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Public Oversight Hearing on the Performance of the Metropolitan Police Department in 2007

Monday, December 3, 2007

Public Oversight Hearing on the Performance of the Metropolitan Police Department in 2007

In her testimony before Council, Chief Lanier emphasized the department's focus on police visibility in the community, follow up to violent crimes, and the ongoing challenges DC faces in terms of traffic safety.

The following statement was presented by Chief of Police Cathy L. Lanier to the District of Columbia Council Committee on the Judiciary, Honorable Phil Mendelson, Chair, on November 30, 2007, at the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.

Good afternoon Chairperson Mendelson, members of the Committee and Council, staff and guests. I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss with you the Metropolitan Police Department’s performance this year.  The full text of my statement is posted on the Department’s website: www.mpdc.dc.gov.

It is a great honor to serve as the District’s Chief of Police, and I salute the hard working dedicated members of the MPD who have been working hard to make progress towards the goal of maintaining a safer city and higher quality of life. We have an exceptional police department and an engaged community, and I am confident that together we can collaborate to achieve our mutual goals.

While many communities experienced stability or a resurgence since January, several issues that continue to hinder public safety efforts remain.  Nonetheless, the department’s commitment to address these challenges remains strong.

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When I came before the Council in March for my confirmation hearing, I shared with you my vision for the future of a well staffed, well trained, and well equipped police department that is responsive to the needs of the community.  I am pleased to report to you that we have made progress in all of those areas. 

In February of this year, MPD received the funding to increase the size of the force from 3,800 to 3,900 sworn members.  We were able to hire all of these new members, while keeping up with attrition, and reached our goal in September.  These new recruits spend about seven months undergoing comprehensive, rigorous training in our police academy before becoming full members of MPD.  I am very pleased to report that in October, the first class of 23 new hires graduated from the academy, and I assigned all of them to patrol, my top staffing priority.  This year, we will continue our aggressive hiring efforts in order to increase the size of the force to 4,200 members. To be clear, we will not sacrifice quality in order to increase quantity.  Our recruits must meet strict hiring and training standards set by the Police Officers Standards and Training Board, an independent entity.

Of course, training for existing members of MPD is just as important as that for new recruits.  Once on MPD, officers must continue to receive professional development services necessary for their growth and ultimate retention with the department.  As you know, all MPD officers are also required to attend and complete in-service training each year.  This extensive training, along with twice a year firearms training takes officers off the street and away from patrol. As we continue our efforts to modernize the Department and keep more officers on the street, we will be making some significant changes in training in 2008. For the first time in 2008, the Metropolitan Police Academy will be moving toward on-line training whereby some required in-service training can be completed remotely.  With officers not physically at the Academy as often, this will be more efficient for the Department and beneficial to the individual officer.

Another example of our new direction in training has already been completed as we completely reengineered the promotional candidate course for newly promoted Master Patrol Officers, Sergeants, Lieutenants, and Captains earlier this year. This new model of training moved us away from a strict classroom lecture to a hands-on scenario based environment that required our members to demonstrate their understanding of some of the more complex issues that they are faced with on a daily basis. It also included direct interactions with the Council, various members of the community, and other agencies that support our crime fighting efforts.

As with recruit and in-service training, it is my responsibility to communicate the new direction to MPD’s current leaders. I started with our front-line supervisors by holding two sessions for all Sergeants, both were unprecedented meetings.  At these sessions, we discussed the importance of a sergeant’s role in the department, including their seminal role in moving the department forward through their commitment to supervising and developing top-quality officers.  In particular, I emphasized the values and importance of community policing.  If our patrol officers are the foundation of community policing, then sergeants are the mortar that holds it together. 

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As you see, both the increased staffing and enhanced training and professional development are focused on patrol.  And as with staffing and training, my vision of a well equipped police department starts with patrol. There are so many tools that can make officers more effective, more efficient—not to mention, more satisfied—when doing their jobs.  My goal is to direct more of these resources to patrol.  For instance, this month we have deployed 55 new laptops in the Smart Patrol Vehicles, technology that will get our officers out of the stone and chisel age.  Remarkably, officers spend countless hours on duty and off filling out simple paperwork such as accident reports.  The new wireless technology will ultimately enable officers to perform local and national criminal record checks, receive dispatch calls, and submit police reports.  The technology also gives officers the ability to receive and respond to calls for service without the use of a radio. Over the next two months, approximately 200 patrol cruisers will be retrofitted with the new technology, as we work towards installing laptops in all 800 patrol cars.  These new technological capabilities will allow Patrol Officials to perform their jobs in a much more efficient and effective fashion.
 
