Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police
Metropolitan Police Department
Chief Charles H. Ramsey delivered the following statement to the Committee on the Judiciary, the Honorable Kathy Patterson, Chair, Council of the District of Columbia on February 25, 2003.
Good afternoon, Chairperson Patterson, other members of the Committee and Council, staff and guests. I appreciate the opportunity to present this opening statement concerning the Metropolitan Police Department’s performance during fiscal years 2002 and year-to-date 2003. Several other members of the Department’s Command Staff are here today to assist me in responding to your questions. And, as is my custom, the text of my prepared statement is posted on the Police Department’s website, mpdc.dc.gov.
Raising the Performance Bar
As Chief, I have testified at performance hearings such as this one for the past several years. While I would not always characterize these hearings as particularly easy or enjoyable, they have certainly been useful and very much appreciated. The oversight of this Committee and this Council has been a critical factor not only in helping to professionalize the MPD, but also in raising the bar in terms of the performance expectations of our agency. When an organization can’t buy office supplies or gasoline for its vehicles, can’t replace worn-out tires – let alone 10-year-old cars, or can’t even account for all of its employees, the expectations for that organization’s performance are pretty low. This was the very type of low-performing, low-expectation organization that the MPD was, when I became Chief. Five years later, the MPD is a very different type of organization.
- Five years ago, MPD facilities were dilapidated, uncomfortable, and in some cases unsafe. Police stations with neither toilet paper nor Xerox paper were commonplace. Today, almost every MPD facility has undergone significant renovation, making them more efficient for our staff and more accommodating for the community. During FY2002 and 2003, important new facilities have been opened or are scheduled to open, including the 4D-1 substation on Park Road, NW, the Mobile Crime facility on V Street, NE, the new Central Cellblock; the new Fleet Maintenance Facility on West Virginia Avenue, NE, the ROC North headquarters at the former Petworth Elementary, and a new full-service, indoor firing range in Cheltenham, Maryland, being built jointly with the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.
- Five years ago, MPD’s vehicle fleet was is sad shape. Cars were old, with high mileage and prone to break down – sometimes when responding to emergencies. Today, the average age of our fleet has been reduced from almost 10 years to 3.5. New vehicles are being purchased on a regular basis – 185 during FY 2003. A top-flight vehicle maintenance program has been implemented, and new types of “vehicles” have been added to our fleet, including the Falcon One helicopter.
- Five years ago, computers in the MPD (where they existed) were outdated, few cars had mobile data computers that worked, data collection and analysis were primitive, and our “command center” consisted of a card table, a telephone, a police radio and maybe a PC. Since that time, we have purchased hundreds of new desktop computers; we have installed MDCs in several hundred police cruisers; we have moved into a new Public Safety Communications Center; we have built a state-of-the-art Joint Operations Command Center that was pressed into action on September 11th, 2001, and continues to serve as a backbone for our terrorism response efforts; and, most recently, we have created or upgraded data analysis and investigative systems such as SMART, Columbo and WACIIS.
- Five years ago, training in our Department was haphazard at best, non-existent in many cases – including something as essential as firearms training. Today, our police officers receive more training – and more challenging training – than at any time in our Department’s history: an annual, 40-hour course of in-service training; daily roll-call training; twice-annual firearms training, training for detectives and other specialized courses. Over the past 18 months, we have focused on weapons of mass destruction and other anti-terrorism topics that are designed to keep our officers and our citizens safe in the event of another terrorist attack.
- Five years ago, Metropolitan Police officers used deadly force more than any other major city police department in the country. And at the time, our Department could not even accurately count our use-of-force incidents or document the investigations and their outcomes. Today, police-involved shootings in the District have plummeted by more than half. Use-of-force policies, training and investigative procedures have been totally revamped. We signed an historic memorandum of agreement with the Justice Department, thereby avoiding the costly and restrictive consent decrees that Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and other cities have had to ensure. And over the past 18 months, our implementation of the MOA has gotten on track. The bottom line: our Department went from being a national embarrassment when it came to use of force, to becoming a national model for innovation and progress.
- Five years ago, it was next to impossible to get the needed support from other city agencies to fight some of the underlying causes of crime, such as abandoned buildings, abandoned cars and broken streetlights. Today, the MPD is an active member of the Neighborhood Services Core Teams in every Ward. And when a crime or disorder problem is brought to the team’s attention, it is addressed with a coordinated strategy.
- Five years ago, community policing in our city was a concept – a hope. Today, throughout DC, police officers, residents, community leaders, businesses and others are working together to fight crime. They are walking together, sharing information with one another, and solving crime and disorder problems – together.
