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Hearing on Coordination of Criminal Justice Activities in the District of Columbia

Friday, May 11, 2001

Hearing on Coordination of Criminal Justice Activities in the District of Columbia

Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

United States House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform

Subcommittee on the District of Columbia

The Honorable Constance A. Morella
Chairwoman

Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police
Metropolitan Police Department

Chief Charles H. Ramsey delivered the following statement during the Hearing on Coordination of Criminal Justice Activities in the District of Columbia, US House of Representatives, Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on the District of Columbia. The hearing was held on May 11, 2001 with the Honorable Chairwoman Constance A. Morella presiding.

Madame Chair, Congresswoman Norton, other members of the Subcommittee, staff, and guests - I appreciate the opportunity to present this statement concerning coordination in the District of Columbia's criminal justice system. For your information, the text of my remarks is available on our Department's website - mpdc.dc.gov.

This hearing comes at a time of continued progress and tremendous promise within the MPDC and the entire DC criminal justice system. This year, as in the five preceding years, crime in our city is down, and down significantly. Thus far in 2001, index crime has declined 6 percent when compared with the same time last year. Homicides are down 34 percent this year, after reaching a 13-year low in the year 2000. Lower crime rates, in turn, have translated into increased public confidence in the police, the justice system and the entire District government, and new investment in housing, jobs and the city's physical and technological infrastructure. Enhanced public safety has been a major factor, I believe, in the rebirth of the District of Columbia.

The reasons for the continuing decline in crime are many and varied. There is no one specific program or trend that we can point to with complete certainty. Still, I am certain that our success in reducing crime and improving public safety does revolve around one basic principle - and that principle is partnerships.

If the history of law enforcement in our nation has taught us anything, it has taught us that the police are most effective and successful when we work in partnership with the other individuals and entities that have a role in public safety in our communities. That lesson has served as the foundation of the community policing movement in our nation over the last decade or so - a movement that has brought police, other government agencies and citizens together in new and meaningful ways. I do not believe it is mere coincidence that the current, six-year reduction in crime in the District of Columbia began right after our city first implemented community policing in the summer of 1997 ... or that our record of success has continued, as we have updated and expanded our original model into the current strategy known as "Policing for Prevention."

When people think of community policing, they often focus on partnerships between police officers and residents. These partnerships are certainly critical to the success of community policing, but they represent only two sides of what we call the "Partnership Triangle." The third side - one that is critically important, but frequently overlooked - represents other government agencies and service providers, especially other agencies of the criminal justice system. In "Policing for Prevention," we take this third side of the Partnership Triangle very seriously. And, working with our city and federal partners in the criminal justice system, we have put together a number of innovative partnership strategies and incorporated them into our larger community policing strategy.

For example, I believe DC is fast becoming a national model for the emerging concept of "community prosecution." Today in our city, Assistant United States Attorneys and members of our Corporation Counsel's Office work hand-in-hand with our police-community PSA teams - often using office space in our police district stations - to target their prosecutorial efforts on those crimes that are of greatest concern to the community. As such, the criminal prosecution of cases flows naturally and smoothly from the problem-solving process initiated at the neighborhood level.

In the area of probation and parole, our officers are teaming up with adult probation and parole officers to strengthen supervision and enhance offender accountability. It sends a powerful message - to the offenders on supervision and to the community - when MPDC officers and probation and parole officials work side by side. In addition to increased supervision, these teams are developing networks in the community to assist probationers and parolees with training and educational opportunities, job placement, substance abuse assistance and critical life skills.

Another example of enhanced coordination: under the leadership of Congresswoman Norton, the MPDC has now executed four Police Coordination Act agreements with federal law enforcement agencies that have jurisdiction in the District. The agreements expand the jurisdiction of these federal agencies, allowing them to assist the MPDC in patrols and other law enforcement activities. And in communities, such as Capitol Hill, where the US Capitol Police have a long-standing agreement with the MPDC on expanded patrols, our federal partners are part and parcel of the community policing and problem-solving process. These Police Coordination Act agreements and MOUs are in addition to the numerous, very successful task forces involving the MPDC, various federal, state and local agencies, the US Attorney's Office and others.

In short, I believe the level of cooperation and coordination in the DC criminal justice system is strong - and getting stronger. Community policing has provided an umbrella - a guiding philosophy, if you will - under which this coordination can take place. I believe all of us at this table share in a commitment to seeing this spirit of partnership continue to grow and develop.

That said, the District of Columbia, like states across the nation, continues to face coordination issues that are almost inherent in way criminal justice is structured in our nation. Our situation here is somewhat unique in that the entities involved are a combination of local agencies, federal agencies, and local agencies under some form of federal oversight. But the underlying challenge is much the same here as it is elsewhere. To be efficient and effective - to act as a true system working toward the common goal of justice - we must ensure that coordination occurs not just on a case-by-case, project-by-project basis. Rather, we must strive toward a smooth and seamless system of working together.

In recent years, under the leadership of the District's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC), we have been able to identify, research and analyze some of the critical, systemic issues facing our criminal justice agencies. For example, on the continuing matters of papering reform and court overtime costs, the CJCC funded a comprehensive study by the Council for Court Excellence - a study that documents shortcomings in the current system and offers a number of commonsense reforms. The MPDC is committed to doing our part to ensure these recommendations are implemented in a timely and efficient manner. We recently began a pilot project with the Office of Corporation Counsel to authorize so-called "officer-less papering" and other reforms in a variety of misdemeanor, quality-of-life cases prosecuted by that office. And we continue to work with Chief Judge King and the US Attorney's Office in developing similar reforms in the processing of felony cases as well.

In this and other key areas, the CJCC has proven to be an invaluable partner in identifying issues that cut across multiple agencies and in presenting recommendations from a system-wide perspective. I strongly support the continuation of the CJCC, and recommend that its scope be expanded. For the CJCC to be truly effective - and for our criminal justice agencies in the District to form a more unified and effective system - the CJCC must have the resources and the responsibility not just to raise and discuss issues, but also to provide leadership and impetus for ensuring action and effecting change.

The CJCC's role will be especially critical as our system tackles the continuing problems of drug abuse and drug-related crime, youth violence, illegal weapons and cyber-crime. The CJCC will be equally important in coordinating our response to such promising new endeavors as papering reform, new information technology, and restorative justice, to name a few. I applaud this subcommittee for examining the crime and public safety problems in the District of Columbia from a holistic perspective. And the Metropolitan Police Department looks forward to an era of even greater cooperation and coordination with our sister agencies, as we continue working toward our common goals of safer streets, stronger neighborhoods and justice for all.

Thank you very much.