After Memphis police beating, ACLU calls for disbanding DC police gun unit

After members of a specialized policing unit were charged in the death of a man in Memphis, Tennessee, there is a call for a specialized policing unit in D.C. to be disbanded.

It comes from the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. which said the D.C. police department’s Gun Recovery Unit, or GRU, disproportionality targets and “continues to traumatize Black communities” in the nation’s capital.

“The GRU has demonstrated a clear pattern of abuse and acting with impunity,” said Monica Hopkins, the executive director of the organization, in a statement.

The special unit, made up of D.C. police officers, targets illegal guns, but Hopkins said the group is “unaccountable and dangerous,” and urged the D.C. Council to take the unit off the streets.

The ACLU said the GRU has received “countless complaints” and has been the focus of several lawsuits, including one the department settled involving “unconstitutional and exceedingly invasive bodily search” of a DC man in 2017 by a GRU officer.

“As we head into agency oversight season, we urge the D.C. Council to demand accurate reporting that can clearly demonstrate the GRU’s effects,” Hopkins said.

Special police department units nationwide have come under scrutiny, after five Memphis police officers — all part of a special crime suppression unit — were filmed brutally beating Tyre Nichols during a traffic stop. The five officers, all of whom are Black, were fired and are now facing murder charges.

On Wednesday, when asked about the ACLU’s call, D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee III said disbanding the unit because of what happened in Memphis is “a reach.” He said oversight is key, and he said over the past two years, the department’s special units have been revamped.

“We’ve done some retraining; we’ve added additional supervisory and managerial personnel two years ago, and that’s the space where we are,” Contee said.

He added that the unit also frequently works alongside the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive and other federal law enforcement agencies when targeting illegal guns and gun trafficking.

The ACLU said there is not a lot known about how the unit recovers weapons, how an arrest is made or even how often the recoveries made by the unit end up being used as evidence in court.

“While we get these answers, the Council must disband the GRU to prevent significant future harm that we know the unit has caused in the past,” Hopkins said.

Despite this, Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto says the D.C. Council won’t get rid of the GRU, at this point.

“Our city is awash in illegal guns and it is causing incredible harm to our communities,” Pinto, who also chairs the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said. “I do not currently have any plans to disband the gun recovery unit.”

Yet Pinto did not rule out investigating the special police force.

“As I will with all agencies under the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety’s jurisdiction, I will exercise oversight to ensure MPD and this unit in particular are serving all DC residents and ensure transparency so we can hold them accountable to their mission,” Pinto said.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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