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Omnibus Public Safety Agency Reform Amendment Act of 2002 (Bill 14-610)

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Omnibus Public Safety Agency Reform Amendment Act of 2002 (Bill 14-610)

Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

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 October 24, 2002.

Madame Chair, members of the Committee, staff and guests – I appreciate the opportunity to present testimony today on the Public Safety Reform Amendment Act of 2002. As usual, the text of my prepared remarks is posted on the Police Department’s Web site – http://mpdc.dc.gov/.

During the four-and-one-half years that I have served as Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, this Committee has been an active partner in our ongoing efforts to rebuild and reform the MPD. Working together, we have made progress in a number of critical areas, including use-of-force reform; stronger recruiting and hiring standards; better training, equipment and technology; a more robust community policing strategy; and a renewed sense of purpose and pride within our agency. Today, the Metropolitan Police Department is a stronger, more effective and more community-oriented agency – thanks in part to your leadership and support.

The legislation being considered today was developed by this Committee as another step in the reform process. As it relates to the Metropolitan Police Department, the Public Safety Reform Amendment Act of 2002 addresses some remaining issues related to promotions, training, discipline and other areas where additional change is needed. On the whole, I believe this legislation will help move our Department forward and continue the progress that all of us have worked so hard to achieve.

MPD staff has conducted a thorough, section-by-section review of the proposed legislation. Based on that review, our Department is proposing a number of specific revisions to the Committee’s bill – revisions that I believe will make a good piece of legislation even better. My remarks will highlight some of our key proposed changes.

Command Staff Promotions
Title One of the legislation requires the Chief of Police to develop educational, experience, physical and psychological criteria for promotion to the Command Staff, and it prohibits the Chief from promoting sworn members to the Command ranks if they have received a suspension of more than 14 days within the last five years. I certainly support the principles behind these two provisions. The members of our Command ranks must exhibit the highest degree of integrity, knowledge and ability, and I have worked hard to assemble a Command staff that reflects not only these highest ideals, but also the diversity of our agency and the communities we serve.

We are, however, suggesting two changes to these provisions: first, the removal of the physical criteria, as they duplicate the physical standards contained in Title Nine of the bill; and second, the removal entirely of the psychological criteria for promotions. Experts in this area have indicated that psychological testing of experienced members does not necessarily reflect “best practices,” and the resources devoted to such testing could be better applied to additional training or professional development of Command members.

One other recommendation for this section: currently, the Chief of Police can make promotions to the Command Staff from among captains only. We are recommending that this pool of candidates be expanded to include lieutenants who meet all of the other criteria. This would increase not only the number and diversity of potential candidates, but also the range of knowledge, skills and experiences that we could tap. We have a large cadre of very experienced, highly qualified lieutenants in our Department, and I would like the opportunity, when warranted, to consider some of them for Command positions.

Training and Standards Board
Title Three of the Act deals with the Police Training and Standards Board. Establishing this Board was a critical reform that I pushed for, with the strong support of this Committee. I want to thank the volunteer members of the Board for their service and their progress to date. The legislation would allow one member of the Board to be appointed by the Fraternal Order of Police, which I support.

There are two other provisions in this section that I also support in principle, but which appear to fall outside both the charter and resources of the Board. One of these provisions involves a study of separate career tracks for patrol and investigations. The other requires a study of guidelines for the recording of police interrogations. In both instances, I believe such studies are important and worthwhile. Not every patrol officer wants to be a detective, and not every detective wants to return to patrol as they move up the ranks. We should definitely looks at ways to create career paths for members in the areas they are most effective in. As for recording of interrogations, they can provide not only evidentiary support, but also protections for our officers against false complaints.

However, I do not believe that the Training and Standards Board is the most appropriate agency, or the best-equipped agency, to conduct these studies. The Training and Standards Board agrees with that assessment. As an alternative, we are proposing that the career path study can be better accomplished by the MPD’s Personnel Division, in consultation with the DC Office of Personnel. In addition, we are proposing that the Chief of Police, in consultation with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other interested parties, would be in the best position to conduct the study of, and develop standards for, recording interrogations.

