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Remarks from Public Hearings on Metropolitan Police Department E-Mail Matter

Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Remarks from Public Hearings on Metropolitan Police Department E-Mail Matter

Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Brian Jordan
Assistant Chief of Police
Office of Professional Responsibility
Metropolitan Police Department

Assistant Chief of Police Brian Jordan delivered the following remarks during the "Public Hearings on the Metropolitan Police Department E-mail Matter" held by the DC Commission on Human Rights. The hearing was held October 3, 2001.

Chairman Wu, members of the Commission and audience guests ... I thank you for the opportunity to participate in these public hearings, to update the Commission —and the community— on the Metropolitan Police Department's continuing investigation into inappropriate and offensive messages exchanged by a small number of our officers over the Department's Mobile Digital Computer, or MDC, network. My name is Brian Jordan, and I am the Assistant Chief in charge of the MPD's Office of Professional Responsibility, the unit responsible for conducting the so-called "e-mail investigation." I am representing Chief of Police Charles H. Ramsey, who regrets that he is unable to present this testimony due to a last-minute conflict.

From the time our Department first uncovered these serious allegations and they became public, Chief Ramsey has pledged that our investigation would be thorough, precise and wide-ranging —and that we would keep the community informed as to our progress in the investigation. These two nights of public hearings are part of that community outreach and notification effort. For your information, the text of my remarks has been posted on the Police Department's Website: http://mpdc.dc.gov/.

My testimony this evening is divided into three parts: first, background on how these problems were first identified and the investigation initiated; second, an update on exactly where we stand with the investigation; and third, the steps we have taken to help prevent these types of problems in the future.

I want to point out, at the very beginning of my statement, that we are talking about a very small number of officers who may be involved in the most egregious conduct related to this investigation. The vast, vast majority of our officers have used, and continue to use, our MDC network in ways that are appropriate and do not suggest any underlying misconduct. But at the same time, I am fully aware that even one inappropriate message or one act of misconduct is one too many when it comes to members of the Metropolitan Police Department. Our members are held to a higher standard — as well we should be, given the unique role we play in our city and our society.

Chief Ramsey has made his feelings on this matter very clear to the members of our Department, through both a videotaped message and a special newsletter: there is no place in the MPD for racist, sexist, homophobic or malicious speech —or actions— of any sort. Displaying disrespect for other individuals - either members of the community or fellow members of our Department - undermines the very foundation of trust and cooperation that we have worked so hard to build over the last few years, as we have implemented community policing in our city. Members of MPD who spew profanity, perpetuate ugly stereotypes, or make references to —or engage in— biased policing of any form will be identified, and strong disciplinary action will be taken. This underlying philosophy of "zero tolerance for intolerance" continues to guide our investigation into this matter.

Background on the Investigation
I want to provide you with a very brief summary of how this investigation started in the first place. I know a lot of people first learned of the investigation through news media reports. However, well before leaks to the news media made this whole matter public, our Department had already uncovered the MDC situation and had launched an internal investigation. I think this is an important point, for it demonstrates to the community that our Department was proactive in identifying, investigating and addressing this problem – we were not simply reacting to something we read in the newspaper or saw on the TV news.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Mobile Digital Computers, they are portable devices that allow police officers to run vehicle checks and other inquiries directly from their scout cars and to communicate with one another, car to car, in a secure environment that does not tie up radio traffic. The MDCs are a critical part of our Department’s overall technology strategy, and we have been expanding and upgrading the MDC network over the last few years.

However, from talking with other police chiefs, Chief Ramsey knew that some departments had experienced problems in the area of car-to-car messaging. Earlier this year, he wanted to assess the situation in our agency, now that our MDC network had been expanded. So on February 13, 2001, the Chief directed the Office of Quality Assurance to conduct an audit of some of the car-to-car communications made over the MDC network. All of these communications are recorded and stored on a central server, which made the audit possible. A few weeks later, the Chief was presented with a sampling of suspect messages that the auditors had identified based on a relatively small set of “key words” that are clearly offensive. The Chief said he was disgusted and saddened by what he saw, but also determined to understand the nature and extent of the problem and to get to the bottom of the matter.