Of course, there is still room for improvement in many of these areas, and there are other issues which have not been adequately resolved. Our homicide clearance rate is not where it should be, although it did improve substantially during the latter part of 2002 – a trend we are hoping to build on. Parts of our city are still experiencing far too much crime and violence, even though crime has generally decreased over the past five years. And residents are still extremely frustrated with calling 9-1-1 and getting placed on hold or having to wait too long for a police officer to respond.
Yes, we need to keep working and improving. In fact, I see the recent debates on crime, police visibility and the PSA model as indications of how far we have come. The fact that we will likely spend little time today discussing the state of technology, training, facilities, vehicles or use of force in the MPD is significant. It means that all of us – residents, the MPD, the Mayor and the Council – are now able to focus on the work that a functional police department should be held accountable for … work that should be done, and done well, because the MPD is better equipped, better trained and more professional than it was five years ago. Your expectations, and my expectations, and the community’s expectations have all risen as the MPD has become a more professional organization over the years. And that is the way it should be.
Performance in Reducing Crime
One expectation is that the District’s crime rate will continue to fall. [Graph 1] Between 1997 and 2001, serious crime in DC declined by nearly 15 percent overall. Except for auto theft, every crime category, including homicide, was lower in 2001 than it was in 1997. Crime did increase by about 6 percent in 2001, reversing a five-year decline. Preliminary figures for 2002 suggest crime was steady when compared with 2001, or may have declined slightly, although we won’t know for certain until the final numbers become available in a few months. We do know that homicides increased in 2002, and there appear to have been increases in robberies and auto thefts, which are obviously cause for concern.
All of us, of course, would like to see crime decrease each and every year, from one year to the next. That is certainly the goal that the Police Department is working toward. But in looking at our performance in crime reduction, I think it is important to maintain somewhat of a long-term perspective. For crime to increase one year, after declining each of the five previous years, is not unusual – here in DC or in other cities, many of which have also experienced a recent uptick in crime. In fact, when we are compared with six similar “benchmark” cities (see attached for explanation of “benchmarking”), the District had the second largest reduction in both violent crime [Graph 2] and property crime [Graph 3] rates between 1997 and 2001 – behind only Newark, New Jersey. Like other departments, we are constantly working to understand the factors behind the changes in our crime trends, and we are focusing our management efforts on how to build on the overall reduction in crime that we have experienced over the past several years.
Now, I fully understand that when people are not feeling safe – and, right now, many of our residents are not feeling safe – statistics such as these will not make them feeler safer. Residents want effort, they want visibility and, most of all, they want action – concerted and consistent action – by their police department, and we are working very hard to meet their expectations. But in looking at the current situation and how we move forward, I think it is important to not lose sight of where we have come from in terms of crime in our city.
Performance of our PSAs
I think it is noteworthy that the overall downward trend in crime coincided with the implementation of the PSA model. Many factors, of course, influence crime, and I firmly believe that community policing – what we call “Policing for Prevention” – is one of those factors.
As was pointed out in our February 2001 report to the Council, the PSA model is very similar in design and operation to patrol systems used in New York, Chicago and just about every other major city in the country. The names may differ, but all of us use the same basic approach to organizing police services. And police departments use the same basic system because it has a number of benefits. It organizes police services along defined geographic boundaries. It creates teams of officers for each community, led by a supervisor who has 24-hour accountability for that area. And perhaps most importantly, the model creates opportunities for the police-community partnerships that are so critical to the success of community policing.
Over the years, including the last 18 months, our Department has worked to enhance the PSA model. First, we have assigned more officers to the PSAs. Granted, many PSAs still do not have enough officers, given the workload and crime patterns in their communities. But overall, there are approximately twice as many officers assigned to the PSAs today than when the model was rolled out more than five years ago. In 1997, Booz-Allen reported that that there were just over 800 officers assigned to PSAs. The goal was to have 1,584 members assigned, but that number included tactical officers and district detectives.
Today, by contrast, there are 1,776 uniformed members assigned to our PSAs: 1,534 police officers, 166 sergeants, and 76 lieutenants. And this number does not include, as the original numeric goals did, focused mission team officers and district detectives. We have provided the Council with a plan for staffing the PSAs, and we remain committed to that plan, which I will discuss a bit later. But it is important to remember that we have managed to put more officers in the PSAs than what the original architects of the model envisioned. We have also enhanced supervision and accountability by putting a lieutenant in charge of each PSA. Over the past 18 months, we also created a formal system for documenting problem-solving efforts, through the PSA Action Plans. And we continue to train police officers and residents in the fundamentals of community policing and problem-solving through the “Partnerships for Problem Solving” curriculum.
