‘Rage Induced Policing’: Hacked Documents Reveal D.C. Police’s Aggressive Robbery Crackdowns

Internal emails and their attachments show that a roving Metropolitan Police Department unit attempted to suppress robberies in 2012 and 2013 by stopping and frisking and surveilling residents of Black neighborhoods.


‘Rage Induced Policing’: Hacked Documents Reveal D.C. Police’s Aggressive Robbery Crackdowns

Internal emails and their attachments show that a roving Metropolitan Police Department unit attempted to suppress robberies in 2012 and 2013 by stopping and frisking and surveilling residents of Black neighborhoods.

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.”

The MPD did not respond to The Appeal’s emailed questions.

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‘Rage Induced Policing’

The Robbery Intervention Program was assembled from “the best plain clothes officers from across the city,” according to the MPD’s 2012 annual report, one of the few publicly available documents that mention the unit. According to the hacked documents, the unit “deployed” three times — once for 70 shifts, once for 46 shifts, and once for 32 shifts, totaling close to 150 10-to-12-hour shifts between September 2012 and August 2013. Each shift typically involved about 15 officers, according to the documents.

The unit operated about three-quarters of its shifts in D.C.’s largely Black sixth and seventh police districts, which include all of the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, working from the early evening to early morning hours roaming the streets, surveilling communities, and making “contact” with people its officers thought could be robbers or who were otherwise acting “suspiciously.” (In D.C., robbery is considered a violent crime and defined as taking anything from someone’s person by virtually any means — an especially broad definition that includes pickpocketing.)

In several of Black’s narratives, he indicated that the unit was able to prevent some robberies from occurring and solve other robberies that had recently taken place. But in order to do that, RIP officers cast a wide net, stopping many bystanders for questionable reasons and arresting people on charges unrelated to robberies, including technical violations and nonviolent crimes.

According to an email from Black and a report from an MPD analyst, the unit made more than 400 arrests and performed over 1,200 stops that didn’t involve an arrest. Of the arrests the RIP made during its first two deployments, only 42 — or 12 percent — were for robbery. Another 15 percent were for weapons possession charges, 18 percent were for drug possession with intent to distribute, and 16 percent took place when an RIP officer encountered someone with an outstanding warrant. The documents do not appear to include a breakdown of arrest data for the third deployment.

Despite focusing on robberies, the RIP appears to have tried to arrest as many supposed troublemakers as possible during its shifts. Some days, Black wrote, the unit went “hunting” for group events, like outdoor dice games, to disrupt. “Deployed to the watering holes and started hunting,” he wrote in February 2013. He referred to one slow day for focus area robberies as a “lock up all the Drug-boys day.” Those whom the RIP couldn’t find a reason to arrest were deemed to be part of the “future arrestee pool,” another of Black’s favored terms. In one email, he passed on an officer’s joke about “today’s criminal” having “their will to resist … RIP’ed from them.”

Black did not respond to The Appeal’s emailed questions.

The RIP’s aggressive approach earned it the admiration of many MPD superiors, who likened the unit to a militarized force. “Your tactics and deployment schemes are aligned with those of a Special Ops group,” Durham, the assistant chief, said in an email congratulating the unit on an arrest-filled day in a new focus area in October 2012. “You all were deployed to a new district and have already sized up enemy and terrain,” he said. He resolved to call the unit “Black Ops” after the sergeant in charge, and said the RIP’s methods “should be passed on to all [crime suppression teams] district wide.”

Three days after Durham’s email, Black recounted that about half of the RIP decided to hit the streets despite it being the unit’s day off because they were “too keyed up” after shooting handguns and shotguns at the firing range. A week and a half later, he joked that RIP officers had come up with another nickname for their unit — a play on its morbid acronym: “Rage Induced Policing.”

Black had his own nickname for the RIP: He called it the “Karma Delivery Unit.” In about two dozen of his RIP emails, he recounted a “karma delivery” moment during which, in his view, a community member found their just deserts by getting arrested in an ironic or amusing way. In one instance, a man had his third run-in with the unit in two weeks. In another, a man unwittingly rolled a joint next to an unmarked RIP car. One time, by coincidence, the unit arrested two half-brothers nearly simultaneously at different locations, Black wrote. Lanier, the chief of police, responded to that email: “As usual, your morning write up kept me entertained as I drank my coffee. Great work Karma Kids.”

Lanier retired from the MPD in 2016 and became the chief security officer for the National Football League. NFL spokespersons did not respond to The Appeal’s emails.

‘Robber Finishing School’

The people stopped by the RIP included children and adolescents. According to a spreadsheet the MPD analyst compiled, at least 17 percent of those the unit stopped or arrested during its first and longest deployment were minors — some as young as 12 — and at least 36 percent were teens.

The RIP would come across many of these minors on the street. But it would also target schools to identify and investigate possible suspects.

