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The Police Deployment Act of 1999

Tuesday, November 30, 1999

The Police Deployment Act of 1999

Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Chairman Brazil, members of the Committee, distinguished guests—thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to offer comments on "The Police Deployment Act of 1999" and to answer any questions you may have.

When it comes to the deployment of our police personnel, it is clear that all of us share the same goal: namely, to put more officers on the street—patrolling our neighborhoods, answering calls for service, working with the community to prevent crime, addressing priority problems through focused law enforcement, and engaging in the myriad other activities that define a true, community-oriented police department.

Putting more officers on the street was a top priority of mine when I assumed leadership of the Metropolitan Police Department 19 months ago. And, as I have reported to this Council on several previous occasions, we have made tremendous progress toward achieving that goal over the last year and a half.

Today, 1,515 full duty sworn members—including officers, sergeants, and lieutenants—are assigned to our 83 Police Service Areas. That’s 70 percent of all full-duty officers, sergeants, and lieutenants working in the Districts (by full duty I mean not on administrative leave, indefinite suspension, extended sick leave, limited duty, and non-contact status—a number which fluctuates on a daily basis). This number exceeds by 4 percent the mandatory minimum PSA staffing requirements (consisting of officers, sergeants, and detectives) established by Department General Order on August 31, 1997. We have increased our sworn staffing in the PSAs, despite a 3 percent decrease (107 members) in total sworn strength from August 1997.

Looking only at full-duty officers—including master patrol and senior police officers—in the Department, 60 percent are assigned to the PSAs. We have also put other sworn personnel in the community, directly supporting the work of the PSA officers. These include focused mission teams in each district, which concentrate on hot spots of criminal activity, violent and property crime detectives in each district who now handle follow-up investigations in a geographically defined area and, where needed, police officers who focus on special problems such as traffic enforcement and prostitution.

At the same time, we have fewer police officers working in administrative assignments through our aggressive civilianization program. Most recently, we have civilianized our Central Cell Block, Recruiting background investigations and Fleet management functions - placing dozens of additional sworn personnel into Operational Services.

And finally, we have implemented a totally new shift schedule system that is assigning our officers to better meet the demands for our services. The new system went into effect on November 7th, and already we have seen dramatic increases in the number of officers working during the critical evening, night-time and weekend hours when crime and calls for service are at their highest.

Taken together, these two reforms—assigning more officers to our neighborhoods, and having them work when their services are needed most—have put our Department in a much better position to implement our new community policing strategy—what we call "Policing for Prevention."

But while we have made tremendous progress, our work in these areas is far from done. We still have a long, long way to go. The question before us is, how do we get there?

"The Police Deployment Act of 1999" proposes one approach: to legislatively mandate how many police officers will be assigned to one particular function of the MPDC—patrolling our neighborhoods and answering calls for service. That is certainly a critical function of our Department, but under community policing it is by no means the only critical function we must perform.

Taken together, these two reforms—assigning more officers to our neighborhoods, and having them work when their services are needed most—have put our Department in a much better position to implement our new community policing strategy—what we call "Policing for Prevention."

But while we have made tremendous progress, our work in these areas is far from done. We still have a long, long way to go. The question before us is, how do we get there?

"The Police Deployment Act of 1999" proposes one approach: to legislatively mandate how many police officers will be assigned to one particular function of the MPDC—patrolling our neighborhoods and answering calls for service. That is certainly a critical function of our Department, but under community policing it is by no means the only critical function we must perform.

But by specifying a percentage for this particular function, the legislation has the effect of also prescribing the number of sworn personnel who can be devoted to these other critical assignments - everything from investigating neighborhood crimes, to training our personnel, to investigating allegations of police misconduct, from patrolling our waterways, to targeting prostitution, environmental crimes, open-air drug markets and other specialized offenses, to assisting in the protection of the President of the United States and other heads of state.

I submit to you today that a legislative mandate is the wrong approach for achieving the goals that we share. It is wrong for a Department such as ours that is committed to community policing, where flexibility in the deployment of resources is absolutely essential. And it is wrong for a city such as the District of Columbia, which places unique responsibilities on its police department.

Therefore, I must respectfully object to this bill for the following reasons.

First, the legislation would directly interfere with my ability to manage the Metropolitan Police Department. I was hired by the District of Columbia to do one job: to turn around this police department. And I believe that my management team and I have made significant progress in a very short period of time. But the type of micromanagment proposed by this legislation threatens to undermine the record of reform that we have begun to put in place.