The results? Some of our PSAs are succeeding, even thriving. These PSAs have strong leadership, effective partnerships, and are achieving real success in fighting crime. They are PSAs such as PSA 309, where Lt. Diane Groomes is engaging the community and other agencies in combating prostitution, problem buildings and the crime problems they attract. Or PSA 610, where Lt. Nathan Sims and his team have worked with residents of Hillcrest to solve quality-of-life and crime problems in and around the Skyland Shopping Center. Every police district has PSAs – multiple PSAs, in fact – that are successfully implementing “Policing for Prevention” and are making their communities safer.
Unfortunately, each police district also has PSAs that are struggling – where the leadership is not where it should be, where police-community partnerships are weak and ineffective, and where the focus and follow-through are lacking. In some of these under-performing PSAs, resources may be a critical issue. But it is also likely that the solutions to the performance problems in these PSAs are more complex than simply adding more police officers.
Improving the PSAs
It is an oversimplification to state that the “PSA system is not working” … just as it is unrealistic to claim that the system is working fine. Our performance in implementing community policing remains uneven from PSA to PSA. We need to turn more of our low-performing PSAs into high-performers. And we need to make sure that the high-performers stay at that level. The Council has asked our Department for another study of the PSAs, and we will provide that study. But don’t expect the overall conclusion to change. I believe the PSAs are an effective way to organize police services, provided that our PSAs are properly configured, staffed and supported.
Our Department had already begun a major study of the PSA boundaries – a study that was clearly overdue. A few of our PSAs are too large; some are too small. Some PSAs divide natural neighborhoods; some lump neighborhoods together. Some have strong community-based resources; many do not.
The plan currently under consideration, which will be detailed in our report to the Council, would reduce the number of PSAs by approximately half. The objectives are to maximize our resources, ensure greater consistency among PSA team leaders, align the PSAs with other city services around defined “neighborhood clusters,” and better match the PSAs with natural neighborhood boundaries as a way to rejuvenate police-community partnerships in many areas.
Under the new boundaries, staffing on individual PSAs will obviously change. There will be more officers per PSA, but the PSA teams will also have more territory to cover. We are working on a formula to determine appropriate staffing on the reconfigured PSAs. We do remain committed to the overall staffing plan that has been submitted to the Council.
Our sworn headcount target for the end of January was 3,686. [Graph 4] The actual figure was 3,633, or 1.4 percent below our target. We continue to face several challenges in meeting our staffing goals. Budget pressures have impacted the pace of hiring this year. In fact, the Department has been unable to hire a recruit class in FY 2003. Even so, we have made it a priority to hold the line on staffing the PSAs. Close to 59 percent of all officers, sergeants and lieutenants in the Department are currently assigned to PSAs – a percentage that has remained steady during FY 2003.
Another major challenge involves officers who are unavailable for full duty. We continue to carry more than 300 officers in limited-duty and extended sick leave status, which reduces the pool of officers available for full duty in the PSAs. The Department is working on some legislation to address this problem, and we will be counting on the Council’s support for our reforms.
PSA boundaries and staffing are important. But to be effective, the PSAs must also be supported by other elements of the MPD. This includes specialized operational units such as the Focused Mission Teams, Major Narcotics, Prostitution, Canine, the Power Shift, and the dozens of “redeployed” officers we put out on the street every evening. Just recently, redeployed officers from the Major Narcotics Branch arrested a suspect wanted in a series of robberies of female pedestrians in Georgetown and other areas. Similarly, the Major Narcotics Branch worked with other city agencies to close down several illegal after-hours clubs in Northwest. The PSA teams do not always have the time or resources to address these types of problems, and that’s where our specialized units play such an important role.
To ensure coordination between the PSAs and our specialized units, the Department’s leadership – led by Executive Assistant Chief Fitzgerald – meets every morning to review crime trends over past 48 hours and to deploy our resources in support of PSAs. These Crime Briefings focus on one thing: crime, and how to attack it in our neighborhoods. And we are measuring more of what we are doing. Unit commanders are submitting daily figures on arrests and firearm recoveries, and we are tracking those totals and will soon begin posting them on our website. For example, for the week ending February 15, our Department made a total of 793 arrests, and our officers recovered 242 firearms during the first 50 days of the year – or about five per day. These totals represent the activities of both PSA officers and operational support units, working together to fight crime in our communities.
I am sure you will have questions about the PSA model and our crime-fighting efforts. Before getting to them, I did want to touch on a few other performance areas.
The first is emergency and non-emergency communications: 9-1-1 and 3-1-1. Earlier in my statement, I mentioned some of the technological upgrades we have made. However, I fully understand that technology alone has not translated into the needed performance improvements. In too many cases, residents are still not getting the service they expect or deserve.
