Public Roundtable on MPD Performance in Homicide Investigations
Public Roundtable on MPD Performance in Homicide Investigations
Charles H. Ramsey
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 January 21, 2003.
Madame Chair, members of the Council, staff and guests, good evening and thank you for the opportunity to present this opening statement before I take your questions. As is customary, the text of this statement is posted on the Police Department’s website: mpdc.dc.gov. In the 15 months since the Committee’s last hearing on homicide performance, our department has made some significant progress, and we continue to face some serious challenges with homicide. I will summarize both areas this evening.
First, some of the improvements….
One year ago, as you know, I established a centralized Violent Crimes Branch to investigate all homicides in the District. We staffed this unit with a core group of dedicated detectives and supervisors. And we provided them with the training and tools they need to do the job, including a comprehensive Standard Operating Procedure. Our SOP has gained a lot of attention as a model for homicide investigations. Our Department has created a formal promotional process for detectives – something this committee had advocated for some time. And we have dramatically expanded and enhanced our training, not only for newly promoted detectives, but for our experienced investigators who now have access to specialized courses. For example, we have a four-week homicide investigations course that is scheduled to begin in early February. This comprehensive course will assist us in developing a cadre of trained detectives who can easily transition into the Violent Crimes Branch when there are vacancies for homicide detectives. Perhaps most importantly, we have intensified our focus on homicide investigations and we have strengthened accountability for achieving results. Individual homicide cases are reviewed by myself and other top Department executives and managers during our Daily Crime Briefings and our regular TOPS sessions, which stands for Targeted Organizational Performance Sessions. And we are closely monitoring the productivity and performance of individual detectives in our Violent Crimes Branch – in fact, throughout all detective units. Where detectives are not meeting the standards, we are taking action – including transfers and reassignments, when warranted.
I am cautiously encouraged by the initial results of these and other reforms – although let me make it perfectly clear that I am far from satisfied. Between 2001 and 2002, our homicide clearance rate did rise from just about 50 percent to nearly 55 percent. That places us right at the average for cities our size, according to FBI statistics. Now, I do not want to leave the impression that I consider "average" to be good enough. It is not good enough. But at least over the past year, we have begun heading in the right direction when it comes to clearing homicide cases. And I am encouraged that we will have even greater success in 2003.
The vast majority of our homicide closures in 2002 were the result of a suspect being arrested and charged in the District. According to FBI guidelines, a city’s closure rate also includes those cases that are cleared “exceptionally.” This means that the police have identified the suspect, but for any number of reasons, the person cannot be prosecuted. These reasons include the death of the suspect, his conviction and incarceration on other charges, a determination of self-defense or other situations in which the prosecution declines to prosecute. A good example of an exceptional clearance during 2002 involved the sniper shooting of Pascal Charlot on upper Georgia Avenue last October. He was killed with the same weapon that was used in the other sniper shootings in our region, and formal charges against the two suspects have been filed in the District. But because the suspects are not now in our custody – and, quite frankly, may never be tried in the District – we cannot close the case with an arrest. But we have closed the case as an “exceptional” clearance, as prescribed by FBI guidelines. As part of our homicide SOP, all exceptional clearances are reviewed and certified by our Office of Quality Assurance. This provides an independent analysis of the case and helps to ensure the integrity of the clearance process.
While there are certainly signs of progress, we continue to face serious challenges when it comes to homicide in our city. As has been well documented, our homicide rate rose by approximately 12 percent last year – the first significant rise in the past seven years. While this trend was not limited to DC – almost every jurisdiction in our region reported percentage increases even higher than ours – last year’s homicide total in DC is simply unacceptable to the police department and to the community. Reducing the violence and lowering our homicide rate are top priorities for 2003.
In working to meet this goal, we face some additional challenges. As I have noted on several other occasions, we still need to get more community members actively involved – both in our Policing for Prevention activities in general, and specifically in providing information about individual homicide cases. We continue to carry a number of open homicide cases where a single witness account or a useful tip from the community would be the difference in allowing us to get a warrant and make an arrest. Part of the issue here is trust. I understand that some people simply do not feel comfortable or safe in providing information directly to the police. And we are working every day to build bridges of trust with the community, so that information can flow more readily. But in addition to the police, there are plenty of others – churches, community leaders, elected representatives – who can assist in this regard. The bottom line is that we need to pull together as a community, to encourage and assist more citizens to come forward and cooperate with our detectives on some of these cases. The alternative is the status quo, and as far as I am concerned, that is no alternative at all.
Another challenge we face is better and more consistent follow-up with victims of crime and survivors. With respect to the survivors of homicide victims, I believe we are doing a better job today than in the recent past of reaching out and keeping these individuals informed. For example, following every homicide, our department sends out a letter to the primary survivor, expressing our condolences and providing information about what to expect during the investigation. In addition, our SOP defines specific time periods during which detectives are to make follow-up calls. This past year, we began calling survivors around the December holidays and other times of the year that may have been significant to their loved one. But there is still a lot more that we can do– and should do– in this area, including dedicating resources for victim and survivor outreach. As I reported in previous hearings, our department has been seeking funding to establish a Family Liaison Unit within our Violent Crimes Branch. I am pleased to report that we have recently received a funding commitment that will allow us to hire three civilian advocates, who will be teamed with one officer in our Violent Crimes Branch specifically for victim and survivor outreach and follow-up. I am also initiating regular quarterly meetings with some of the groups that are represented here tonight, including Survivors of Homicide, ROOTS and STARS. These meetings will allow us to get issues on the table early on, and to address them quickly and effectively.
