to demonstrate logical inferences that would lead to the conclusion of the title.

The article leads with a series of data extrapolated from the 2,000 cases it examined over a two year period. (Mind you, the exact dates of the study and why these cases were chosen are not cited, nor does the article ever cite any of their sources as far as their methods of obtaining the data.) Let’s address the findings of the article point by point:

• Ninety percent of those charged with APO were black, though black residents make up only half of the city’s population.

This statement is quite misleading. It immediately suggests that there is some kind of bias based on the disparate number of blacks charged with APO. But according to the Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD)annual reports 1998-2000, 92.1% of the individuals arrested for homicide in the District were black. So does that then imply that police are unfairly targeting blacks as homicide suspects? In fact, in 2009-2011, MPD arrested 142,191 adults in the District for all crimes; approximately 121,000 were black, making up roughly 85% of the adult arrests. Since the percentage of blacks arrested for all crimes is nearly 90%, there can be no correlation that there is some kind of racial bias when examining APO arrests.

The second piece of data is as follows:

• Nearly two-thirds of those arrested for assaulting an officer weren’t charged with any other crime, raising questions about whether police had legal justification to stop the person.

Again, the data in the first clause does not support the position of the second clause, most likely why the article uses terms like “raising questions about”. The grounds for an officer to lawfully conduct a stop of an individual are based on reasonable suspicion. This means that the situation merits articulable facts or circumstances which would lead a reasonable person to suspect that criminal activity is afoot. Police stops are not based on probable cause, which would warrant an arrest. Let me also add that thousands of ‘stops’ are traffic stops, which are perfectly valid and based on probable cause, and do not (in most cases) warrant an arrest. Therefore, it follows that many lawful investigative stops do not lead to arrest; however, if an individual becomes aggressive or combative during a stop, the officer would have probable cause for an arrest of APO.

Now let’s examine real data. MPD made 38,570 adult arrests in 2013. 1,068 of those arrests were for APO . If (as the article cites) two-thirds of the arrests consisted only of the APO charge, that would be a total of 712 persons arrested only for APO in 2013. That means that persons arrested only for APO make up 1.8% of the total arrests. Now if we expound on the fact that many of the persons arrested only for APO most likely were not committing any other crime (i.e. they were interfering with another arrest, fighting the police on a lawful stop, or intoxicated persons physically resisting when being ejected from a bar, etc.) it seems more prudent to look at the number of persons stopped by the police. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 16.9% of U.S. residents age 16 or older had face-to-face contact with police in 2008. If you apply that number to DC’s 600,000 residents, approximately 101,000 people are stopped or contacted by the police in a given year. And when we look at our 712 persons arrested only for APO, we find out that those people make up 0.7% of the persons stopped by MPD in a given year. It gets even more infinitesimal if you take into account that the population of the District fluctuates to over 1 million on a weekday. The number then becomes 0.07% of people stopped are arrested only for APO. Not quite as daunting as “nearly two-thirds”, right? The writers have fallen into the logical fallacy of ‘cherry picking’ the data to further their agenda.

As their research continues, it looks at injuries reported by both defendants and police:

• About 1 in 4 people charged with a misdemeanor for assaulting a police officer required medical attention after their arrest, a higher rate than the 1 in 5 officers reporting injury from the interactions.

It sounds as if the writers are suggesting that if an officer makes an arrest for APO, that officer should be injured so severely, he or she should require medical attention, otherwise no one should be charged with APO. Are we really to the point that police officers should be legally subject to an attack as long as there’s no reportable injury? Or maybe they are suggesting that the officers should be injured at the same rate as the defendants. It’s difficult to tell in such a biased piece, but again, the numbers speak for themselves. 25% (according to the article) of the 2,000 persons between 2012 and 2014 required medical treatment. This in no way accounts for medical issues unrelated to the incident, such as diabetics, persons in need of a regular prescription, intoxicated persons, anyone falsely reporting an illness to avoid the inevitable charges, or anyone having an injury not related to the APO. Even if we give the writers the benefit that the numbers are correct (although there are no sources cited regarding the data), the true data is as follows: Of the 2,000 persons arrested, 500 of those required medical treatment. According to MPD’s Annual Reports, 76,689 adults were arrested in 2012-2013 . This means that 0.6% of the total number of arrestees ‘required’ medical attention after an APO arrest. This number includes the persons that did not require medical attention as a result of the APO. We can see from this number that 99.4% of all of MPD’s adult arrests in a two year period did not require hospitalization as a result of an APO only incident. It’s starting to sound more like a success story rather than the perceived villainy the writers are salaciously reporting.