One challenge is the sheer volume of calls we are receiving in our Public Safety Communications Center. In 2002, the PSCC fielded more than 1.9 million calls – approximately 1 million to 9-1-1 and 900,000 to 3-1-1. [Graph 5] That represents a 5 percent increase from 2001 and a 26 percent increase from 1997. So while crime generally declined during this period, calls to the police have risen sharply.
The average time for answering 9-1-1 calls did improve slightly from 2001 to 2002 – from 16 to 15 seconds – but it is clearly not where it should be. Too many calls to 9-1-1 are not being answered quickly enough, and too many callers are being placed on hold for too long a period of time, and too many calls are being abandoned. Similarly, many callers to our 3-1-1 non-emergency number are also being held in queue for extended periods of time. In many cases, 3-1-1 callers get frustrated, hang up and call back on 9-1-1, which serves to exacerbate the overall problem of call-answer times.
We have taken some steps to try and bridge the gap between demands and resources. We have hired some additional civilian personnel over the years, although budget pressures have impacted civilian hiring as well. We have supplemented the core civilian staff with approximately 50 sworn officers who are on limited-duty. We constantly analyze our call volumes, and adjust our staffing to meet demands. The bottom line, however, is that our performance in this area will not improve markedly without additional personnel to answer the phones and dispatch our officers, especially if call volumes continue to grow.
Performance in Criminal Investigations
Criminal investigations represent another important area. I refer the Committee to my testimony at the January 21 hearing on homicide investigations for an update in this area. In summary, our homicide clearance rate in 2002 was approximately 55 percent. This is an improvement of 5 percentage points from the 2001 figure, and is about average for cities of our size. As I pointed out last month, I do not consider “average” to be good enough, and we are continuously monitoring our performance – both the performance of individuals within our Violent Crimes Branch, as well as the performance of the unit as a whole – and are taking steps to make us more effective.
There is one additional development that I do want to mention specifically. Effective this past Sunday, the Department established a citywide Sex Offense Unit within our Violent Crimes Branch. This unit is now responsible for investigating all sexual assaults against adults in the District; specialized youth investigators continue to handle juvenile sex cases. Just as the establishment of the Violent Crimes Branch has brought some stability and improved performance to our homicide investigations, I am confident that the new Sex Offense Unit will improve our performance in this critical and sensitive area as well.
The Response to the Terrorism Threat
Terrorism preparedness continues to be a major issue for our Department, as it is for the entire city. In response to the latest “Orange Alert” status, our Department raised our own Emergency Response Level from Level One to Level Two. We have activated our Joint Operations Command Center and our Closed Circuit Television camera network. We have increased attention around DC government facilities and other critical, local institutions, and we have increased coordination with our local and federal partners.
I want to emphasize to the Committee that our response to the latest terrorism alert has not diminished our neighborhood patrols or lessened our community crime-fighting efforts. Our primary focus is on protecting our residents, and our anti-terrorism efforts are geared toward their security. In the last few weeks, we have stepped up our community outreach efforts as they pertain to emergency preparedness. We have held meetings for DC business and community leaders, and each police district is now holding meetings in their communities on the public safety aspects of emergency preparedness. We are also working in conjunction with the Mayor, the DC Emergency Management Agency and others on individual, family and community preparedness.
Traffic Safety Performance
One final area I want to touch on is traffic safety, because it remains a major issue in many of our communities. And we have some excellent news here in terms of performance. Traffic fatalities in the District declined by nearly 30 percent between 2001 and 2002, as the number of citations issued for speeding, red-light running, drunken driving and other infractions have increased sharply.
Our automated traffic enforcement program is now in its fourth year, with photo radar 20 months old. With this program, we have seen red-light running infractions decline by more than 70 percent at the 39 intersections equipped with red-light cameras – that is the equivalent of 26,500 fewer red-light violations each and every month. In terms of speeding, the percentage of motorists speeding – and speeding aggressively – has plummeted with the introduction of photo radar. Last month, just 7.5 percent of the drivers monitored by photo radar were speeding aggressively. [Graph 6] That compares with more than 30 percent of aggressive speeders when the program was introduced in the summer of 2001. Across the board, average speeds on our residential streets, arteries and highways have declined in photo radar enforcement zones, as have the number of speeding-related fatalities citywide.
Our automated enforcement program is a complement to our traditional enforcement efforts, which continue to focus on drunk driving, underage drinking and driving, and seat belt and child safety seat compliance. We are certainly trending in the right direction when it comes to preventing injuries and saving lives, and we are continuing our efforts in this critical area. The triple-fatality crash this past weekend in Northeast demonstrates the tragic consequences of speeding and red-light running. As we expand both our automated and traditional traffic enforcement efforts, we will be concentrating more resources on aggressive driving at night and on the weekends.
I thank you for the opportunity to read this detailed testimony into the record. My staff and I will be happy to entertain your questions.