On its 28th day in the streets, a Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department unit decided that it needed to launch a “Shock and Awe” campaign. James Black, a sergeant with the MPD’s Criminal Intelligence Branch and the apparent head of the unit, wrote in an October 2012 email that the officers wanted to “rattle the safety” of members of supposed criminal groups in the area they were patrolling — the “do-bads,” as Black called them — “and let them know the game has changed.”
The unit was the Robbery Intervention Program, or RIP, a little-known MPD intelligence branch initiative that operated in 2012 and 2013. The department assembled the unit to gather information about and develop tactics to curb the district’s high rates of robbery. But according to regular narrative updates that Black would email to colleagues and superiors — including then-Chief Cathy Lanier; her successor, Peter Newsham; and current Chief Robert Contee — the RIP spent most of its time roaming the streets of poor and Black neighborhoods, stopping and frisking residents, and arresting them for seemingly any infractions its officers could find.
On its “Shock and Awe” day, for instance, no robberies occured in the area the RIP was patrolling. But the unit still stopped 25 people, according to Black’s email, including one man for “aimlessly” hanging around a Metro station, another for “pausing in dark areas” while walking, and another for a traffic infraction. RIP officers stopped a group for loitering and watching passersby “in an obvious manner,” another group for drinking in public, and another because some were wearing face masks. Black didn’t state a reason for six of the stops. The RIP arrested three people: one man for carrying an open container of alcohol, another on a warrant for a parole violation, and one for having drugs and a gun, according to Black’s narrative. Despite the lack of robbery activity, Alfred Durham, an assistant chief of police, replied to the email congratulating the unit on a “productive day.”
The narratives are part of a trove of over 70,000 emails and their attachments, sent and received by an analyst with the MPD’s intelligence branch between 2009 and 2017, and stolen from the department as part of a hack by a ransomware group known as Babuk. The documents were published in May by Distributed Denial of Secrets, the transparency collective behind BlueLeaks and other recent high-profile document dumps, and made searchable by Lucy Parsons Labs, a Chicago-based collaborative.
Taken together, the RIP emails illustrate the extent to which the MPD officers aggressively surveilled, and often presumed the guilt of, members of the communities they policed. The documents reveal that RIP officers talked about and likely engaged in “jumpouts” — an intimidation tactic during which officers speed up in cars to people and jump out, often with guns drawn — as recently as late 2012, despite MPD assertions as early as 2014 that the tactic is a foregone practice of another era. They also shed light on the extent to which the MPD has focused on schools and youth in its efforts to crack down on poor and Black neighborhoods. And they show how the MPD championed stop-and-frisk, militarization, and tough-on-crime-style policing among its ranks.
“Our neighbors are not community to D.C. police, they are enemies to be subdued,” said Valerie Wexler, an organizer with the Stop Police Terror Project DC, which advocates for alternatives to policing. “Whenever they don’t think their words will be heard or seen, they show what they really think of the people they are supposedly meant to protect.”