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Remarks on The Improved Child Abuse Investigations Amendment Act of 2001

Monday, February 4, 2002

Remarks on The Improved Child Abuse Investigations Amendment Act of 2001

Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Alfred Broadbent
Assistant Chief of Police
Metropolitan Police Department

Chief Alfred J. Broadbent delivered the following statement during the "Public Oversight Hearings on Personnel Policies and Practices of the Metropolitan Police Department," sponsored by the Committee on the Judiciary, Council of the District of Columbia. The hearing was held January 4, 2002.

Chairwoman Patterson, Chairperson Allen, members of the Committees, staff, and guests … on behalf of Chief Ramsey, I want to thank you for the opportunity to join with many of my colleagues in the fight against child abuse, to update you on our collaborative efforts and to offer comments on the legislation being considered today. As a reminder, the complete text of my prepared testimony has been posted on the Metropolitan Police Department’s Website: www.mpdc.dc.gov.

I want to begin today by restating our Department’s commitment to combating child abuse in our city – in particular, to ensuring that investigations of this crime are conducted in a thorough, expeditious and, above all, effective manner. Like our partners in the Child and Family Services Agency, the Children’s Advocacy Center, the DC Superior Court and so many others, we recognize that effectively investigating cases of child abuse is essential not only to protecting the individual victims of past abuse, but also to preventing future acts of abuse against these and other potential victims. If we are to protect some of our city’s most vulnerable citizens – our children – we must demonstrate the capacity, and the tenacity, to investigate these cases thoroughly and to find lasting solutions to the underlying problems of these tragedies.

To achieve these dual goals of protection and prevention, the MPD recognizes that we must work in concert with other criminal justice, social service and child welfare agencies. This commitment to cooperation and collaboration has been an essential step in fostering a range of improvements we have already achieved. And cooperation and collaboration will remain essential ingredients as we move forward in enacting further reforms.

With the leadership of Mayor Williams – and with the strong input, oversight and support of the Council – I believe we have made important progress over the last several months in strengthening our capacity to investigate child abuse cases. And while a significant amount of work remains to be done – much of it to be guided by the legislation now under consideration – I think we are on the right track.

Our success to date has been largely the result of our different agencies working together toward a common goal. As you know, the MPD and CFSA have made a commitment to work closely and cooperatively in investigating allegations of serious child abuse, with CFSA having responsibility for investigating all child abuse complaints and MPD conducting a coordinated criminal investigation. I am pleased to report that we are fulfilling that commitment. Since October, we have been able to initiate joint investigations in most of the serious cases of abuse that have come to the attention of our respective agencies. In the remaining cases, investigations were initiated by one or the other agency, because time was of the essence and resources from the other partner were not immediately available. Still, in all cases, we are sharing information and working together, and joint investigations have rapidly and successfully become the norm in serious child abuse investigations in our city.
Additionally, our Department has conducted joint training sessions with the CFSA and the Office of the Corporation Counsel, and we have cooperated closely with development and implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding and Interagency Agreement on Child Sexual Abuse Investigation, Prosecution and Prevention. The spirit of cooperation among our agencies is stronger than it has been in years, and that cooperative spirit is translating into concrete action.

Another key cooperative effort in the battle against child abuse has been the Children’s Advocacy Center. While the CAC does not fall organizationally within the MPD, our agency recognizes its value to the investigation of child abuse cases and the protection and recovery of young victims. We strongly support both the concept of the CAC and its expansion. Our CAC will become even more effective when it has the space and other resources needed to promote inter-agency cooperation in a child-friendly and investigative-sensitive setting. We look forward to the continued development of this key partnership in our city.

In addition to strengthening our partnerships with CFSA and other agencies, our Department continues to make internal improvements to enhance our own capabilities in the child abuse area. For example, we established the Family Violence and Child Protection Unit, and we provided members of the unit with more of the resources they need to do this difficult job. These have included an upgraded work environment, joint training with other investigative experts, and promotion of our tuition reimbursement program which allows unit members to continue their education at no cost, focusing on knowledge and skills that can directly support their continued role in the unit.

Perhaps most importantly, we have been able to reduce the caseload of Family Violence and Child Protection Unit investigators to acceptable levels. As of October 1, 2001, CFSA assumed responsibility for investigating all cases of abuse, with the MPD’s role limited to those serious cases where a criminal investigation is necessary. This change has reduced the caseload for each of our thirty-seven (37) FVCPU investigators to approximately six to eight cases per month, and allowed our members to focus on those serious cases in which their investigative expertise is needed. This reform, alone, will go a long way toward making this specialty assignment attractive for member to enter and to remain in.

As you know, our Department also established a Special Victims Unit, to investigate all deaths involving children age 17 and younger. A clear and comprehensive protocol, outlining objectives, roles and responsibilities of SVU members, was enacted last September. Part of that protocol deals with coordination between the SVU and the Youth and Preventive Services Division. It requires that the YPSD be immediately notified of all child deaths in the city and that YPSD members respond to the scene to provide investigative support. The SVU is currently staffed with one sergeant and eight detectives. When needed, the SVU can also call upon the additional resources of the recently established Violent Crimes Branch, which now investigates all other homicides in the District.

