Testimony of Chief Charles H. Ramsey
Metropolitan Police Department
Madame Chair, members of the Committee and guests - I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you this morning to review the Metropolitan Police Department's performance during fiscal year 2000 and the first five months of 2001. With me today are Executive Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer, Executive Director for Corporate Support Eric Coard, and our agency Chief Financial Officer Ronald Gaskins. Other MPDC command staff members are in the audience. As a note to you and to our viewing audience on DC Cable 13, the text of my prepared remarks is available on the Police Department's website - mpdc.dc.gov.
One year ago, when I appeared before this Committee for oversight and budget hearings, I laid out the MPDC's priorities for the coming year. These priorities included:
- Enhancing police presence, by putting more officers on the street
- Making sure our officers were better trained and better equipped
- Expanding community policing, by getting more people involved in a more meaningful and productive partnership with the police
These were the priorities not just of the Metropolitan Police Department. These were also the priorities incorporated into Mayor Williams's "Scorecard" goals for the year 2000. These were the priorities of the Council, as articulated in both legislative proposals and special reports. And, most importantly, these were priorities of the communities that all of us serve. The message of our residents was loud and clear: they wanted more officers on the street, and they wanted those officers to be trained and equipped to fight crime and engage in real, proactive community policing.
I am pleased to report today that we have made substantial progress on all of these priorities. However, as I will detail later in my testimony, spending pressures on the Department have prevented us from hiring any new officers during the current fiscal year. This not only has caused our sworn headcount to fall. It also has placed tremendous pressures on our overtime budget, as I continue to look for ways to keep officers on the street, fighting crime and practicing community policing.
More Officers on the Street
The Metropolitan Police Department ended fiscal year 2000 with just over 3,650 officers. This represented our highest sworn strength in several years. We actually exceeded our hiring goals during fiscal 2000 through a combination of more effective recruiting, continued strong interest in our lateral-hiring program, and lower-than-anticipated attrition rates.
In addition, we currently have more than 110 candidates - both recruit and lateral hires - who have completed their background investigations and are waiting to be hired. However, spending pressures have precluded the Chief Financial Officer from granting us the authority to move forward with hiring any new officers during the first five months of this fiscal year. As a result, our sworn strength has dropped by nearly 100 officers since the beginning of this fiscal year, as members have left the Department and we have been unable to fill their positions.
I received word late last week that we can now proceed with hiring new officers this month, and we are moving as quickly as possible to make up for lost ground. We will begin by hiring lateral officers first. Their condensed training period means that we can get these officers trained and on the street much more quickly than we can with regular recruit officers. Nevertheless, our inability to hire new officers during the first five months of the current fiscal year means that we will probably not keep pace with attrition and will end the fiscal year with a sworn headcount well below our budgeted level of 3,600 officers.
The reduction in our sworn strength this fiscal year has forced our Department to be even more aggressive and creative in how we deploy our personnel - to ensure that we have uniformed personnel on the street when and where they are needed the most. Last year, I reported on the new shift schedule system we had implemented, including the creation of the "power shift." This system has put more officers on the street during evenings and weekends when crime and calls for service are at their highest. In addition, we continue to use the Mobile Force to put additional officers on the street during the evening shift to target hot spots of crime and disorder. And we recently established the Narcotics Strike Force, which is using a variety of tactics to target open-air drug markets and other areas experiencing drug activity and violence.
While all of these initiatives have served to enhance police presence, they still were not enough to meet our goals in this area. So last August, I announced our new "redeployment initiative." Under this plan, most officers in specialized units or support assignments now spend one week each month, in uniform, patrolling a Police Service Area. These officers work the evening shift, Tuesday through Saturday nights, to further enhance our presence during these critical periods.
From the beginning, district detectives and certain other specialized operational personnel were exempted from redeployment. And over the last six months, as we have analyzed the impact of redeployment on various units, we have periodically exempted some additional personnel - youth officers are an example. Even so, our redeployment plan is adding approximately 110 officers to PSA patrols across the city five nights a week.
In addition to putting more officers on the street, redeployment is helping to sharpen our members' skills and improve communication between our specialized and support personnel and the PSA officers on the beat. Six months into this initiative, I think our redeployed members have a much better understanding of the challenges, the needs and, yes, the frustrations of the PSA officers that many of them support in their regular assignments three weeks out of the month. This can only serve to improve our performance on the street.
Better Trained and Equipped Officers
In addition to finding creative ways to put more officers on the street, we have also made sure these officers are better trained and equipped than they have been in the past.
