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Omnibus Public Safety Agency Reform Amendment Act of 2003 (Bill 15-34) and Other Legislation

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Omnibus Public Safety Agency Reform Amendment Act of 2003 (Bill 15-34) and Other Legislation

Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Michael J. Fitzgerald
Executive Assistant 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 May 22, 2003.

Madame Chair, members of the Committee, staff and guests – Chief Ramsey had to leave town unexpectedly because of a death in his family. He has asked me to represent the Department at today’s hearing. I have a prepared statement that I would like to read into the record, and then staff and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have. As is customary, the text of this statement is posted on the Police Department’s Web site.

Last October, as you know, Chief Ramsey presented detailed testimony on the Public Safety Reform Amendment Act of 2002. Most of that testimony remains applicable today, so I will refer the Committee to the Chief’s earlier statement. I do, however, want to re-emphasize some key points that were made last October, and offer a few additional ideas endorsed by the Chief, as you continue your deliberations on this important piece of legislation.

  • First is the matter of the educational requirement for new recruit officers. Beginning in 2004, District law will require candidates to have completed 60 semester hours of college to be eligible for hire. The Department continues to support the enhanced educational requirement for officers, but would like to propose two modifications. First, we recommend that the 60 semester hours be required of recruits by the time they graduate from the Academy, not prior to being hired. Many good recruit officer candidates are very close to 60 hours when they are hired – in fact, the average recruit today already has approximately 13.5 years of education. Their time in the Academy will give many qualified recruits the opportunity to complete their educational requirement. The Department is currently working with members of the Consortium of Universities to make some of our Academy courses eligible for college credit, which would further support this recommendation. Second, the Department would support giving the Police Training and Standards Board the authorization to waive the educational requirement in certain cases, pursuant to standards established via rulemaking.
     
  • The second area involves additional compensation for key personnel. The Department supports our Emergency Response Team members receiving additional “hazardous duty” pay, as proposed in this legislation. In addition, we would like the Committee to consider providing the Chief with authorization to offer additional “tech pay” to our PSA team leaders. As you know, the Department is proposing to restructure the PSA boundaries, which would reduce the overall number of PSAs from 83 to 39. As a result, PSAs will be geographically larger and there would be additional personnel to manage in most instances. Not only would the added compensation be a well-deserved benefit for our PSA leaders, it might also encourage more of them to remain in those demanding positions, thus ensuring greater continuity of leadership in our PSAs.
     
  • Regarding adverse actions, the legislation as currently proposed would institute a mandatory, 45-working-day limit on initiating adverse actions against employees. As was detailed at the October hearing, our Department supports the goal behind this proposal – to ensure that adverse action is not indiscriminately or unfairly meted out months after an alleged violation occurs – but we continue to oppose the absolute 45-day limit, especially in complex investigations that may require more time. As an alternative, we would propose that the mandatory 45-day standard be removed, and that employees be given the opportunity to demonstrate how their ability to defend themselves was materially affected by any delay in the initiation of an action beyond 45 days. Supervisors will need to justify, in writing, any delay in investigations beyond the 45-day standard, and they will be held accountable, through their regular performance management plans, for completing investigations in a timely manner.
  • In the area of physical standards for sworn members, we recommend that physical exams be required annually, not every other year as proposed. And for efficiency and convenience, we also recommend that members be given the option of having their own physician conduct the annual physical, with the costs covered by the member or his or her insurance. In addition, we once again recommend that requirements for regular psychological exams and physical agility tests be deleted from the legislation.

Finally, I want to address the issue of personnel on limited duty and extended sick leave, which is covered in Title Seven of the proposed legislation. From a management perspective, this is clearly the most critical issue affecting our ability to deploy additional police personnel in our neighborhoods. Currently, 14 percent of our sworn personnel are unavailable for full duty for a variety of reasons. While some of these instances are largely unavoidable – such as personnel called up for military duty or recovering from injuries sustained on the job – a large number, approximately 5 percent, involve members who are on limited duty or sick leave for non-POD occurrences … and who are remaining in that status for extended periods of time, several years in some cases. Because these members take up an authorized sworn position but are unavailable for full duty, our pool of available resources is diminished, and our ability to fully staff the PSAs is seriously eroded. This problem has reached crisis proportions in recent months. We need to find and implement a solution, and we need to do so quickly – something that will require Council action.

