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Hearing on Metropolitan Police Department Spending and Performance Review

Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Hearing on Metropolitan Police Department Spending and Performance Review

Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

United States House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations
Subcomittee on the District of Columbia

The Honorable Joe Knollenberg
Chairman

Chief Charles H. Ramsey delivered the following statement during the Hearing on Metropolitan Police Department Spending and Performance Review, US House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on the District of Columbia. The hearing was held on April 4, 2001 with the Honorable Chairman Joe Knollenberg presiding.

Mister Chairman, members of the Subcommittee, staff, and guests - I appreciate the opportunity to present this opening statement outlining the Metropolitan Police Department's recent spending and performance trends. For your information, the text of my prepared remarks is available on our Department's Website, mpdc.dc.gov.

This hearing comes at a time of continued progress within the MPDC. With the help of this subcommittee, the Congress, Mayor Williams, and the DC Council, the MPDC has initiated a major rebuilding effort over the last three years. We have made tremendous strides in shoring up both our physical and technological infrastructure, as well as our capacity to fight crime and partner with the community in community policing. These efforts are ongoing - we still have a long way to go - but our progress has been significant. And we look forward to the continued support of both the District and federal governments as this rebuilding effort continues.

Of course, this hearing also comes at a time of enormous challenges for our Department - not the least of which is the continuing investigation into offensive e-mails sent by some of our officers, and the impact this is having on our relationship with the community. In light of the recent audit of e-mail communications that I ordered, and the subsequent discovery of numerous vulgar and racist messages, it is imperative that our Department acknowledge we have problems within our ranks - problems that must be addressed, and that will be solved. I will update the subcommittee on the status of this investigation and the steps we are taking later in my statement.

First, I want to provide you with a status report on our rebuilding efforts and the recent enhancements to our community policing strategy.

This body in particular has played a critical role in supporting our five-year, $100-million-dollar facilities upgrade program. Just a few years ago, many of our district stations and other facilities were in a truly decrepit state. Today, these facilities have new locker rooms, upgraded heating and cooling systems, new windows, improved security and other essentials that are helping to boost the morale and productivity of our employees. At the same time, we are in the process of making our facilities more accessible and user-friendly to the community.

We have also made great progress in upgrading our information technology, through a combination of capital and operating funds, as well as user fees. This June, we will move into a new, joint 9-1-1 communications center with the Fire and EMS Department. We have implemented 3-1-1 as the District's new police non-emergency number. We have upgraded and expanded our Mobile Digital Computer network - a valuable law enforcement tool that I will not scale back simply because a small number of officers may have abused the system's e-mail capabilities. In part because of preparations for Y2K, we have installed hundreds of new desktop computers and made significant upgrades to our legacy systems. We have designed and equipped a state-of-the-art Synchronized Operations Command Center that has been invaluable for major events such as the IMF/World Bank protests and the Presidential Inauguration, as well as everyday crime-fighting. And we have designed and continue to maintain an extensive Web site. These and other IT initiatives are making a big difference in our ability to collect and analyze information and to design effective community policing strategies.

We have equipped our officers with new, less-than-lethal weaponry, and we have upgraded the protective gear for our Civil Disturbance Units, supported by recent Congressional appropriations. In addition, we continue to upgrade our fleet with new vehicles and improved preventive maintenance. Later this month, we will be moving our Fleet Services to the old North East Ford dealership on West Virginia Avenue, NE - which the Washington Business Journal has cited as a "business deal of the year" in DC.

In addition to upgrading our physical and technical infrastructure, we continue to make improvements in our capacity to fight crime and practice community policing. We have put more officers on the street through a combination of better recruiting, innovative programs such as our lateral-hiring initiative and the Police Cadets, and changes in our shift schedules and deployment strategies. Our goal is straightforward: put more officers on the street during the critical evening and weekend hours, when crime and calls for service are at their highest.

We are providing our officers with better training. For example, we have doubled our annual firearms training from 8 to 16 hours, and expanded the course to focus on tactics and judgment, as well as marksmanship. We have created the MPDC's first mandatory 40-hour in-service training program for veteran officers, and offered a number of specialized courses for officers, detectives and officials.