We are now in the second year of our annual in-service training program for sworn officers. This 40-hour training program is implementing - actually exceeding - the recommendation of the Special Committee on Police Misconduct and Personnel Management that the MPDC provide 32 hours of training each year to our sworn members. This year, the training is covering such critical topics as "verbal judo," victim assistance, mental health and homeless issues, and six hours on the role of the police in the Holocaust, held in conjunction with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Our 40-hour in-service training continues to be supplemented by both daily roll-call training and a variety of specialized courses. Two years ago, we adopted the stance that "every day is a training day in the MPDC," and we continue to live by that standard. To promote sound risk management, our daily roll-call training focuses on those "high-risk, low-frequency" situations that our officers may encounter - situations such as vehicle pursuits, search-and-seizure issues, dealing with special populations, and use-of-force refreshers. In the area of use of force, we continue to require all sworn members to complete twice-annual firearms training, focusing not only on marksmanship but also on situational judgment and knowledge of policies and procedures.
Finally, we continue to provide our members with specialized courses on a variety of enforcement and investigative topics. During calendar years 1999 and 2000 alone, we offered 46 specialized training courses, attended by nearly 2,000 members. And we provided our command-level personnel with training in diversity management and the disciplinary system for civilian employees, as well as human resources and management training for those civilian members who are part of the Management Supervisory Service. Many of these reforms, as well as changes in off-duty employment practices, were based on recommendations contained in the Special Committee's final report.
In addition to being better trained, our members today are also better equipped than they have been in the past. The majority of our field officers have completed training and been issued the ASP, an expandable, light-weight baton that replaces the old wooden nightsticks. Officers have also been issued new OC spray and small, light-weight rechargeable flashlights.
Both our facilities and our fleet upgrade and maintenance programs continue. Today, you see fewer and fewer of the older-model vehicles with the old green-and-gold striping, and more of the 2000 and 2001 model year Crown Victorias with the current, red-white-and-blue striping. More and more of our vehicles are being equipped with mobile data computers (MDCs), so that street officers can run license plates and other checks directly from their vehicles without having to use valuable radio time. Earlier problems with the functionality and capacity of the MDC network have been addressed, and we are moving aggressively to expand this technology, focusing on our PSA and focused mission teams first.
As I reported to the Committee in late January, our WACIIS system - the Washington Area Criminal Intelligence Information System - has just been upgraded. The new system not only provides many new investigative features, but also makes those features easier to use.
Further support to field personnel is being provided through our new Synchronized Operations Command Center, located on the fifth floor of Police Headquarters. The SOCC started off as our command center for Y2K, IMF/World Bank and other major events. In just the last few weeks, it has been expanded to provide regular field support around the clock. Personnel in the SOCC monitor critical incidents and priority calls for service. They can quickly access a variety of databases and relay information to responding units. This is both enhancing our effectiveness on the street and promoting officer safety.
Just last month, for example, members assigned to the SOCC worked with Fourth District officers and the Montgomery County Police to quickly trace a car involved in a 4D shooting to a Maryland car rental firm. When the suspect came to "trade in" the vehicle at the rental agency, he was arrested and a 9 mm. handgun and a quantity of marijuana were recovered. This illustrates the type of information, speed and coordination that the SOCC can provide for day-to-day crime-fighting. I would invite any member of the Committee who is interested in seeing how the SOCC operates to contact Executive Assistant Chief Gainer's office to arrange a tour.
Later this year, field support will be further enhanced through the MPDC's new helicopter, which is being obtained largely through US Department of Transportation funds awarded by the Department of Public Works, Division of Transportation. The helicopter will be a valuable asset in monitoring such things as open-air drug markets, police pursuits and everyday traffic on our streets and highways. We currently have a leased helicopter that our pilots will begin using in the next few weeks, once they complete training. We anticipate delivery of our helicopter sometime in the early summer.
Three years ago when I became chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, our facilities, our fleet, our equipment, our training and our field support systems were clearly substandard - or practically non-existent, as in the case of in-service training. But with the support of the Mayor and the Council, we have restored and professionalized all of these areas - in a relatively short period of time. As we look to the future, our Department will continue to work at providing our officers with the best training, equipment and field support possible.
Strengthening Community Policing
Our third priority - and one which I am particularly excited about, in terms of progress - was strengthening community policing in the District. The PSA model that was first implemented in July 1997 provided a solid foundation for community policing in our city. But it soon became apparent that we needed to do more in the critical areas of training, role specifications, problem solving, and accountability. It is these areas that we have concentrated on over the past 18 months. And it is our progress in these areas that is making our "Policing for Prevention" strategy a national model as our profession looks to take community policing to the next level.