While the Smart Patrol Cars are high technology, we are also supporting patrol by reallocating resources and investing in low tech tools. We started by almost doubling the number of marked take-home vehicles assigned to patrol members who live in DC. Not only do these marked vehicles enhance visible police presence around the city, 24-hours a day, but they are a tremendous incentive to officers to live in the city and work in patrol. Today, more than one-third of the patrol members who live in the District have a marked take-home vehicle – this is a 91% increase over the past year. As for low-tech tools, improving communication between patrol and the community is an important priority.  To that end, each patrol district now has a dedicated personal communication device that enables the community to directly contact the watch commander by phone or email.

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These are just a few examples of how my team and I are transforming MPD into a well staffed, well trained, and well equipped police department, but they are just parts of the vision.  The most important aspect is determining what this Department can do for the city, and how we can be more responsive to the needs of the community.  Throughout my 18 years with the Department and since Mayor Fenty selected to me to lead the Department, community members have told me that they want increased police presence on the streets, and more importantly, more meaningful contacts with the Department. Since January, I have taken many steps to improve visibility in the communities and community relations.

I’ve increased police visibility by deploying more members to patrol, and deploying them in new and creative ways.  There are more than 100 additional officers and sergeants assigned to the Districts than in December 2006. This includes new officers, newly promoted sergeants, as well as members reassigned from positions that were eliminated or streamlined.

When I took office in January, I challenged my command staff to develop and implement innovative programs that would enhance police visibility and support our mission. “Operation Free” was developed and implemented by the Training Academy as an alternative deployment of Academy personnel that would teach officers the value of interacting with the community before they graduate from the Academy. Operation Free stands for the Focused Redeployment Enhancement Effort. By deploying all Academy personnel into the community several times a year, the Department has been able to:

  • Enhance visibility in the community;
  • Actively engage communities in a positive and proactive manner;
  • Provide police recruits with real time assignments and experience; and
  • Create direct, face-to-face police and citizen encounters in non-stressful situations.

A second initiative, created by Assistant Chief Groomes, called Operation Full Stride, increases police presence and improves community policing by incorporating foot patrol officers into routine police patrols.  MPD had approximately fifty (50) police officers assigned throughout the city to foot beats. “Operation Full Stride” added another 150 members to the foot patrol ranks, with foot beat officers patrolling neighborhoods in all seven (7) police districts. “Operation Full Stride” kicked off on October 12, 2007, with 200 officers going door-to-door, person-to-person, and community-by-community, handing out calling cards with their contact information. “Operation Full Stride” will allow residents to get to know their neighborhood officers by name so that they can call on them when they have questions or flag them down when they need them. 

At the direction of the Mayor, the MPD is also facilitating and participating in a multi-agency coordinated effort that focuses city resources into communities.  This Focused Improvement Area project is currently being piloted in three areas of the city with the goals of: combining short-term environmental remediation and heightened law enforcement efforts with long-term, individualized services; reducing Part I offenses; abating environmental contributors to crime; and engaging at-risk residents with long-term social services that keep them safe, healthy, and out of the criminal justice system.  The three pilot areas selected include 14th and Girard Streets, N.W. (PSAs 302/304), Rhode Island Ave, Florida Avenue, and Lincoln Road NE (PSA 501); and 6th and Atlantic Streets SE (PSA 706).  I am pleased with the initial progress of this program, and I will be able to report on its progress next year.

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Since taking office, I have also worked to improve the quality of police contact by ensuring that as a Department, we remain committed to treating all individuals with fairness, dignity and respect.  I want to ensure that every member of our community is provided with police service that is not only efficient and responsive, but also professional, non-discriminatory and compassionate.

In order to ensure that positive and sustainable links continue with all sections of our community, I created the Special Liaison Unit, which centralized MPD’s various liaison units under the Executive Office of the Chief of Police.  The Special Liaison Unit is comprised of the Department’s current liaison units: the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU), the Latino Liaison Unit (LLU), the Asian Liaison Unit (ALU) and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Unit (DHHU). All four (4) units will fall under the supervision of Sergeant Brett Parson, whose experience leading the nationally-recognized, award-winning GLLU makes him uniquely qualified to oversee the operations of the other units with similar missions.  Moving forward, we will be working with the communities served by the Special Liaison Unit to develop an expansion plan that puts more liaison officers on the streets throughout the city.

MPD also recently issued a new policy on Handling Interactions with members of the Transgender community. The policy was developed with the support of both the Mayor’s Liaison to the Gay and Transgender Communities and MPD’s GLLU.  As part of the drafting and implementation of this policy, MPD held four roundtable discussions with representatives of the District of Columbia Transgender Community (DCTC).  I am confident that this policy will serve as a model for other law enforcement agencies around the country.

To assist the Department in its on-going efforts to build relationships and ensure fair policing, I also reconvened the Community-Police Task Force, which has also been called the Biased Policing Task Force. This group will assist the Department in identifying and developing model practices in fair policing.