Let’s continue:

• The District uses the charge of assaulting a police officer almost three times more than cities of comparable size, according to a 2013 FBI report and Metropolitan Police Department numbers.

The first few paragraphs of the Reveal article clearly explain why this occurs. Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that the article doesn’t cite this ‘FBI report’ or where exactly they obtained the ‘Metropolitan Police Department numbers’. Here is the intro to the article:

“Wiggling while handcuffed. Bracing one[sic] hand on the steering wheel during an arrest. Yelling at an officer…All these actions have led to people being prosecuted for “assaulting a police officer” in Washington, D.C., where the offense is defined as including not just physical assault, but also “resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating or interfering” with law enforcement.”

The reason the MPD numbers are higher than other jurisdictions is because DC does not have a resisting arrest charge, nor does it have a misdemeanor clause in its obstruction statue. So whenever there is “resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating or interfering” the appropriate charge is APO, even when there is no outright assault. Here is the criminal code in select other jurisdictions (all of which are misdemeanors AND separate from their respective APO statutes):

Virginia § 18.2-479.1. Resisting arrest; fleeing from a law-enforcement officer.

Maryland § 9-408. Resisting or interfering with arrest.

New York Penal Law 205.30 Resisting Arrest

Pennsylvania § 5104. Resisting arrest or other law enforcement.

The state of Illinois has six separate charges relating to resisting and obstruction, allowing more accurate charging and accounting of the incidents that occur.

It follows that these jurisdictions would have a much lower incidence of APO arrest given that they have a completely separate charge for “Resisting”. The DC Code includes the act of resisting and other less serious behavior within the APO statute; so once again, we have been misled by their ‘numbers’. Not to mention that the writers immediately use the data to support the position that officers are lying about the assaults without even considering the possibility that police are being assaulted at an alarming rate in the District.

The final data point the article lists is here:

• Prosecutors declined to press charges in more than 40 percent of the arrests for assaulting an officer.

The writers are suggesting that 40 percent of the arrests must be flawed if the prosecutors are not bringing charges. But the writers conveniently leave out the percentage of all crimes that are ‘no-papered’.

The article quotes a statement from the United States Attorney’s Office:

“When charges are declined, this does not necessarily mean that the conduct did not take place, and that police were not justified in making an arrest, but rather that we have determined that we cannot meet the burden of proof.”

As previously cited, MPD arrested 38,750 adults in 2013. Of those arrests, 15,613 were handled by the Office of the Attorney General of DC (traffic, disorderly, gambling, drinking in public, etc.). That leaves 23,137 cases presented to the USAO. According to the USAO Annual Statistics Report , 19,099 of those cases were misdemeanors. In 5,895 of those cases the USAO declined to prosecute (no-paper), and did not go forward with criminal charges. This means that the USAO no-papers 31% of all misdemeanors, a mere 9% less than the 40% no-papered APO cases reported by the article. So if the numbers are not unique to APO cases, how are they relevant to the discussion?

The article goes on relying heavily on quotes from a criminal defense attorney, an NAACP advocate, two citizens that make allegations they were wrongfully charged, an ‘expert on police violence’, and an ACLU representative, while the article only briefly quotes the Chief of Police and the Chairman of the DC Police Union. Of course the former group has no objection to the numbers nor do they question the source or examine how the data was collected. Everyone seems to be happy slandering the police and blaming them for a socio-economic, systemic crisis within the impoverished neighborhoods of DC.

Frankly there is an obvious solution to this problem. Create a resisting arrest misdemeanor in the District as almost every other jurisdiction has done to more appropriately classify the action. This way the charging, investigation, and prosecuting can be applied more fairly and we would also have more reliable data to conduct further research in the future.

The answer does not fall in the realm of creating a straw man of the police. I have to object to the narrative that all police are inherently violent and regularly committing crimes against the public. The tone of this article is despicable and reprehensible. Its shameless reporting like this that prevents us from having a real, honest discussion about crime and policing. These writers have either willfully or ignorantly skewed a very small set of data to roll out some sensational sounding “facts”. Articles like this are vitriolic and divisive, and they undermine the broader issues that need to be resolved. I’m prepared to come to the table to discuss improvements in policing; we can always do better and should strive for constant improvement. But reported crime is not manufactured. Murders, rapes, robberies and assaults are all too common in the District. There are heinous criminals in this city and we should not blindfold ourselves and obfuscate that fact by blaming the police. The data is out there; examine it for yourself with an open mind.

Posted May 18 2015 at 11:40 AM by Gregg Pemberton | Permanent Link

Get Updates