Our innovative "Partnerships for Problem Solving" training program continues to bring more people into the community policing process and continues to provide residents and their PSA officers with the knowledge, skills and abilities they need to work together. Thus far, 55 of our 83 PSAs have either completed the initial round of training or are currently in the process. The remaining 28 PSAs are scheduled to begin training later this month. As a result of this unique program, several PSAs have formed new partnerships among police, residents and other city agencies, and they have been very resourceful and successful in addressing crime and disorder problems. To strengthen leadership and accountability, we have assigned a lieutenant to head up each PSA, and we have provided those lieutenants with specialized training on their roles in community policing. We have published and shared with the community a number of documents that spell out roles and responsibilities under "Policing for Prevention." And we have developed computerized forms that PSA team members use to record their PSA plans and document their progress. To ensure follow-up and accountability, district commanders are holding regular progress meetings with their PSA lieutenants to go over their plans and review accomplishments.
We have created a new, more efficient system for PSA team members to access other city services that impact public safety. Our PSA teams are working closely with the District's new Neighborhood Services Coordinators to ensure that crime and disorder problems are being addressed in a thorough and effective manner. And in the area of long-term, systemic prevention, we are forging new partnerships with social service agencies and other providers, to get at some of the underlying causes and conditions that continue to drive the crime rate in our city.
For example, our new Office of Youth Violence Prevention, headed by Assistant Chief Rodney Monroe, is forming partnerships to address the problem of youth crime and violence. Working with the clergy and other community stakeholders, this office has begun to put in place the type of intervention and prevention programs that show real promise in reducing youth crime over the long term. This office also helped to establish a first-ever Youth Advisory Council that will meet with me on a regular basis to share ideas and insights into police-youth relations. My command staff and I met with the Youth Advisory Council members for the first time last week, and I am very excited by the potential of this new initiative.
In short, we have continued to develop a comprehensive and creative community policing strategy - one that encourages residents to participate in neighborhood safety, that trains both residents and officers in the problem-solving process, and that holds PSA lieutenants and other team members accountable for producing change in our communities. I am very proud of the work that has gone into our "Policing for Prevention" model, and I am very encouraged by the results we have seen thus far and by the foundation we have created for the future.
Results: A Safer DC
Producing results is what all of these initiatives are about. It is not enough to put more officers on the street, to better train and equip them, and to strengthen our model of community policing. All of these priorities must be directed toward the overarching goal of creating a safer District of Columbia. We continue making progress toward that goal.
Preliminary data for calendar 2000 show that crime in our city dropped for the fifth consecutive year last year. Although we will not have our final, official numbers to report to the FBI until later this spring, the preliminary numbers for 2000 show a nearly 4 percent drop in serious crime. This follows a 9.4 percent reduction in 1999, according to official figures. Our homicides fell by nearly 2 percent last year, to their lowest level since 1987. And while other violent crimes increased slightly last year, property crimes continued to fall to their lowest levels in decades.
Our goal is to bring serious crime down by at least another 5 percent this calendar year. I also hope to bring our homicide total under 200 for the first time since the mid-1980s, as a step toward dramatically reducing the homicide rate over the next several years.
Our progress in fiscal years 2000 and 2001 must be measured by more than official crime statistics, however. It is also measured by the thousands of residents who have been brought into the community policing process. And progress is measured by the dozens and dozens of success stories coming out of our PSAs. Successes such as:
- PSA 106, which helped to clean up drug use and crime problems around the Ludlow Taylor Elementary School in Northeast.
- Or PSA 409, which successfully dealt with problems associated with abandoned buildings near 14th and Quincy, Northwest.
- Or PSA 610, which former a powerful partnership among police, residents, and merchants to improve the appearance and safety conditions at the Skyland Shopping Center in Southeast.
- Or PSA 206, which has brought together residents, business owners, university leaders and others to tackle the problems of underage drinking, noise and other quality-of-life concerns in the Georgetown area.
It is the small, neighborhood-based success stories such as these, when multiplied by every PSA, that ultimately bring down the official crime statistics and raise up the hopes of our residents. For your information, these and other PSA success stories are published on our Web site, so residents and police can celebrate their successes and share their strategies with other communities.
Our progress must also be measured by our ability to address problems identified by the Mayor, the Council, the news media and the community as absolutely critical to the success of our Department. Two years ago, police use of force was at the top of that list of problems.
Over the last two years, we completely overhauled our use-of-force policies, enhanced officer training and equipment, and made dramatic improvements in our use-of-force investigations and data analysis. The results: the number of persons shot by MPDC officers has declined by 78 percent in just two years. At the same time, the number of citizen complaints against officers, including allegations of excessive force, fell sharply last year as well.
Looking Ahead: New Priorities
Our success in dramatically reducing use-of-force illustrates our Department's approach to addressing critical problems and our commitment to getting the job done - and done well. We identify the problem. We develop a plan for addressing it. And we work the plan until we are successful. We will use this same approach - and employ the same tenacity - as we address the challenges and priorities that lie ahead.