The Reform Act legislation proposes some important changes in this area, but we believe that it does not go far enough. The issues surrounding availability for duty are so extensive that a broad, more systematic fix is needed. That is why the Administration has proposed replacing Title Seven with an alternative, stand-alone bill, the Public Safety Employees Defined Worker’s Compensation Amendment Act of 2003. In just the few months since this alternative bill was introduced, the matter has become so acute that we are now proposing further revisions to strengthen this alternative proposal even more.

As currently written, our alternative bill 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 (POD). 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. Upon further review, however, it is our belief that even the two-year limit is too lengthy. So we are now proposing an even stricter standard: 270 work days in a less-than-full-duty status over a two-year period, at which point the case would be referred for a disability retirement.

If we are to have more officers available for neighborhood patrols, we need to do one of two things: either get officers who are currently on non-POD limited duty or extended sick leave back to full-duty status … or medically retire them so that we can hire full-duty officers to fill their positions. For those officers who receive a disability retirement for POD incidents, we further propose that they be eligible for any civilian positions within the Department for which they are qualified, with no interruption in their retirement benefits. While these individuals may not be able to perform the full duties of a police officer, many of them can still contribute to the agency as a civilian employee, and we would like to give them that opportunity.

Solving the problem of officers unavailable for duty will require the collective efforts of many different entities. MPD management has to vigorously monitor the situation, enforce the rules and pressure others to take action. The District also needs to look at the responsibilities, staffing and funding of the Retirement Board, which currently handles cases not only for the MPD, but also DC Fire and EMS, U.S. Park Police and the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service. At the present time, the Retirement Board is hearing only about seven cases a month, and each case is taking an average of 10 to 12 months to process. Finally, we urge the Council to pass legislation that will establish strict standards and close loopholes in the current system. I believe that the alternative bill we have proposed – with the modifications I have outlined today – will help us achieve our goals of fewer officers who are unable to perform full-duty, and more officers out patrolling our streets.

The Committee has also asked the Department to offer comments on the other piece of legislation being considered today, the Millicent Allewelt Act of 2003. First, let me state that the Department firmly supports the goal of this legislation – namely, the efficient collection and preservation of evidence in our most serious criminal cases. To the victims of crime and the survivors of homicide victims, we owe our full time and attention to ensuring that criminal cases can be vigorously prosecuted and offenders can be brought to justice. That is clearly the intent behind this legislation, and the Department applauds and supports that goal.

However, after carefully reviewing the legislation, it is our belief that this bill may not, in the long run, move us closer to achieving that goal. In some respects, the proposed legislation does not go far enough. For example, it would require the Department to maintain evidence in open homicide cases for only 50 years. Because there is no statute of limitations on homicides in DC, we should be holding evidence in these cases for longer than 50 years. By the same token, the bill would require the Department to maintain evidence in other types of non-lethal violent crimes for the same 50-year period, even though the statute of limitations in these cases is generally six years for felonies and three years for misdemeanors.

The 50-year provision in these non-lethal violent crimes is well-intentioned, but it may be impractical for a number of reasons:

  • First, the long-term preservation of evidence in non-lethal crimes may have certain research value. But once the statute of limitations has expired, the evidence, unfortunately, has almost no value in terms of prosecuting offenders. It is understandable that some victims may want evidence in their case maintained for the next 50 years, in the hope that an offender may eventually be identified. And if our Department felt that the long-term retention of evidence in these cases would support the prosecution of more criminals, we would not hesitate to retain that evidence – with or without legislation requiring us to do so. But in reality, once the statute of limitations has passed, the preservation of evidence offers little hope to victims that their offenders will ever be brought to justice, because prosecutors simply will not bring charges. There very well may be individual instances in which the Department may choose to retain evidence beyond the statute of limitations – including any “John Doe” indictments that may be based on DNA evidence. But the 50-year standard in all cases seems impractical. The underlying issue here may be whether the statute of limitations in these non-lethal crimes is long enough in DC. That is certainly an issue that merits further debate. But the long-term retention of evidence past the statute of limitations will not, by itself, help ensure that justice is done for victims. 
     