There are two additional changes we are recommending for this section. First, we are suggesting that the educational requirement that takes effect in 2004 – 60 semester hours of college – be required of recruits by the time they graduate from the Academy, not prior to being hired. Many good recruit officer candidates will be very close to achieving the 60 hours, and that time during the Academy will give them the opportunity to finish their educational requirement, which I strongly support. Second, we are recommending that the Training and Standards Board be required, by July of 2006, to also develop standards for police officers in the DC Housing Authority.

Emergency Response Compensation
Title Five would increase, from $1,250 to $2,710, the extra compensation for Emergency Response Team personnel – a move that I also support.

Adverse Actions
Title Six addresses adverse actions and grievances. As currently proposed, this bill would institute a mandatory, 45-day limit on initiating adverse actions against employees. For a number of reasons, the Department opposes this provision.

I recognize and support the goal behind this proposal: to ensure that adverse action is not indiscriminately or unfairly meted out months after an alleged violation occurs. And our Department has worked hard to initiate and complete internal investigations in a timely manner. In fact, in our use-of-force Memorandum of Agreement with the Department of Justice, we have agreed to conduct serious misconduct investigations within 90 days.

But the fact remains that some investigations are complex and do take time. For that reason, we are proposing that the mandatory aspect of the 45-day standard be removed, but that employees be given the opportunity to demonstrate how their ability to defend themselves was materially affected by a delay in the initiation of the action. We also plan to hold supervisors accountable, through their regular performance management plans, for completing investigations in a timely manner. Supervisors will need to justify, in writing, any additional delay in investigations beyond the 45-day standard.

We believe a mandatory 45-day limit would hamper our ability to thoroughly and professionally investigate all allegations of misconduct. Just a few years ago, this Council repealed a similar “45-day rule,” presumably after finding that such a rigid, inflexible and arbitrary deadline resulted in the retention of employees who had clearly engaged in serious misconduct. I fear that a return of the “45-day rule” will once again force us to retain such employees, thereby hurting our operations, our integrity and our service to the community.

Finally, I believe this is a matter best resolved at the negotiating table, not through legislation. And I would suggest that if you feel that a legislatively mandated time limit is necessary, then it should apply to all employees in all agencies – not just a selected class of employees with two agencies.

Limited Duty
Title Seven deals with the matter of limited duty personnel. This Committee has repeatedly explored the issue of personnel on limited duty and extended sick leave, and their impact on police deployment. This legislation proposes some important reforms. However, we believe that the issues surrounding limited duty are so extensive that a broad, more systematic fix is needed. Therefore, we are recommending that this entire section be removed from the current bill, and that limited duty be addressed in a stand-alone piece of legislation, which we will be presenting for your consideration.

This alternative proposal would still require the Department to make decisions about performance-of-duty injuries in a timely manner, as the current proposal does. Under our proposal, the Department would be given 30 days to make the determination. The reality, however, is that some of these determinations are too complex to be able to complete within 30 days. In these situations, there would be a rebuttable presumption that the injury was performance-of-duty related, and our Department would continue to cover salary and medical treatment costs for members should a decision extend beyond 30 days. However, the Department would retain the ability, once all the facts are in, to make a determination at a later date that the injury was not related to the performance of duty.

Our proposal would also address the issue of officers who remain on limited duty or extended sick leave for an inordinate length of time. This proposal would establish a two-year maximum for any duty status other than full duty, unless the member incurs a life-threatening injury in the performance of duty. In these cases, there would be no limit to the length of time that the Chief could retain the member in a limited-duty status. We feel that two years is more than generous in providing sufficient time for healing and rehabilitation in non-life threatening injuries.

Finally, our substitute legislation, unlike the proposed Reform Act, would not identify specific positions for limited-duty officers. Rather, we would maintain the flexibility to match limited-duty officers with positions that accommodate their limitations and that take advantage of their individual knowledge, skills and abilities. It would be difficult – for the officers and for our Department – to have a system so rigid that members might be forced into positions that could not accommodate their limitations or take advantage of their abilities. Or we could even end up with a situation where we have “X” number of designated limited-duty positions, but “X-plus-10” limited-duty officers at any one time. The MPD is a dynamic organization, where staffing and staffing needs can change on an almost daily basis. I think it is important to retain the flexibility with limited-duty personnel that allows us to meet our needs as efficiently and effectively as possible.