We have enhanced the three prongs of our "Policing for Prevention" strategy: focused law enforcement, neighborhood partnerships and systemic prevention. In the area of focused law enforcement, we continue to support the Mobile Force, a voluntary overtime program that is putting dozens of additional officers in crime hot spots five nights a week. Last fiscal year, with the support of a special $1-million-dollar Congressional appropriation, we also created a new Narcotics Strike Force and equipped the unit with the latest in surveillance and tactical equipment. In just the last three months of calendar 2000, the Strike Force made more than 600 arrests, cleared 25 warrants, recovered 35 weapons, and seized 14 vehicles and close to $100,000 dollars in cash. This unit is having a noticeable impact on both open-air drug dealing and the violence that is often associated with it. We would certainly welcome additional funds in the current and future fiscal years to enhance the Strike Force and our other anti-drug efforts.

We continue to forge stronger partnerships with the community, in support of our community policing efforts. We have strengthened each of our 83 Police Service Areas, placing a lieutenant in charge of each PSA team and giving them new tools for documenting their problem-solving efforts and accessing other city services. We have also provided training to hundreds of police officers and community members through our innovative "Partnerships for Problem Solving" program.

Finally, we are making a renewed effort at systemic prevention - at addressing some of the underlying causes and conditions that lead to crime in our communities. For example, our Office of Youth Violence Prevention is spearheading a number of programs targeting at-risk young people. We are also teaming up with groups such as America's Promise and the East of the River Clergy Police Community Partnership to provide meaningful alternatives to young people in challenged communities. Just last week, we joined in announcing a new $30,000 dollar grant from America's Promise to support this partnership.

The results of these and other efforts have been impressive. Crime in the District is at its lowest level since the early 1970s, with the year 2000 marking the fifth consecutive annual decline. Homicides last year were at their lowest level since 1987, and they are down by one-third through the first quarter of this year. We have also seen dramatic reductions in the use of deadly force - police-involved shootings declined 78 percent between 1998 and 2000 - and in citizen complaints of excessive force - which were down 36 percent last year.

Challenges - major challenges - remain, of course. There are four immediate priorities that will require the continued support of our District and federal partners: 1) improving criminal investigations and increasing homicide closures; 2) controlling overtime spending; 3) improving customer service, and 4) healing the wounds and restoring the trust that has been damaged by the e-mail matter.

In the area of criminal investigations, we are instituting a number of reforms. We have just published a new Standard Operating Procedure for homicide investigations, and we announced a new, more rigorous selection process for investigators and detectives. We are enhancing our investigative training, working with London's New Scotland Yard as a sister agency in this effort. And we are strengthening homicide case management and oversight. For a number of reasons, solving homicides today is more challenging than ever. Still, for the sake of the survivors of homicide, and the confidence of the community in general, we can - and we will - do better when it comes to investigating these and other violent crimes.

In the area of overtime spending, we continue to face enormous pressures - some that we have management control over; others, such as court overtime, that are largely beyond our control. Major events that occurred in FY2000 and FY2001 - including Y2K, the IMF/World Bank meetings, the Million Mom and Million Family marches, and the Presidential Inauguration - generated substantial overtime costs. Our Department appreciates the Congressional support in helping to meet these and other overtime expenditures. As we look to the future, however, I think it is critical that we find ways to ensure that these expenses, which are vital to public safety, are adequately covered.

Our Department is instituting management controls over non-court overtime. In fact, the Department's proposed FY2002 budget includes a $6-million-dollar reduction in total overtime spending. Meeting this budget target will be a challenge for the Department, however, primarily in the area of court overtime. As the Council for Court Excellence recently reported, our officers are spending far too much time in court - sitting around or performing largely clerical tasks for prosecutors. This not only drives up overtime costs; it also reduces officers' availability on the street.

We are making some important progress in this area. On Monday, we kicked off a pilot project with the Office of Corporation Counsel to reform and streamline the papering process in three of our seven districts on a variety of misdemeanor "quality of life" and traffic charges. For example, in certain cases, officers can swear out the charges in their districts, without having to appear before a prosecutor in person. Following the pilot project, we plan to expand this effort District-wide. We are also making progress in reducing officer time spent at traffic adjudication hearings by developing a court calendar where each officer has to appear in traffic court for all of his or her cases only once a month, rather than several days throughout the month.

These reforms will take us only so far, however. By far, the greatest share of court overtime costs continues to come from felony cases prosecuted by the US Attorney's Office in DC Superior Court. This was the primary focus of the Council for Court Excellence study. We continue to meet with the US Attorney's Office and the courts, and to explore possible approaches for remedying the current, untenable situation. It is our hope that the Council for Court Excellence report, combined with our pilot projects involving the Corporation Counsel and BTA, will spark continued dialogue and new action with the US Attorney's Office and the DC Superior Court. I am confident that under the leadership of Chief Judge Rufus King, we will finally achieve additional, concrete reforms.