No other major city police chief in America that I am aware of operates under the type of legislative edict that this legislation proposes. Other chiefs are allowed to deploy their resources according to the operational needs and demands of their departments and the communities they serve, and within the policy and budgetary guidance of their legislative oversight bodies. Given my track record of responding to the issues and concerns of this Council, I believe that I deserve the same consideration in managing the MPDC.

Second, this legislation would be detrimental to our implementation of community policing and could pose public safety risks, because it would restrict our ability to be flexible and creative in how we deploy our resources.

As you well know, there is much more to the job of policing than patrolling neighborhoods and responding to calls for service, although those are certainly important functions. But in a community policing environment, police departments must have the flexibility to staff a myriad of critical functions that focus not just on responding to crimes that have already occurred, but on preventing crimes before they happen. If we are serious about community policing—and I am—then we cannot afford to lock ourselves into a deployment system that places such a heavy emphasis on purely reactive policing, to the detriment of other, more flexible and proactive strategies.

At the same time, I fear this legislation would reduce our ability to respond quickly to emerging hot spots of crime and violence. If, for example, I wanted to assign additional plain-clothes or detective units to a neighborhood, to address an outbreak of gang violence, this legislation would require us to ensure that these additional personnel, engaging in proactive, preventative policing, would not somehow bring my "street patrol duty" force below its prescribed percentage. The same would be true when we have a major protest or disturbance, and our Department is fully mobilized to respond.

Having to constantly "juggle" the numbers just to implement basic, short-term police strategies is no way to run a police department.

Third and finally, this legislation, if enacted, would have real consequences on the rest of our Department's operations. And I emphasize "operations," because assigning two-thirds of our sworn members to what the legislation defines as "street patrol duty" would require that we dramatically scale back, or even eliminate, some critical, operational functions.

Take prostitution, for example. Do we go back to the days when we had just one member assigned to this specialized unit - and prostitutes were running unchecked throughout Logan and Thomas Circles and other District neighborhoods?

Or traffic control, which residents continue to identify as one of their top public safety priorities. Do we eliminate the traffic posts we have established along 14th Street and at critical intersections throughout the District, or the specialized enforcement initiatives targeting drunken driving, seat belt compliance and other problems?

Or focused mission teams, which have been instrumental in helping districts respond to problems such as shootings in Columbia Heights or robberies on Capitol Hill. Do we scale back or eliminate these high-performance units in order to get more uniformed officers available for calls for service?

What about training? We have finally built up our academy to the point that we are offering quality training not only to recruits but also to experienced officers through a new, 40-hour, in-service training program that began this fall. Do we scale back or eliminate the training function that is so critical to all of our officers, especially those assigned to the PSAs?

Or the investigation of police misconduct. Again, we have increased the staffing of this critical function, including creating a first-ever Force Investigation Team to follow-up on all uses of deadly force. Do we now go back to the old days where public confidence in our internal investigations was low because staffing and training were so inadequate?

We are probably already understaffed in some of our specialized operational areas, such as narcotics, auto theft and youth services. Do we scale these back even further?

My point is that this legislation does not come without consequences. Adding personnel in one operational area will require reductions in other operational areas. There simply are not hundreds of police officers "sitting behind desks" in purely administrative jobs who could be instantly assigned to street patrol duty to reach the percentage this legislation proposes. Achieving that percentage will require cutbacks in other operational units - or in operational support units such as training or internal affairs - that are critical to supporting our PSA officers in carrying out community policing.

In closing this afternoon, let me state once again that I share your goals of putting more police officers on the streets of Washington, DC, improving our response to emergency calls for service, and advancing community policing. And I have worked very hard to achieve those goals over the past 19 months - by increasing sworn staffing in the PSAs - by expanding other critical operational and operational support units - by civilianizing numerous administrative functions - and, most recently, by reinventing our entire shift scheduling system so that we have more officers available during the hours of the day and days of the week when their services are most needed.

I ask you to give me the flexibility and support I need to continue the job that my team and I have begun. We have made significant progress, and with the new shift schedule system, we expect to see even more progress in the future. It would be premature at this time to impose the type of mandate on the deployment of personnel that this legislation proposes.

I recognize that in the past, the MPDC may not always have been completely open about its deployment of personnel. I have tried to set a new tone of openness and honesty - with this Council and with the community - on exactly how our personnel are being assigned. And I welcome that continued oversight by you, or by any independent body you may want to bring in to review our current deployment practices. Ours is an open book.

But this legislation would dramatically rewrite that book by legislatively mandating how our personnel would be deployed. I do not believe such a mandate is in the best interests of our Department or of the communities we serve at this time.

Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police