In a press conference that devolved into a shouting match, Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney said that data on the city’s stop-and-frisk policy will be unavailable until it is extracted from a new software system.
Brackney held the conference Wednesday to discuss what the department calls “investigative detention” and “warrantless searches,” commonly known as stop and frisk. It was held two days after local attorney Jeff Fogel criticized the department at a press conference for not releasing the data in response to his requests under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
Brackney said Fogel’s requests have been denied because the data isn’t collected in the same way it was under the old system, primarily because of a new software system installed in December and January.
The department, she said, is “working diligently to overcome all of the barriers associated with that implementation.”
Under the new system, Brackney said, officers still enter the data on stop and frisk, but it cannot be easily accessed.
“The information Mr. Fogel requested does not exist in the format — the format — that he requested,” she said. “If Mr. Fogel wants to bear the cost of CPD creating reports tailored to his specific requests, he can tell us how he would like to proceed.”
Brackney said a part-time employee is working to gather data that would be published on the department’s website. The employee is “relatively new” and Brackney said she’ll ask City Council to fund a full-time position to gather information. She didn’t have a cost estimate for the position.
Community activists have called for data on the practice, which they expect will prove it disproportionately targets minorities.
The most recent report on the practice was released in 2017, covering the calendar year up to Dec. 11, when the department switched to the new software system.
The report said African-Americans made up 122 of the 173 people stopped for what CPD calls “investigative detention.”
The 2017 data also said that 55 of the stops happened after police were dispatched to an area, whereas 118 of those stops were officer-initiated. Of the 173 individuals stopped, 125 were searched.
Brackney objected to labeling the policy stop and frisk.
“We don’t do stop and frisk,” she said. “We do either a mere encounter or we engage a person [in] which we may have a warrantless search and seizure. I will not, I will not, label what we do based on some national trends or what New York has decided to do.”
Wednesday’s press conference was Brackney’s first public comment on the policy since she started in June.
Brackney lamented that the previous data lacked context. She wants to expand the information to include who was stopped, why they were stopped, how the stop was initiated, was there legal justification and the demographics of the community where the stop occurred.
Gathering more data, she said, allows the department to determine if the demographics of people stopped fit with the community they are in, if it happens more frequently at certain times of the day or with certain officers and if the same people are routinely stopped.
“Releasing information in a limited context and in a format that is not the most transparent is irresponsible,” 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 policing agencies, not only here in Charlottesville, but throughout the nation.”
Brackney didn’t have an estimate on when the data would be available. She’s pulling information from July and August and expects some information within the next 15 to 20 days to present to City Council.
Once Brackney began taking questions, the conference spiraled into yelling.
Brackney said the department hadn’t heard from Fogel since July, a claim that he disputed. Fogel said he doesn’t care about the format of the data, he just wants the information.
“It’s a black hole over at your office and internal affairs when you try to get information,” he said.
Fogel asked if Brackney cared about the information that has already been turned over in the past five years. As the two raised their voices over each other, Brackney said the data doesn’t have enough context.
After the conference, Fogel said the data is important for race relations.
“If we’re not going to work on the basis of the truth with respect to race relations, we will never solve race relations here,” he said, “There’s no more important right on the streets to everybody than the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
Brackney was also confronted by Katrina Turner about the April 2016 arrest of her son. She said Brackney accused her of lying about the conduct of an officer in a complaint about the arrest.
Turner, a member of the newly formed Civilian Review Board, also said department records had been changed in the case.
“You have slandered me and this is not right,” Turner yelled. “You have slandered me. How are you allowed to slander a citizen and not give them proof?”
Brackney responded that she wouldn’t address the accusations.
Turner left the conference saying, along with other attendees, that “this is bullsh**.”