Finally, we face the challenge of continually improving our homicide closure rate. As I mentioned earlier, being “average” is simply not good enough when it comes to homicide clearances. We owe it to the survivors of past homicide victims to do everything we can to close these cases and bring some measure of closure to the families. And we owe it to the community at large to take murderers off the street and bring them to justice, before they can kill again. In meeting this challenge, we will continue to monitor very closely the progress of individual cases and the productivity of individual detectives and detective supervisors. For example, we have recently added two lieutenants to the Violent Crimes Branch, to provide more hands-on management of cases and supervision of detectives.
In the near future, we will also be creating an investigative squad with the Violent Crimes Branch that will handle apparent “natural deaths” that occur in the District. This will free up more detectives to work on active homicide investigations. We are also working closely with the US Attorney’s Office – I, personally, meet with US Attorney Roscoe Howard on a regular basis – to ensure that we are progressing on specific homicide investigations. And through our Daily Crime Briefings, we are constantly tracking patterns of violence in our city – and deploying our discretionary resources based on these patterns. I will talk more about this process later in my testimony.
More than 75 percent of the homicides in DC are committed with firearms, so in conjunction with other agencies, we are placing a renewed focus on guns in our city. We are tracking gun crimes and gun recoveries on a daily basis. And through the Project Safe Neighborhoods, our Focused Mission Team officers are receiving specialized training in gun crimes and gun recoveries. In addition, the ATF is now tracing all guns that are recovered in the District, so that we can go back and try to match them up with previous gun crimes. And the US Attorney’s Office has pledged to seek tougher penalties against gun criminals.
Beyond these and other enforcement actions, we are continuing to emphasize neighborhood partnership and systemic prevention efforts. For example, we are expanding upon the faith-based partnerships that began east of the Anacostia River – and we are now working to establish these types of grassroots efforts here in Northwest and in other parts of the city challenged by violence.
Before I take your questions, I do want to address the issue of police staffing and deployment, because I know it remains a concern. To be successful in reducing violence and solving crimes, we clearly need to have the right people in the right assignments – and we need those people performing at a high level. And we need to achieve this while operating within the budget appropriated by the Council. Our total sworn strength at the beginning of this calendar year was 3,637 – or about 1 percent below our target. Approximately 58.2 percent of our officers, sergeants and lieutenants are currently assigned to the PSAs – again, just slightly below our target. Our department is working hard, and within our budget, to try and meet the targets we have established, especially with respect to PSA staffing. But I also want everyone to understand that PSA officers are by no means the only resources that we are devoting to neighborhood patrols and neighborhood crime problems. The PSAs are being supported by a number of other critically important units that are all focused on one mission: fighting crime in our neighborhoods.
These additional resources include our redeployed officers, our Focused Mission Teams, our Power Shift officers, our Canine Units (which are now given specific neighborhood assignments every day), Mobile Force, Narcotics Strike Force, the Prostitution Unit, and our Horse Mounted Unit. I can assure the Committee that effectively matching these crime-fighting resources with the specific crime problems in our neighborhoods is the number one priority of MPD management. It’s what we do – myself, the Assistant Chiefs, Commanders, and other ranking members – every day in our Daily Crime Briefings. Using sophisticated maps and other information displayed in our Command Center, we look at crimes and crime patterns over the past 24 to 48 hours. And we decide how we can best deploy our discretionary resources to address those problems. This process is giving our PSA teams some of the critical support they need to address neighborhood crime problems.
I would invite any Councilmembers or staff who are interested in observing a Daily Crime Briefing to contact my office, and we will make the necessary arrangement.
I am not in any way suggesting that we do not need to fully staff the PSAs – the PSAs remain the foundation of our neighborhood crime-fighting. What I am saying is that to effectively fight crime in our communities, the PSAs need the support of these additional units, which bring a wealth of resources, skills and tactics to our neighborhoods. It is also critically important that when we assign officers to a PSA, those officers are available for full duty. We continue to face a serious problem with far too many officers who have been placed on limited duty or extended sick leave – and who are allowed to remain in that status for long periods of time. Legislation has been proposed to address this problem once and for all, and I hope the Council gives it favorable consideration. Also, I would call on the Council to review the processes and productivity of the Police and Firefighters Retirement and Relief Board, which hears these long-term disability cases. My opinion is that this Board could hear, and rule on, many more cases than it currently does.
Finally, I would encourage the Council to support the continuation – and expansion – of our night papering and other papering reform efforts with the US Attorney’s Office. We continue to have too many of our best, most productive officers sitting in court – and not patrolling our streets – because of overscheduling by the courts. Getting more officers in our neighborhoods is a goal that all of us share, but achieving this goal is not as simple as mandating through legislation a set number of PSA officers. Finding the right combination of resources to deal with the serious problems of crime and violence in our neighborhoods – and deploying those resources intelligently and effectively – represent an ongoing process for our Department … and a priority that we focus on each and every day of the year.
Thank you again for the opportunity to present this statement. My staff and I will be happy to address your questions at this time.