The following testimony was presented by Metropolitan Police Department Chief of Police Cathy L. Lanier to the District of Columbia Council Committee on Public Safety & the Judiciary, Honorable Phil Mendelson, Chair, on March 19, 2010, at the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.
Good morning, Chairman Mendelson, members of the Committee, and guests. I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss with you the performance of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in 2009. The full text of my statement is available on the Department’s website at www.mpdc.dc.gov.
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By many measures, 2009 was the strongest year in decades for both the Department and the District of Columbia. We began the year by hosting the 2009 Presidential Inauguration. This monumental event is one that our citizens and people around the country will long remember. I watched with pride as the men and women of MPD represented their Department, the District of Columbia, and their country with professionalism and honor.
Today, the District is safer for residents and visitors, thanks to the hard work and collaboration of community members and the dedicated members of MPD. This year ended with the fewest homicides recorded in the District since 1966. In 2009 Homicides decreased 23 percent, far outpacing the 10 percent drop nationwide and the eight percent drop in cities of comparable size. Perhaps most importantly, homicides were down around the city. The Fifth, Sixth and Seventh police districts – which have long held the unwanted distinction of leading the city in homicides – saw a record 20 percent reduction in homicides. Assaults with a dangerous weapon were down eight percent last year citywide, and robberies were down one percent. DC saw an overall reduction in violent crime overall of four percent.
One of the critical factors in driving down crime has been keeping violent offenders off the street and out of our neighborhoods. The homicide closure rate was 76 percent in 2009, which is more than 20 percent higher than the average of comparably sized cities. Our phenomenal homicide detectives are both closing new cases more quickly and reaching back further to close cold cases. In 2007, homicide cases took an average of 54 days to close. In 2008, that was reduced to 38 days. In 2009, we cut that time even further to just 30 days. At the other end of the spectrum, this year we have made arrests in homicide cases that happened seven, 12, and even 16 years ago. Notable cold case closures include Chandra Levy and Sharon Moskowitz. While these statistics show an impressive improvement in closing murders, the more important message behind these numbers is that criminals will not get away with taking a life in the District of Columbia. If you take a life today, we will find you and gather the evidence to arrest and prosecute you. If you murdered someone in the past, you can never rest easily; you will never be safe, no matter how much time passes. For these cold cases, justice in the District may not be as swift as we want it to be, but it will be certain. .
The other important story behind the numbers is that solving homicides and other major crimes helps victims to heal and move on. This applies both to victims of crime, as well as their families, friends, and communities. Quickly solving a murder is critical to preventing an additional homicide as part of the cycle of violence in gang retaliation. Solving these crimes and bringing the offenders to justice is also a necessary part of the cycle of healing our neighborhoods.
One of my top goals since I became Chief was to improve relations and communication between the communities we serve and the police. I am proud of the work our officers have done in building strong and supportive relationships with the community. The support we receive from the community in solving crimes is a testament to the tremendous progress we have made over the past three years in strengthening community-police relations. We have created email groups for districts, the Special Liaison Units and other groups. Over 10,000 community members participate in MPD’s email groups, communicating with police leaders in the districts and each other about important information to keep their neighborhoods safe. Questions or concerns posted to these are usually answered immediately.
Community members are also coming forward in record numbers. I am often asked “can you prove that people are coming forward?” Our anonymous text message and phone tip line has seen large scale growth. In 2009 we received 805 text tips from community members related to serious crimes, a significant increase over the 292 tips received in 2008. We have also fielded dozens of useful phone tips related to serious crimes. A more dramatic difference can be shown in reward payouts for serious violent crimes like homicide. The tipster must provide information from the start of the investigation through conviction of the offender, demonstrating a serious investment in time and energy. These tips led to a record 37 payouts totaling almost $500,000 last year for information leading to the arrest and conviction of violent offenders. In 2008, the Department only had 15 qualified payouts. The community has clearly demonstrated that it is ready and willing to work with the police and the rest of the criminal justice system in our fight against violent crime.
MPD is providing better service to community members. One measurable impact of expanded service is a 15 percent decrease in response time to Priority 1 calls for service. All Districts saw a faster response time, with double digit decreases in response time in five of the seven districts. Response time in the First and Seventh Districts dropped by more than 20 percent. Simple technology is also helping to better connect the community and police, thereby improving service. We provided cell phones with email capability to all PSA Lieutenants and police district watch commanders so that they are able to communicate with the community while out on the street, freeing them from desk duty. And as I noted earlier, the response to our district email groups has been overwhelmingly positive. Although it is perhaps harder to measure the impact from improved communication, I believe it supports better police service, and has contributed to greater overall satisfaction with the police and stronger police-community relations. This improved relationship is, of course, the catalyst for the cooperation that allows us to close more cases.
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The most important news for the Department is the reduction in crime; however I would like to take a moment to brief you on our continuing success in reducing overtime. Our Agency Fiscal Officer, Martin Carmody, has been extremely responsive to my requests to develop and regularly provide the reporting tools that my managers and I needed to better monitor overtime. Our partners in the criminal justice system have also been supportive to our efforts to improve processes and scheduling to reduce the time that officers spend waiting around or working through bureaucratic processes associated with arrest and prosecution.
Locally funded overtime was reduced by $3.3 million from FY 2007 – FY 2008. Locally funded overtime was further reduced $8.6 million in FY 2009 and non-locally funded overtime was increased by 63 percent. These initiatives have helped us to cut locally funded overtime by 34 percent over two years. This reduction is even more astounding given that arrests and closure rates for major crimes have increased. And this trend is continuing, with court overtime down 40 percent so far this fiscal year. To put this in perspective, in 2006-2007 the local budget covered between 75-80 percent of overtime expenses, now the local budget covers just 51 percent of overtime expenses. Reducing overtime by more than 200,000 hours saved the District about $12 million.
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In closing, I would like to again thank the members of MPD for their continued excellent work and professionalism in this immediate past year and prior years. I would also like to express gratitude to our many partners in this effort to keep our neighborhoods vibrant, thriving, and safe communities. It is an honor to work alongside our colleagues in the government and community-based organizations who bring commitment and energy to this effort. Lastly, I am extremely grateful to the remarkable residents of the District who inspire our work every day, and I look forward to another year of progress and working together.