  • Second, the resource needs and fiscal impact generated by this proposal need to be analyzed very carefully, because they are substantial. Assuming the potential for several thousand non-lethal crimes a year that would be covered by the legislation, with each crime having evidence that needs to be preserved, the Department will have accumulated property in hundreds of thousands of cases over 50 years – with many cases having multiple evidentiary items. Many of these items require specialized storage capabilities, including refrigeration or space for large items such as vehicles. The Department would need significantly more land, more warehouse space and more personnel to process and manage the increased workload. These additional resources are not inexpensive, and the costs must be weighed against the prosecutorial value of retaining many of these items for an extended period of time.
     
  • Finally, while this legislation is intended to correct past deficiencies in evidence processing dating back to the 1970s and early 1980s, the legislation could have the unintended effect of bogging down the system and making it less efficient in the future. Our Evidence Control Branch has only limited resources to process, store and maintain evidence, which means that we need to focus our resources on those cases with potential for prosecution – namely, cases in which the statute of limitations has not expired. Requiring our Department to maintain literally hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence beyond their prosecutorial usefulness could have the unintended consequence of undermining the progress we have made in recent years and negatively impacting our ability to effectively manage evidence in new and active cases.

As you know, our Department initiated a comprehensive, item-by-item audit of the Evidence Control Branch more than a year ago. This marked the first time in recent memory that the MPD had launched such a thorough self-examination of our evidence control procedures. A copy of the first phase of this audit has been made available to the Committee chair.

Let me stress that phase one of the audit revealed that evidence from our more recent homicide cases is present and accounted for. Any issues surrounding evidence control are not impeding current, active investigations.

We do, however, recognize that in the past, our Department did not always live up to standards when it came to managing evidence. Phase one of the audit confirmed what many of us had suspected: evidence is missing from numerous unsolved homicide cases that occurred two or three decades ago. While the audit has revealed no instances in which any property or evidence related to homicides was purposefully or inappropriately disposed of, the fact remains that Evidence Control cannot definitively state how many items are missing from homicide cases in the 1970s and early-to-mid 1980s. A variety of breakdowns in systems used during this time period allowed this state of affairs to occur, and it has taken considerable time and effort just to document the situation.

We also know that past shortcomings in evidence processing have impacted efforts such as the Predator Murder Project, which is working to systematically identify and analyze predator-type homicide cases, some dating back 30 years or longer. However, the completion of phase one of the audit will allow for the resumption of the Project’s evidence review and submission program. Thus far, Predator Project investigators have made evidence requests in 11 homicide cases involving 38 pieces of property. To date, six of these cases have been fully or partially located, equaling 21 pieces of evidence.

Beyond documenting past problems in evidence collection and maintenance, the first phase of the evidence audit is critically important in that it provides a “clean slate” as our Evidence Control Branch moves forward. For the first time, we have a documented and searchable means of determining what is actually stored at the Evidence Control warehouse. The Evidence Control Branch is in the process of creating a new, computerized evidence tracking system that will include all data – past, present and future – into one comprehensive, user-friendly system. The new system will be integrated with internal databases and external sources to provide a more thorough accounting of the status of all items, from recovery through final disposition. Just as importantly, Evidence Control is also developing new protocols with other agencies and entities that may handle evidence, to help prevent any inter-agency problems.

These and other reforms will not undo problems of evidence that went missing two or three decades ago. But they will help ensure that such problems are never repeated again.

Thank you for the opportunity to present this detailed statement. Staff and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.