Social justice coalition urges mayor, police to make policing data public

Walter Chidozie Anyanwu
Contributing Writer

An organization has called on citizens to sign a petition asking Mayor Levar Stoney to release policing data from the Richmond Police Department in an effort to boost police transparency and accountability.

The Richmond Transparency and Accountability Project (TAP) is a collaboration between the Southerners on New Ground, New Virginia Majority, Legal Aid Justice Center, the Advancement Project, and concerned citizens attempting to ensure fair and equitable treatment of the Richmond community.

VCU sociology professor Liz Coston has been working closely with TAP. Coston said that TAP’s goal is to “make our communities healthier and safer by trying to disrupt mass incarceration at its source.” They added that over-policing is a major issue in a lot of minority communities.

“Essentially, we are trying to stop the policing practices that kind of push people into the prison pipeline,” Coston said. “Things like stop and frisk or pedestrian stop, traffic stops and examining whether there are racial disparities going on in those kinds of things in Richmond.”

The data TAP is requesting includes common policing practices such as traffic stops and police contact with pedestrians, as well as details of the frequency of those stops, the demographics of the citizens involved and the locations where they occur.

“The community has been asking for this — and the history dates back about seven years — but there’s been a very strong push in the last year or so to get data released about policing practices that are occurring here in Richmond,” Coston said. “New Virginia Majority did a door-knock campaign on the Southside asking residents what problems they experience in their communities.”

The door-to-door campaign covered more than 700 residences — and the majority of the responses said the most significant problem is negative interactions with the police.

TAP members say if they have access to the data, it could be used to boost transparency and encourage a better relationship between community members and police.

However, RPD is demanding a fee of $4,500 to release the data. RPD said the fee is for the labor necessary to produce the data. The petition, which TAP is mobilizing citizens to support, requests all fees be waived and all the data pertaining to policing practices be made public.

According to Coston, RPD agreed to release some data earlier this year. In February, the department released “complaint” and “use of force” data — which included citizen complaints about police and the frequency of police use of force against civilians, respectively.

The department failed to release all of the data TAP requested. In response, TAP filed a Freedom of Information Act request, which was not approved.

Following the FOIA failure, TAP filed more requests and made several attempts to meet with the chief of police and the mayor to resolve the issue — the meetings were ultimately inconclusive.

“We believe in the power of storytelling and in the community generating its own data and speaking its own truth,” said Kim Rolla, attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center. “But we also started to think of buttressing that with some more quantitative data that could tell us what is happening from the police department’s own perspective.”

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