In the lead up to the Senate vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the U.S. Capitol Police arrested hundreds — if not thousands — of protesters. We can’t say how many people were arrested or what they were arrested for, however, as the Capitol Police did not publish that information online and will not answer our questions. (It took five tries to get any kind of response to our calls and emails to their Communications Director.) We know the rough number of arrests from media reports, but members of the press have told us they have a hard time getting information from the Capitol Police as well.
This is why we wrote a letter to Capitol Police Chief Verderosa requesting improved transparency. We want the department to regularly publish certain arrest information online. Specifically, the department should disclose the location of each arrest, what the charges were, and demographic data about the person arrested (i.e. race, age, gender, and ethnicity). The department should also disclose its total number of arrests.
There’s no reason for the police to keep arrest statistics a secret. In fact, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department publishes arrest information regularly on its website, which has over 1,900 posts from 2018 alone. The Capitol Police, on the other hand, issued thirteen press releases so far this year, only three of which contained any arrest information. That’s not much considering they have 2,200 employees and a $450 million annual budget.
There’s scattered information on Capitol Police activity available through its press releases and information shared with the press. Continuing with the Kavanaugh protests example, journalists citing the Capitol Police as their source reported that 293 individuals were arrested two days before the vote, 302 individuals were arrested the day before the vote, and 164 individuals were arrested the day of the vote. The Capitol Police’s only press release on the matter said 101 individuals were arrested the day before the Senate confirmation vote.
These figures provide snapshots of what happened that week but it’s nearly impossible to get the full picture. Systemic release of arrest information would provide more clarity and reduce conflicting information. It would make it easier for reporters to do their jobs and to make sure that the Capitol Police strike the right balance between protecting Congress and making sure that the Capitol complex is open and inviting to all Americans.
Policies vary from state to state, but in general, arrest records are open to the public. We should have no less for the nation’s capital.