In the third area, customer satisfaction, we are working to improve our performance on several fronts. One is improving our response to victims and survivors of crime. We just completed a survey of recent crime victims, to measure their level of satisfaction with police service - not likely to be high - and to help identify specific steps we can take for improvement. Our new homicide SOP requires that detectives remain in regular contact with survivors on case status, and we are working with the group, Survivors of Homicide, to enhance officer sensitivity through training. Finally, we are partnering with the courts to make sure that eligible victims and families know about, and take advantage of, the District's Crime Victims Compensation Program. Other customer satisfaction efforts are focusing on training for our call-takers and other personnel who have frequent contact with the community. A large number of our citizen complaints continue to be about rudeness or insensitivity to the public - problems that I am committed to addressing.

The fourth and final challenge I want to touch on this afternoon is perhaps the biggest and most pressing one we face. It involves healing the wounds and restoring the trust that has been breached by the inappropriate and offensive e-mail communications that some of our officers have engaged in.

To make perfectly clear my own feelings on this matter, I have sent a special newsletter to all members of the force, and I have taped a video message that is being played at roll calls and staff meetings. A copy of my "Link" newsletter is attached to my printed statement. Let me assure this panel, and everyone who lives in, works in or visits DC, that there is no place in the MPDC for police officers or other employees who display the type of racist, sexist and malicious speech - and possibly actions - that are represented in some of the e-mails I reviewed.

I generally don't like the term "zero tolerance" as it is has been used in policing. But in this matter, there will be zero tolerance for intolerance in the MPDC. Members who spew profanity, perpetuate ugly stereotypes, or make references to - or engage in - biased policing of any sort will be identified, and strong disciplinary action will be taken.

I would like to update you on the background and status of the investigation itself. Approximately one month ago, I asked our Office of Quality Assurance to conduct an audit of some of the car-to-car communications over our Mobile Digital Computer (or MDC) network. I knew that other police departments had experienced problems in this area, and I wanted to assess the situation in our Department. What I saw, from just a sampling of e-mail messages identified from certain offensive key words, was truly shocking. I immediately directed our Office of Professional Responsibility to initiate a complete "confidential investigation" into the matter. By "confidential," I mean an investigation in which we are not required to notify the subjects that they are under scrutiny. While recent news media reports have comprised the confidentiality of the investigation, the investigation itself is proceeding. And I can assure you it will be thorough, exacting and wide-ranging. I pledge to keep the subcommittee, and the community at large, apprised of our progress in this priority matter.

I realize the actions of a small number of officers in no way reflect the integrity and professionalism of our Department as a whole. And I know that the vast majority of our members share my outrage and embarrassment over this matter. Still, the actions of a few do impact public perceptions of the MPDC and the policing profession in general. We simply cannot sit back and do nothing.

Following are some of the steps we are taking. MDC transmissions specifically, and our words and conduct in general, are being scrutinized very closely - by the Department and, more importantly, by the public we serve. When transgressions are discovered, we will continue to take swift action. Where new procedures or additional training are needed, we will provide them. We have already added a log-on warning message to the MDCs themselves and are publishing regular reminders about MDC policy. But when all is said and done, doing the right thing is up to each and every one of our members. Nobody needs a training course to tell them that offensive language and racism are wrong ... period.

One other critical step I announced last Thursday: our Department will soon begin collecting data on contacts our officers have with members of the community during traffic stops, field interrogations and other activities. I continue to meet with a variety of experts - from the law enforcement and civil rights communities - to determine the best methods for collecting, analyzing and using this type of data. While I do not believe that data collection itself is a panacea, it will provide important insight into the daily activities of officers. More importantly, it will help ensure our officers are not engaging in any form of biased policing. I will keep this body apprised of the implementation of this important policy decision.

In closing, I want to reaffirm my commitment to the continued rebuilding of the Metropolitan Police Department - not just our physical and technological infrastructure, but also the morale and professionalism of our members and the confidence of the people we serve. My biggest fear from the e-mail matter is that the actions of a small group of police officers will serve to undermine, or at least set back, three years of progress in reducing crime and implementing community policing.

As I have told our employees, members of the MPDC are held to a higher standard - as well we should be. The public has placed a sacred trust in us. Now, some of our members have violated that trust. For all of us in the Department, the hard work of repairing the damage and restoring that trust has already begun, and it will continue for some time. I am confident that with the continued support of our Mayor and District government, the President, and Congress, and especially our partners in the community, we can move forward in new and even more positive directions.

Thank you again for the opportunity to present this statement. I would be happy to answer any questions.