On March 21, Chief Ramsey directed the Office of Professional Responsibility to initiate a confidential investigation into the matter – by “confidential,” we mean an investigation in which the Department is not required to notify the subjects that they are under scrutiny. Our goal was to keep this investigation confidential so that we could further investigate any possible criminal or civil rights violations that may be associated with some of the suspect messages. Just a few days later, however, Fox 5 News aired a story about the investigation, which included transcripts of some of the offensive messages. While this and subsequent news reports did compromise the confidentiality of the investigation, the investigation itself has proceeded.

Progress of the Investigation
One of our first steps we took in launching the investigation was to notify critical partners, including the US Department of Justice, the United States Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Office of Citizen Complaint Review and the DC Commission on Human Rights. OPR also established an internal management work group, consisting of ranking officials throughout the Department, to examine the nature of the problem and design an investigative strategy.

We knew from the beginning that the scope of the investigation would be massive. Between March 2000 and February 2001, Metropolitan Police officers generated some 4.1 million MDC records. Of these records, more than 970,000 were car-to-car messages transmitted by 917 individual police officers.

Investigators identified 157 different “key words” that would be run against the MDC database of messages. These words included curses, racial or ethnic slurs, slang and various words that might indicate biased policing or other forms of misconduct. The key words were sorted into seven primary allegation areas: six of these involved language that was potentially offensive or superfluous; the seventh was possible criminal or civil rights violations. The team then initiated key-word searches of the 971,000 transmissions.

This initial search generated approximately 247,000 suspect MDC transmissions. Each one of these transmissions was reviewed by an Inspector or Captain who was part of the management team. This and subsequent reviews winnowed the number of suspect transmissions to about 5,300. In other words, preliminary investigation revealed that a large majority of the transmissions that contained the key words were, in fact, legitimate transmissions.

Based on the initial search and review, investigators classified the suspect transmissions into three categories:

Level I represents the most severe transmissions, indicating possible criminal or civil rights violations directed toward members of the community, as well as transmissions by sworn managers or chronic system abusers. Two-hundred twenty-eight (228) transmissions, or 4 percent of the total, were initially classified as Level I.

Level II represents transmissions directed toward other members of the MPD. Nearly 46 percent of the suspect transmission fit this category — about 2,400 messages.

Level III represents the least serious transmissions, including inappropriate language or superfluous conversations. Just over 50 percent — or nearly 2,700 transmissions, were classified as Level III.

From an investigative standpoint, our priority was clearly the Level I transmissions. These would be identified and investigated first, with Level II and Level III to follow. The work group also determined that, to ensure the integrity of the investigation, Level I transmissions would first be submitted to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for review and consultation.

In further reviewing the Level I transmissions, the work group identified 19 potentially serious violators who had made apparent key word transmissions directed toward members of the community, or who were managers/supervisors or system abusers. The suspect transmissions of these 19 members — 17 officers and 2 supervisors — had to be investigated in great depth. To ensure the integrity of the investigation, in early May, Chief Ramsey placed these 19 members in a non-contact status pending a full review of their actions. Per our established protocol, the information pertaining to these 19 members was submitted first to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for review of possible criminal or civil right violations, before we began an internal administrative investigation.

Further review of the Level I transmissions by our Internal Affairs agents revealed that an additional 31 members of the Department apparently sent MDC transmissions that could potentially fit within the Level I category as well. These cases, too, were sent to the US Attorney’s Office for review and consultation.

So as of today, a total of 50 Level I cases have been submitted to the US Attorney’s Office. In 30 of those cases, prosecutors have declined further action; those cases have been returned to the Office of Professional Responsibility for an internal administrative investigation. A total of 20 cases are still pending before the US Attorney. In addition, our internal investigation revealed 54 other potential Level I violators who are being investigated from an administrative standpoint. Internally, one official reprimand and two adverse action recommendations have been completed on these Level I cases. In addition, one officer under investigation was terminated for a separate matter.

We are continuing to work aggressively on the Level I cases currently under administrative investigation, and we have begun to address some of the less serious cases as well. For example, the Office of Professional Responsibility currently is in the process of issuing notices of corrective action to approximately 91 members for Level III violations – those being the least serious transmissions. Of the 126 members investigated for Level III violations, approximately three-quarters will receive some form of corrective action for their violations. As we continue to complete the Level I investigations, we will also work simultaneously on the remaining members with outstanding Level II transmissions. The Office of Professional Responsibility remains committed to investigating all the MDC transmissions in question and to completing the entire investigation in a thorough and fair manner.