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I believe that in the past 11 months, the Department has taken significant steps to enhance delivery of police service to the community.  Without a doubt, the past 11 months have been both the most rewarding and most challenging months in my career.  Today you have heard testimony from community members who have been able to share some of the experiences that made it so rewarding. 

As you know, we, and our initiatives are often judged by the headlines in the daily paper. And while the perception of the press is important, often times they do not reflect the sentiment of the community – who really is the best barometer of how we are doing. This was certainly the case with the All Hands on Deck initiatives we began in the late spring.

Although we were criticized by some, we have heard nothing but praise from the communities we have impacted with this initiative. I would like to share with you what I have seen and heard that didn’t make headlines. During the first AHOD we visited the Barry Farms Community. What I saw, as more than 200 police officers entered the neighborhood and began knocking on doors on a Friday afternoon, when the temperature nearing 100 degrees, was children, young adults and elderly residents, coming out on their porches, into the court yards and out into the street to interact with us. I saw residents in a community that has traditionally been plagued with violence outside enjoying themselves without having to worry about violence.  No one in Barry Farms on that day was afraid that a car was going to appear in the block and open fire on a group of young men to send a message.  No one was afraid to let their children outside on a hot summer day; no one was afraid to come out and sit on their front porch to escape the heat, and no one was afraid that the police officers were only in the neighborhood to kick in doors or make arrests.  And while it may not seem significant to some, I assure you it was significant to the residents of Barry Farms.

I can repeat this story over and over again as we entered the Langston Carver neighborhood, Clay Terrace, James Creek and many of the other neighborhoods that have had to live in fear for far too long. The relationships we built in those communities during those initiatives have and are making a difference. In at least two cases, our officers were provided information on homicides while out interacting during these initiatives.

The importance of interacting with people in EVERY community when there is NO CRISIS cannot be overstated. It builds the relationships that will allow members of those communities to reach out to us BEFORE a crisis occurs so we can try to intervene and prevent it. And when a crisis does occur, they will feel more comfortable sharing information with us.

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Now that I have shared some of the highlights of my first 11 months in this position, I will also be frank with you about some of the challenges and frustrations that are important for the department and the city.

One long-standing challenge has been the court papering process.  MPD has made a significant effort to reform this onerous process.  During the papering process, officers bring all of the paperwork associated with an arrest to the office of the prosecuting attorney so that the attorney can determine the prosecutorial merit of the case.  The papering process has long been criticized as burdensome and expensive because it either takes officers away from operational duties or requires officers to work additional hours for overtime. As Assistant Chief Pete Newsham shared with this Committee in September, we have made important progress in reforming this multi-agency process. We implemented staggered court check-in times so that officers working the evening and power-shifts do not have to report at 8:00 AM, and are able to get some rest before returning to work. We are currently running pilot projects to increase the use of citation release and enable dedicated members to present cases to prosecutors during regular tours of duty.

Although these are real operational improvements to the process, progress is not happening as quickly as I would like.   Certain administrative processes or cycles often must take place before an idea is implemented. Much of an officer’s work in the papering process could be reduced or eliminated with updated technology, but major technological change takes time and resources, including appropriate budgeting and a competitive procurement process, so this will not happen overnight.

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Another issue is my desire to more precisely report, classify, and analyze crime data.  As you know, most police departments across the country track crime in two different ways: 1) according to the local laws passed by local governments, and 2) with national standards developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting System (UCR), which allows for comparison of crime statistics between different jurisdictions.  Since they serve different purposes, the standardized FBI definitions and local crime definitions often do not match. 
 
While these definitional differences are perhaps understandable, I am still not satisfied with the precision of the Department’s crime data tracking and analysis.  The dichotomy of this data-tracking has been a challenge, and has contributed to less efficient crime information – both here in the District and in other cities.  Complicating the issue is the need to validate crime reports – such as making sure they are classified correctly, verifying whether they occurred, and accounting for the emergence of new information learned during investigations – has also created a challenge.  We are committed to improving our business systems as they relate to crime data tracking and analysis to ensure our information is as precise as possible.  This month, I have initiated reform efforts that involve validating current data and developing improved business processes.  I am confident that we will experience more detailed and precise data in the future.

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To close, I believe that the outlook for the future is positive, and I am enthusiastic that through continued collaboration, innovation, and commitment, we will all enjoy a safer city and higher quality of life.

The men and women who serve in the Metropolitan Police Department are talented, dedicated, and competent.  They have been working very hard serving our city, and I am proud of them and their efforts.  As obstacles occurred, they forged ahead and strived to overcome them.  I believe their success has contributed to the safety, development, and vitality of our city.

I look forward to building on what the department is doing right, and continuing to enhance the quality of life here in the nation’s capital.  Thank you again for the opportunity to present this statement for the record. I will be happy to answer any questions.