In September 2012, Black explained in an email that he had been passed along a tip from a school resource officer — an armed school cop — at Anacostia High School in Southeast D.C.: A parent had told the school administration that their son had been robbed by an Anacostia student near the campus. From the parent’s description, the school came up with a suspect, which it shared with the RIP, according to the email. Then, according to Black, the school shared a list of seven other Anacostia High students “known to associate and be seen regularly” with the suspect, along with “info sheets” that included the eight students’ names, photos, addresses, dates of birth, contact information, guardian information, and demographic information. The suspect and supposed associates were all Black boys between the ages of 16 and 19.

Black also noted that, according to the school, the boys were part of a small crew, which the MPD had labeled as a gang. Ten weeks later, three of the boys were added to the department’s gang database, according to a spreadsheet of the database found within the hacked documents. Previous reporting in the Intercept about the hacked documents revealed that the D.C. gang database is riddled with errors, employs nebulous criteria, and is used to justify aggressive policing of Black communities. It also showed that the MPD has used information from school resource officers to add students to the database; in response to that reporting, the D.C. Council banned the practice.

To a list of questions, Anacostia High School principal William Haith responded that he was not working at the school in September 2012, and referred The Appeal to Deborah Isaac, deputy press secretary for D.C. Public Schools. Isaac did not answer The Appeal’s questions despite repeated emails and phone calls.

The Appeal attempted to contact the former Anacostia students, as well as more than 20 other people who appear in the RIP emails, but received no response or encountered disconnected email addresses and phone numbers.

Four months after the Anacostia High School incident, during the RIP’s second deployment, Black turned his attention to another east-of-the-river school: Friendship Collegiate Academy. He noted that, over the course of the unit’s activities, it had stopped or arrested several children who attended Friendship. He also asserted that kids whom the RIP stopped frequently asked questions about the unit, and that robberies tended to spike in districts after the unit stopped focusing on them. These seemingly disparate trends led him to theorize that Friendship students were planning robberies during school hours.

“What if [the students] communicate with each other at school DAILY and let each other know where they have seen us each day so they now [sic] to focus their robbery efforts in Districts where they know we aren’t working and targeting them,” Black wondered. “A large majority of the juveniles we encounter seem to link together at Friendship,” he asserted, dubbing the academy “Robber Finishing School.”

Black admitted that he had “no concrete proof, just conjecture,” regarding his theory about Friendship, but it still prompted an assistant chief with the MPD’s Homeland Security Bureau to order intelligence officers to rotate through the high school to “see if we can get any info.” It also prompted an intelligence officer to ask D.C.’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services to add “school placements” to a weekly list of juvenile “violent offender” whereabouts it was already sending to the MPD so analysts could create maps and “help connect dots related to the info sharing about RIP.”

The RIP’s targeting of Anacostia and Friendship highlight why many advocates and activists have been calling for “police-free schools” in D.C., and why the district will begin phasing out its school resource officer program next year.

“Systems-involved youth need support, not more policing,” said Miya Walker, policy and advocacy manager for Black Swan Academy, a programming and advocacy organization focused on Black youth in D.C. “Especially when the intel that happens with policing just pushes them further into the system.”

“Where police are, arrests will happen,” Walker added, noting that police are particularly present in Black communities.

‘We aren’t just jumpouts’

The RIP emails illustrate how the unit engaged in controversial tactics attributed to more well-known MPD squads, like the notorious Gun Recovery Unit and the department’s so-called crime suppression teams.

One of those tactics is stop-and-frisk, or a police search that needs to be legally justified only by a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity. The RIP operated during the height of stop-and-frisk’s use by city police departments across the United States. The practice remains a point of contention between the MPD and many D.C. residents, particularly Black residents, who were the subjects of more than 80 percent of documented stop-and-frisks between 2010 and 2017 despite making up less than half of the district population. In the RIP emails, Black refers to “frisk” or “stop/frisk” only twice, opting to describe most of the non-arrest encounters as simply “stops.” Yet documents “prove how frequently stop-and-frisk is deployed,” said Wexler of the Stop Police Terror Project.

One day in March 2013, RIP officers stopped 20 people that the unit came across while roaming Southeast D.C., according to an email from Black. They stopped one man because he had his arm inside his sleeve, he was holding his waistband, and he was “favoring [his] right side”— the officers presumably suspected that he had a gun. They stopped another man for having an open container of alcohol, a pair for blocking a passageway, another person for holding his waistband, then another for “suspicious behavior,” stuffing something in his waistband, and walking in the opposite direction of officers after spotting them. They then stopped a group for wearing ski masks and loitering, then another group for blocking a stairwell, then one man for wearing a ski mask. They stopped a car for a traffic violation, then another because the driver was wearing a ski mask. And they stopped three separate people for running away when they saw the officers on the street. Of all those stops, one resulted in an arrest — for marijuana possession.

These actions undoubtedly fit into the parameters of stop-and-frisk, according to Scott Michelman, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C.