I realize this Commission and the community are eager to see these cases investigated and appropriate disciplinary action taken, when warranted. Our Department is eager to see that happen as well. However, these investigations involve a number of time-consuming, often complex tasks, including identifying and transcribing radio transmissions, researching related records, locating and interviewing possible witnesses and complainants, and interviewing fellow officers. We owe it to the subjects of the investigations, as well as the public, to be thorough, comprehensive and exacting in these matters.

Prevention Steps
I want to conclude my testimony this evening by outlining some of the measures we have taken, both to prevent this type of inappropriate conduct from ever occurring again and, if it does, to catch violators quickly and decisively.

Concurrent with the start of this investigation, Assistant Chief Jordan instituted two immediate preventive measures. First, the Audit and Compliance Branch of his office is now conducting quarterly audits of MDC transmissions, looking for both general trends in MDC usage and any particular “red flags” that may arise. Second, OPR’s Office of Internal Affairs has begun conducting random integrity checks of individual MDC transmissions. We also added a log-on warning message to the MDCs themselves, so officers are aware of Department policies and the fact that all transmissions are recorded and reviewed. We are also looking into software that would filter out offensive or inappropriate language over the MDC network.

Finally, the Department has issued and distributed a new General Order — 302.09 — specifically on MDC usage and operations. While I believe that our existing orders (as well as our Code of Ethics, not to mention common sense) covered MDC transmissions in the past, this new General Order makes it crystal-clear how and when the devices are to be used. This new General Order has been incorporated into our MDC training as well.

These efforts appear to be yielding some positive results. Assistant Chief Jordan’s office analyzed MDC transmissions over the first three quarters of this calendar year. During the first quarter, only about one-third of the total transmissions were for records checks over the National Crime Information Center network; the other two-thirds represented car-to-car Talk Messages. In the second quarter, following the investigation and the initial preventive measures, those numbers were reversed: two-thirds of the inquiries were records checks, and just one-third Talk Messages. That basic breakdown continued through the third quarter evaluation as well.

I am not suggesting that all Talk Messages are somehow suspect or inappropriate. Being able to communicate car-to-car, in a secure environment that doesn’t involve talking over the radio, is an invaluable law enforcement tool. And Chief Ramsey has never contemplated removing this function from our MDC system. But the numbers do suggest that many of the car-to-car messages in the past involved superfluous conversations among members. Reducing this unnecessary traffic over the system should improve network performance and help prevent the transmission of inappropriate or offensive messages.

Our prevention efforts are not limited to just the narrow matter of MDC transmissions; rather, they encompass the broader issue of biased policing. In furthering these efforts, we are initiating a new biased policing project, with the assistance of the NAACP Civil Rights Task Force and other groups. This project will consider the whole gamut of issues surrounding biased policing, the perception of its practice, and the corresponding impact it has both internally within the MPD and externally in the community. The biased policing project will include a police-community task force and citizen surveys and focus groups that will help us analyze the perceptions and reality of biased policing, design data collection instruments and identify any new policies, procedures or resources that may be needed. This is an exciting project that will continue over the next 18 months.

* * * * *

In closing, I want to reinforce something Chief Ramsey has said throughout this inquiry: that the language and conduct displayed by a small minority of officers in no way reflect the professionalism and integrity of our Department as whole. The MPD is not a racist Department. We are not a sexist Department. We are not a homophobic Department. We are not a Department that engages in widespread biased policing of any type.

By the same token, we are not a Department that shies away from our responsibility to identify, investigate and root out misconduct among that small minority of members who may engage in such behavior. After all, it was our Department that uncovered this problem in the first place. It is our Department that has spearheaded probably the most wide-ranging internal investigation in our history. It is our Department that has implemented new policies and procedures to prevent this type of situation from occurring in the future. And it is our Department that is committed to retaining — and strengthening — the foundation of trust and respect that we have built with the community. With the help of this Commission and others, we are confident we will succeed.

Thank you again for the opportunity to present his statement. I would be happy to answer any questions.