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Statement to the Council of the District of Columbia Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety

Council of the District of Columbia
Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
November 29, 2023

On behalf of Moms of Black Boys (M.O.B.B.) United, Inc. I stand before you as the DC Chapter Lead for M.O.B.B. United and MOBB United for Social Change (MUSC). We are a movement of concerned mothers who have joined together to uplift and protect Black boys and men. We represent every race, age, socioeconomic background, marital status and education level.

MOBB United was founded in July of 2016 after the back-to-back murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile on July 5th and 6th. Philando Castile was murdered during a traffic stop on a Facebook Live feed, while many of us watched in horror, as the passenger in the car went live to record the aftermath.

The officer involved discharged his firearm seven (7) times at close range. Five (5) of those shots hit Philando Castile and took his life. It was the cell phone video, the advocacy of the Castile Family and the community unity that ultimately led to the release of the police dash cam video. Both videos were paramount in unearthing the facts throughout the investigation.

I am here today, also, as a Black and Blue Mom who has a unique multidimensional perspective as it relates to body worn cameras, community unity, and fostering a proactive dialogue as we strive to serve our DC residents. Transparency and accountability are NON-NEGOTIABLE.

I spent more than twenty-five (25) years on the sworn side of law enforcement in service as a patrol officer, training officer, sergeant, a Criminal Investigator to include a Supervisory Special Agent/ Criminal Investigator but my biggest responsibility, and most important title, is MOM. These last seven (7) years, I have worked within the Metropolitan Police Department as a Professional/Civilian employee to include a three- and half-year assignment within the agency’s Internal Affairs Division (IAD) as the first ever Civilian Agent to take on the role as an Agent/Investigator in IAD. I investigated police misconduct and/or use of force allegations which led to countless hours of reviewing body worn camera (BWC) footage. It was the first time in MPD’s history that a “civilian” was a part of IAD staff who was responsible for investigating the misconduct of sworn members. It was not received well by all from within, but it was a great stride in the right direction especially from the perspective of the people that we serve, and a few visionary leaders within the police department. MPD was building bridges, through the Police for Tomorrow program, via a collaboration with Georgetown Law School, with a goal to be proactively transparent. This new mission would help to forge new relationships with DC stakeholders, rebuild broken trust and hopefully help provide much needed resources to many that were slowly conquering their distrust of the police.

The BWC review is critical in this process. In order to maintain the integrity of IAD investigations, or any investigations as they relate to one’s professional responsibilities as a public servant, it is our belief as Moms of Black Boys United that the BWC camera footage, for targeted police officers who are under investigation, MUST be withheld until after the officer provides his/her initial statement.

To give said officers the opportunity to review their BWC prior to giving any statement is likened to handing out the answers to the captain’s exam as the members walk in to take the test. If I am proctoring the test, I am not going to hand out the answer key as the exam begins. Likewise, investigations into police misconduct, or serious use of force matters, must not be an OPEN BOOK TEST either. The officer needs to provide his initial statement from his “recollection”, not from the images of the BWC he just observed. To view the incident first totally negates the purpose of learning what our officers were thinking “in the moment” that they made a decision to use force.

There are some districts that have a higher volume of calls for service than others. Certainly, this may impede an officer from remembering the call initially, but other facts, such as date, time and location of the call can be provided to help jog the memory of the call for the targeted officer before the statement is taken. The stated goal of any police department is to protect and serve. In doing so, the police officers have taken an oath to uphold an ethical standard, with integrity, which mandates honesty. This includes being truthful regardless of the totality of the circumstances. Throughout any investigation there may be discrepancies that need further clarification, but at no time should the statement from the officers completely miss the mark. When that happens, more likely than not, lies have been told. The community has an absolute right to know AND A NEED TO KNOW about any police officer that knowingly has lied.

Why? Officers who lie may not be guilty of a crime, but it is “disturbing and unethical.” It erodes what little trust has been built and completely undermines all the progress that some stakeholders have worked tirelessly to achieve through community engagement activities. More importantly, in some cases, the police officer’s conduct may, indeed, constitute a crime! If that is the case, that bad actor needs to be swiftly held accountable, publicly and with transparency. All public safety stakeholders have a need to know as they continue to collaboratively define processes that promote “equity and inclusivity.”

In closing, to flip flop on the progress we have made over the last few years and revert to a past practice, that can be interpreted as a tool to protect the officer is counterproductive, disingenuous, and will do more damage than good. In fact, it could be viewed as hypocrisy at its best to say one thing and turn around and do another.

In order to achieve community unity there must be an earnest effort to seek community empowerment by taking into account the voices of the people who reside in the District of Columbia. In our case, as Moms of Black Boys we raise our voices to say, “walk the talk”, as the Police Department in the Nation’s Capital, lead with true integrity by implementing processes that institute real accountability and change. As former Chief Contee would say, “excellence is transferrable”, not reversible. Let’s push forward to a better day and do what needs to be done.

To back track now brings to mind the words of the late great James Baldwin, “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do”.

Our DC residents deserve better, no turning back…forward we go.

I thank you for your time and attention,
Lisa Burton
DC Chapter Leader

Lisa Burton was born and raised in Coatesville Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. She attended Kutztown University as a Criminal Justice major and competed her undergraduate requirements by working for the District Attorney’s Office of Philadelphia in 1991. In 2000 her law enforcement career transplanted her to the National Capital Region of Washington DC.

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