This is a various complex area, and we would like to spend some more time working with the Committee and other interested parties in developing a balanced and comprehensive approach.

Physical Standards
Title Nine proposes the establishment of physical and psychological standards for police officers. Time and time again, one of the most common issues I hear from residents is the physical condition of our officers. I support regular physical exams for all sworn members – from the Chief of Police on down. I consider this an officer safety issue, as well as a public safety issue. We are, however, recommending that these physical exams be required annually, instead of “biennially,” as contained in the current proposal. I also believe that we need to think through the implications and consequences of officers who fail to meet the physical standards.

We are also recommending that the requirement for regular psychological exams be deleted. We are certainly sensitive to the stress that is associated with being a police officer, and we support the psychological health and well-being of our members through training, employee assistance and other resources to help them deal with that stress. In addition, we continue to give psychological screens to all of our new recruit officers. But we also believe that annual exams for experienced members are neither warranted nor affordable. We will continue to order psychological exams for individual members, as specific circumstances warrant. But we do not believe there is an identifiable need at this time for regular exams for all members.

Personnel Authority and Compensation
Title Ten, among other provisions, seeks to limit the Mayor’s authority to delegate personnel authority. We oppose this provision and recommend it be removed from the legislation. The Mayor’s delegation of personnel authority to the Chief of Police first occurred in 1997, under former Mayor Barry, and was reaffirmed in a subsequent delegation by Mayor Williams. One of the initial reasons for this delegation of authority was a perception that the Mayor had too much influence over individual personnel decision with the Department. This perception unfairly tainted promotions and appointments in the eyes of both members of the Department and the public. Beyond insulating personnel actions from such perceptions, these delegations have afforded me the flexibility needed to utilize the Department’s human resources in addressing public safety and administrative imperatives as they arise.

While the specific language of the delegations has varied, they have all required me, as Chief of Police, to act in accordance with the law. I stand behind every personnel decision I have made pursuant to these delegations. As Chief, I am ultimately answerable and accountable for this Department’s performance. I believe that I should be afforded the necessary management flexibility to ensure our success, unless and until the Mayor chooses otherwise.

I understand one of the concerns your proposal is designed to address is that personnel actions be consistent across DC government agencies. As you know, the Administrative Services Modernization Program is under development. The Director of the Office of Personnel has indicated that the ASMP may resolve inconsistencies that currently exist among different agencies, and that we should await the results of ASMP before considering major structural changes of this sort.

Title Ten also requires classification and compensation studies of all sworn and civilian positions, which we welcome, even though we are lacking the funds to carry out these studies.

Campus Police Cooperative Agreements
Title Eleven would allow the MPD to enter into cooperative agreements with university campus police departments, similar to the agreements currently in place with various federal agencies. These existing cooperative agreements have been an important complement to the MPD’s law enforcement and crime prevention efforts. We would welcome the opportunity to explore similar agreements with our campus police forces. One note, however: members of university police department are “special police officers,” not fully certified law enforcement officers, as is the case with the federal agencies with which we have negotiated cooperative agreements. This distinction needs to be taken into account as we develop this concept further.

Retired Police Officer Employment
Finally, we are proposing an additional section to the Act that would allow retired police officers to be rehired by the Department as civilian employees. Currently, our sworn members are prohibited from collecting their pensions and a civilian salary at the same time. Our proposal would eliminate this prohibition, which does not exist in most other major cities. We have many very qualified and dedicated retired officers who could serve us well as civilian dispatchers, crime analysts, lock-up personnel and other positions. Retired police officers would still have to compete for these positions with other applicants, and they would not be eligible for civilian retirement benefits. But as we seek to re-start our civilianization plans in future years, retired police officers could provide an important cadre of qualified candidates for these positions.

Thank you for the opportunity to present this detailed opening statement. My management team and I remain committed to completing the reform program that we have carried out over the past four years, with support and guidance of this Committee. We believe that the Public Safety Reform Amendment Act of 2002, with our suggested amendments, moves us much closer to that goal.

Thank you again, and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.