We have identified three priorities for the remainder of FY2001; these priorities will likely continue into FY2002 as we begin the budget development process. These three priorities are:
- Improving criminal investigations, with a particular focus on increasing the homicide clearance rate
- Enhancing customer satisfaction
- Implementing critical new technology systems
Improving our criminal investigations and increasing our homicide clearance rate will require a number of reforms, which I outlined for the Committee in January, at your roundtable hearing. I am very pleased that the Committee's follow-up report endorsed the changes I have proposed in such crucial areas as the selection and retention of detectives, standard operating procedures, technology, training and performance management. We have already begun designing and implementing a number of these reforms, and I look forward to working with the Committee in the coming months as you carry out your critical oversight function around these changes.
Enhancing customer satisfaction is, in many ways, tied to improving our criminal investigations. Madame Chair, as you and others heard during the Committee's public roundtable and the WOL Radio town hall meetings, one of the biggest complaints by the survivors of homicide and other victims is the lack of consistent and compassionate follow-up on the part of the police. That is why we are working to establish a family liaison function specifically dedicated to the task of victim and survivor outreach and assistance. We are also analyzing the results of our just-completed victim survey to see what additional policies and procedures may be needed to improve our response to all victims of crime. We have already developed new ways to inform victims and their families of the District's Crime Victims Compensation Program. But we can - and we must - do a lot more to help victims cope with the aftermath of crime and get the services they need.
Finally, technology innovation will continue to be a top priority. As the Committee pointed out in its recent homicide report, crime mapping is an important tool not just for detectives investigating crimes after the fact, but also for PSA officers and officials who are working to identify patterns and prevent crime before it spins out of control. Installing our Information Retrieval for Mapping and Analysis - or IRMA - system is at the top of our technology agenda. And we plan to make this system available not only to our own members, but also to the public, via a special version of IRMA on our Web site. This will allow our partners in the community to map and analyze crime as well.
Continued development of our WACIIS system, our MDC backbone, and other critical systems will remain a priority. During this quarter, for example, we plan to issue the RFP for our new and comprehensive records management system, called PRIDE. This system will be an essential component of our overall technology strategy, bringing together in one place information from a variety of disparate systems.
Finally, during the first week of June, we plan to unveil the new Joint Police-Fire-EMS 9-1-1 Communications Center on McMillan Drive, Northwest. This center will, for the first time, co-locate all public safety call-takers and dispatchers under one roof. The new center will include state-of-the-art telephone, radio and computer-aided dispatch systems. In particular, a new Automated Call Distributor will be installed in the center, replacing the current ACD at 300 Indiana Avenue that has been discontinued by the manufacturer. I would invite any members of the Committee who are interested in touring the new Joint Communications Center to please contact my office.
These three priorities - improving our criminal investigations, enhancing customer satisfaction, and implementing new technology - are critical if we are to continue to reduce crime and advance community policing in the District of Columbia. Our biggest challenge in achieving these priorities remains the pressures in our personal services budget.
As I noted earlier, our sworn headcount has dropped by nearly 100 officers since the beginning of this fiscal year. And with passage of the "longevity bill" by Congress, our attrition rate is likely to increase in the coming months. Our inability to hire new officers has not only put pressure on our PSA staffing levels. It has also precluded us from promoting members to detective and supervisory ranks, because we could not fill the slots that would be created. At the same time, the freeze in hiring civilian employees has all but halted our civilianization efforts. I simply cannot justify moving a sworn police officer to an operational position if I cannot hire a qualified civilian to take his or her place.
The hiring situation has put additional pressures on how we deploy personnel and use overtime. Overtime spending is something our Department continues to monitor. Earlier this week, I asked the District's Chief Financial Officer to assign auditors to examine payroll records for Department members who were in the top 10 percent of overtime earners - both court and non-court overtime - during 2000. This request came after we began examining overtime records in response to a request from the Chair in preparation for this hearing. That examination revealed that some of our officers earned two or more times their base salary in overtime payments last year, including one officer who made more than $200,000.
My request for this audit does not mean that I believe any officers have abused the system. We had several major events last year that required extensive overtime, as well as continued operation of Mobile Force and other overtime projects. However, I do feel it is important that our overtime expenditures undergo a thorough and independent audit from time to time, and now is a good time to conduct such an examination.
The bottom line is that the Department will have a difficult time meeting our new priorities and maintaining our recent gains if pressures on our personal services budget continue. I will continue to do whatever I must do to put more officers on the street, to adequately train and equip them, to advance community policing, to improve our criminal investigations, to enhance our services to victims, and to implement new technology.
Meeting these priorities would be much easier, however, if our sworn headcount were fully and consistently funded. Allowing our sworn strength to fluctuate throughout the year, as it has over the past 18 months, creates tremendous pressures on existing programs and represents lost opportunities as we attempt to move forward.
I look forward to working with this Committee, the full Council, the Mayor and the CFO's office as we develop a plan of action that continues to make the District of Columbia a safer city by continuing to make the MPDC a stronger, more professional organization.