Other recent accomplishments of the MPD and our partners include continued development and expansion of our faith-based youth crime prevention initiative. The Seven-Point Initiative we launched in conjunction with the East of the River Clergy, Police, Community Partnership continues to expand in the two police districts that make up our East Regional Operations Command (or ROC). We are now in the process of developing similar faith-based initiatives in the Central and North ROCs as well. As important as the after-the-fact investigations of crimes against young people are, we all recognize that it is early intervention and prevention that will ultimately make our children – and our communities – safer.

Finally, we continue to make progress in our response to the problem of domestic violence – which we all know is often closely linked with child abuse and neglect. Building on the work begun by Caroline Nicholl, our former domestic violence program manager, we are developing an exciting new partnership with an advocacy group called Victim’s Safety from Domestic Violence, Inc., to initiate a pilot project in the Seventh District that will test improvements in our response to domestic violence. A key objective of the pilot will be to raise the awareness of officers and investigators to the overlap between domestic violence and child abuse cases, and the need for service referrals for the children who witness these incidents.

In addition, ABT Associates has completed a study to evaluate the feasibility of a centralized database to house all domestic violence-related information from relevant organizations in the District – the goal being to enhance information sharing and to support analysis of trends. This project is potentially ground-breaking, although there are still a lot of issues to be analyzed and worked through – not the least of which are safety and privacy concerns.

These and other specific reforms were identified in the Oversight Report on MPD’s Role and Responsibility in Investigating and Preventing Child Abuse and Child Fatalities – a comprehensive report issued under the leadership of Mrs. Patterson and her staff. I thank you for the thorough and thoughtful job you did in preparing the report. And I pleased to report significant progress today in achieving many of your recommendations pertaining to the MPD.

Regarding the specifics of the “Improved Child Abuse Investigations Amendment Act of 2001,” MPD staff has worked closely with the CFSA in analyzing this legislation and developing comments for the consideration of the committees. The testimony presented by Director Golden – specifically her comments on the proposed definitional changes, changes to the Child Protection Registry, and the development of Multi-Disciplinary Teams – reflects the positions of the MPD on these issues.

I do want to amplify our position on the Multi-Disciplinary Child Abuse and Neglect Teams – or MDTs, as they are frequently called. Our Department wholeheartedly supports the development and use of MDTs in the review of select child abuse investigations that would benefit from this approach.

It is our feeling that MDTs would be particularly beneficial in certain types of cases – for example, many child sexual abuse cases; cases where a child suffers severe head trauma, unexplained bone breaks or severe burns and the perpetrator is unknown; cases involving very young victims and the perpetrator is unknown, or cases involving questionable caretakers or repeat offenders. In these and other complex cases, which typically require more extensive investigations, an MDT that brings together key criminal justice, social service and child welfare partners to review child abuse investigations would be appropriate, and our Department would look forward to participating in MDTs in these situations.

However, many of the cases we investigate involve physical abuse that is readily supported by the evidence at hand. These investigations take place in a very fast-paced environment where the issues are usually fairly clear-cut and the need to act is immediate. To mandate an MDT in many of these cases would not only require the commitment of substantial new resources from the MPD and others; it could also have the unintended effect of actually slowing down what should be a fairly straightforward and fast-paced investigation that provides immediate relief and protection for the child victim.

So while our Department supports the concept of MDTs and their use in selected situations, we oppose any legislation that would mandate their use in each and every child abuse case we investigate. The costs for such a blanket approach would be prohibitive to all of the agencies involved, and the benefits, I fear, would be minimal at best in many instances.

As an alternative to the legislation, we propose that a Memorandum of Agreement be developed (or perhaps an existing MOA expanded) to authorize the use of MDTs, to define their roles and responsibilities, and to specify the types of cases where a multi-disciplinary approach would further the investigative effort. Achieving the goal of effective multi-disciplinary investigations through the MOA process, as opposed to legislation, would provide the MPD and other investigatory agencies with the flexibility and resources we need, without breaking the budget when it comes to personnel and other resource commitments. I sincerely hope the committees will consider this, or another reasonable alternative, to the provision of the current legislation that would mandate MDTs in all cases.

One other proposal in the legislation involves changing the disposition terminology in child abuse cases. Currently, the dispositions used in child abuse cases – unfounded, unsupported, supported, and arrest and/or removal – are the same dispositions used in all of our Department’s sex-related cases. For the sake of both consistency and convenience, there are strong arguments to maintain the current disposition terms. Our Department would advocate no changes to the current disposition terminology.

In conclusion, Chief Ramsey and the leadership the MPD are very encouraged by the progress our Department – and the District as a whole – have made in improving our investigations of child abuse and the protection of children in general. Last year, the number of juvenile homicide victims in DC fell to a single digit for the first time in many years. And while nine young homicide victims is still nine too many, it is progress when you realize that just two years earlier, there were 28 juveniles whose lives were cut short by violence.

Continuing – even accelerating – this downward trend in both lethal and non-lethal violence against our children will require continued leadership from the executive level, strong oversight and support from our legislators, and a real commitment by the agencies and the individuals in the trenches to roll up our sleeves and get the job done. I believe we have established a strong foundation of inter-agency cooperation and trust in this area – a foundation that will support even more intensive and effective efforts in the future.

Thank you again. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.