DC FOIA In Action: Record Requests Proving Useful In Reporting and Civic Action

Public records obtained under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) have again been useful in reporting and advocacy in recent weeks. 

  • Police stops. Black Lives Matter and other community groups asked the Metropolitan Police Department for records of officers’ stops of people in the street. Such research has shed light on biased policing in other cities so the Council several years ago ordered the data-gathering and funded it. MPD had to admit it hadn’t done the job, which triggered embarrassed testimony by the chief and deputy mayor and a pending lawsuit seeking court encouragement to the city to finally do the work the legislature asked for.
  • Public funds for private companies. With millions spent on stadiums ($670 million for Nationals Park, $150 million for the new soccer field at Fort McNair/Buzzard Point), interest is high in further public subsidies that clash with other priorities and may or may not pay off. Over 238 cities and regions are in the bidding war for the second Amazon headquarters, all eager to land billions in investment and payroll. WAMU reporter Martin Austermuhle asked to see the D.C. offer as it’s a public record, to analyze what D.C. may give up in order to win the prized development (New Jersey offered $7 billion).  D.C. officials sent him the proposal but with financial and many other details blacked out, saying they were exempt as internal discussions and also contained sensitive financial details obtained from confidential outside sources.  Reviewers of his appeal in the mayor’s office said the agency exemption claims were wrong and overbroad, ordering a do-over by the agency.  Read more…