Stop-and-frisk wasn’t the only controversial policing method the RIP engaged in. The MPD is notorious for “jumpouts,” which Newsweek has called “D.C.’s scarier version of stop-and-frisk.” They became commonplace among drug squads in the 1980s, and D.C. residents and activists say they’re used to this day by various MPD units for both arrests and as a way to shock people into submission during stop-and-frisks.

The MPD has denied that it still uses the practice. In October 2014, when the issue came to the fore around the start of the Black Lives Matter movement, Lanier testified to the D.C. Council that “there are no ‘jump out’ units in the MPD,” and what was commonly referred to as jumpouts were likely vice units and crime suppression teams making quick arrests or rapidly conducting time-sensitive investigations. Six weeks later, she told the news website ThinkProgress that talk of jumpout squads was “fantasy,” then denied their existence again to Newsweek a month later, despite both outlets having interviewed several people who had experienced them. Newsham and Contee, Lanier’s successors, have also denied that the MPD conducts jumpouts, despite a continued trickle of firsthand accounts. In 2020 and 2021, MPD whistleblowers claimed the department still took part in the practice.

The RIP emails show that the unit minimized and even weaponized community concerns over jumpouts, and suggest that RIP officers engaged in the tactic. On Oct. 9, 2012, Black wrote that an intelligence branch officer had informed him that people in Southeast D.C. were asking about jumpouts, describing unmarked cars the RIP had recently used — one of which was provided to the unit by Contee, the current chief of police and then-commander of the sixth police district — to arrest a robbery suspect. Seeing an opportunity, the RIP decided to mimic the appearance of a jumpout squad to keep the rumor mill churning as part of the unit’s “Shock and Awe” approach. The goal was to “sow confusion” among nefarious figures, Black wrote in an Oct. 24 narrative. “We used all overt cars to encourage the offenders to talk about a new jump-out unit using obvious police cars today, so we can come back tomorrow in our soft cars and regular subdued approach to hopefully catch them slipping,” he wrote.

And in an Oct. 20 email, Black seemed to confirm that the RIP had conducted jumpouts in earnest: “We aren’t just jumpouts, we have a focus…usually,” he wrote.

Lanier, Newsham, and Contee were among the recipients of the Oct. 9 and 24 emails. Contee did not respond to The Appeal’s emailed questions.

Patrice Sulton, founder and executive director of DC Justice Lab and member of the D.C. Police Reform Commission, has called for the banning of jumpouts. After Lanier’s 2014 denial, Sulton said she remembers thinking “she doesn’t know what’s going on or she’s lying about it — it’s one of the two.”

“There’s a frustration about them continuing to rename and be dishonest about the practice,” she said.

“The MPD can play a little shell game with the names of the units,” said Michelman of the ACLU of D.C. “But the types of tactics in which it engages — the stop-and-frisk, the jumpouts, the detentions on little or no suspicion — remain constant.”

‘Specialized Unit of the Year’

At its annual awards ceremony in February 2013, the MPD honored the RIP as the “Specialized Unit of the Year.” The ceremony program stated that “the most important measure gained by the Program was the sense of camaraderie between the team members and the opportunity it created to share experiences and work together under a unified plan.” But it also touted some short-term, hyperlocal statistics to boost the case for the RIP’s efficacy during its first deployment: “Robbery events” fell 23 percent in the sixth police district and 10 percent in the seventh district when the unit was patrolling them.

However, six months later, after the RIP’s third deployment, Black noted that he was having a hard time finding statistical justifications for the RIP’s work. “Statistically, there is no way to show any marked difference during this deployment of RIP from the 2012 years [sic] Robbery Stats,” he wrote in one email. Then, in a private email to the MPD analyst, he wrote, “I couldn’t make the numbers say anything I wanted this time…every time I tried to push them one way, they would push back…sigh.”

Still, the MPD seems to have used the RIP to inform and justify a new project. In 2016, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the creation of a Robbery Intervention Task Force, whose strategy, as described in Bowser’s announcement, mirrored the stated strategy of the Robbery Intervention Program: While the RIP said it used “the most up-to-date intelligence from the department’s analytical team,” the task force was to assign “Criminal Research Specialists within MPD’s Crime Information Center to identify robbery patterns in real-time.”

In 2017, Bowser highlighted the robbery task force’s work, noting that the district saw a 27 percent reduction in robberies that year and a 35 percent reduction since the end of 2014. The year prior, however, she also noted a longer-term downward trajectory in robbery cases, which mirrors a national trend.

The reliability of D.C.’s robbery numbers is an open question. In some emails, Black expressed concerns that patrol officers were over-reporting robbery incidents. And FBI data, which excludes pickpocketing and purse snatching, shows smaller reductions in robberies in the district.

According to advocates, the means of units like the RIP do not justify the perceived ends. “It’s a practice and an attitude we see continued to this day,” said Michelman. “Seeing residents of eastern neighborhoods of the city, and in particular people of color, and in particular Black people, as presumptively suspects.”

“These are the tactics,” said Wexler, “of officers and a department interested only in terrorizing and oppressing the neighborhoods they have invaded.”

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