The US Capitol Police announced yesterday they will publish their weekly arrest summaries online each Wednesday that they had previously had distributed via email to the press. This practice will start on January 2, 2019. The summaries will include “the Capitol File Number (CFN); crime classification with any additional charges; offense date and time, and crime summary. ”
The USCP did not give a reason for the change in their blogpost, but we had made multiple (unsuccessful) requests for information from the Capitol Police and had organized a civil society letter on this topic, and it also seemed likely that incoming House Democrats may push them to take this step.
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 would 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.
We believe 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. We will see whether what the USCP publishes meets these criteria.
There was no reason for the police to keep arrest statistics from the public for so long. 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 fourteen 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. We welcome their move to regularly release some arrest information that will provide some clarity and reduce conflicting information. It will also 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 information is open to the public. It only makes sense to have the same for the nation’s capital.
— Written by Daniel Schuman and Amelia Strauss