Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia Special Committee on Police Misconduct and Personnel Management
Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia Special Committee on Police Misconduct and Personnel Management
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. With me is Executive Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer. As a former chief legal counsel for the Chicago Police Department and a special prosecutor of police misconduct cases, Assistant Chief Gainer is extremely knowledgeable in this area. He understands and shares my vision for the future, and he will be spearheading the Department's initiatives, which I will outline today, for making immediate and significant improvements in our complaint and disciplinary process.
Assistant Chief Gainer and I appreciate your interest in this matter. Like you, we recognize that for the MPDC to be effective, we must establish a strong and lasting partnership with the community—a partnership that is built on integrity, trust and mutual respect. I am committed to these ideals. And I am committed to putting in place the policies, procedures and systems that will help ensure these ideals are met every day of the year by every member of our Department.
In recent weeks, the MPDC has worked closely with Special Counsel Touhey and his staff to make sure they had complete access to our files. We held open and frank discussions about current Department policies and procedures, as well as particular cases. And we helped to facilitate personal meetings with many current and former members of the MPDC.
Much of this effort has involved analyzing the past and present practices of this Department. You will undoubtedly hear more on these past practices from the various panels which are appearing before this body today. From my own review of the past, it is clear that over the years, the handling of some disciplinary cases has been substandard, if not negligent. The recording, investigation and resolution of known allegations have been lax at times. The imposition of punishment has not always been equitable, mostly because of a fundamental lack of effective internal controls and procedures. In some instances, the rights of Department personnel have not been adequately protected. And the expectations of those we serve—the community—have not been met.
Like you, I know there is unique value in exploring the history of the MPDC's performance in these cases—in dissecting rules and procedures, and in closely scrutinizing specific lapses in judgment and accountability. I welcome such scrutiny, and I intend to learn from it and act upon it. But while I appreciate the history behind this issue, my focus is decidedly on the future—on making real and meaningful improvements to a system in need of repair. My goal is to create a complaint and disciplinary system that is timely, credible and which can stand the scrutiny of others, including independent auditors. My vision is for a system that investigates all complaints against MPDC members fairly, swiftly and accurately, and a system that provides for the just and timely resolution of all cases. The members of my Department, and the members of the communities they serve, deserve nothing less.
As we explore this whole issue of complaint and disciplinary procedures, let's not forget something very important: the vast, vast majority of the members of the MPDC are honest, ethical, dedicated, hard-working public servants. This becomes clear when you juxtapose the relatively small number of complaints registered against our employees each year with the literally millions of contacts they have with the public—in responding to calls for service, making arrests, investigating traffic crashes, issuing citations and attending community meetings. The men and women of the MPDC perform professionally and heroically thousands upon thousands of times every year—flawlessly and precisely when the community needs them.
But that is not to say that we cannot—or must not—do better. I will be the first person to acknowledge that we must do better. As chief, I have the unique responsibility and authority to maintain discipline and good conduct within the Metropolitan Police Department. I take that responsibility very seriously.
That is why my vision for our complaint and disciplinary review process will be guided by certain key policies and principles:
- First, the MPDC will conduct internal investigations of all misconduct allegations following the fundamental principles of fairness and consistency.
- Second, all employees will comply with the law and with Department rules, regulations, directives and orders—in both spirit and intent. Sworn police officers, in particular, will be held strictly accountable for properly exercising the authority they have been given to protect the lives, property and rights of others.
- Third, the community will be provided with accessible, easy-to-use mechanisms for registering complaints, and all complaints will be treated with dignity and respect.
- Fourth, all Department employees, in all instances, will be given a fair and impartial investigation, and they will enjoy all protections afforded by the Constitution and their bargaining agreements.
- Fifth, our Department must be equally concerned with preventing misconduct as we are with punishing it after the fact.
- And finally, all employees of the MPDC must understand and carry out their responsibilities in the complaint and disciplinary process. Each of us has a stake in complaint initiation, the investigative process, the discovery of facts, obligations to the complainant, and the integrity and fairness of the outcome. When it comes to a matter as sensitive and important as police conduct and discipline, every Department member must assume the obligations and faithfully perform the duties of their rank and position. I expect no less, and I will tolerate no intentional failures in this area.
While the implementation of a new and effective complaint and disciplinary system will take some time, there are some important steps that I am taking immediately.
- Effective today, when possible misconduct is observed or a complaint is received by a non-supervisory member of the MPDC, that member will immediately notify a supervisory official and prepare a written report documenting the same. Upon receiving information or observations of possible misconduct, the official will—within one hour—report the information to the Office of Professional Responsibility and submit a written report as well. The Office of Professional Responsibility will initiate a complaint register number and appropriately assign the case for investigation. This procedure will apply in all cases, except those minor infractions—such as deviations from the uniform standard—that are more appropriately handled through summary administrative procedures.
- In the next few weeks, we will be making enhancements to both the telephone hotline and the PO box that are available to the public for reporting allegations of misconduct by Department members. Neither the toll-free hotline number—1 (800) 298-4006—nor the PO Box 77892, Washington, DC 20013-7892) has been well known or effectively utilized in the past. Increased publicity of these resources and improved service are planned.
- I am directing the Office of Professional Responsibility to become more involved in our community policing efforts, by meeting with our personnel at roll calls and by attending Citizen Advisory Council, PSA and other community meetings.
- I am instructing the Department's Training Division to enhance the ethics training we provide to recruits and to develop in-service ethics training for all of our personnel. All command personnel, particularly District Commanders, will undergo in-service training and team-building exercises concerning the disciplinary process.
- I will explore the hiring of former FBI agents and police detectives with extensive experience as investigators to work on internal investigations.
- I will immediately begin to update complete background checks on all command personnel above the rank of captain. These checks will cover financial records, credit history, secondary employment and interviews with neighbors and references.
- As you know, I have proposed an enhanced recruitment process which will, if approved, require two years of college by the fall of 1999 and a four-year degree by the fall of 2002. In conjunction with these enhancements, I also plan to administer polygraph examinations to every potential new hire.
- Finally, I have directed Executive Assistant Chief Gainer to convene a working committee whose goal is to re-invent the Department's entire policies, procedures and systems in the area of discipline. This committee will include representatives from the rank-and-file, supervisory officials, command members, unions and the community. Its charge is straightforward: to develop a fair and effective system for receiving, investigating and resolving complaints against MPDC members in accordance with the vision I articulated here today. I expect the bulk of the committee's work to be completed in approximately 90 days.
The work of this committee will focus on many critical issues: the integrity of complaint initiation; the investigative process, including the timeliness of investigations; internal disciplinary procedures; referrals for criminal action; rights of the accused; notification of complainants; and the appeals process. I am also directing the committee to establish a reporting procedure in which quarterly activity reports are submitted to the Chief Management Officer, the City Council and the Congressional oversight committees. These reports will document the Department's actions while protecting the confidentiality of individuals as provided by the Constitution and bargaining agreements.
Assistant Chief Gainer and his committee are also instructed to develop plans for the structure, composition and personnel assignments of the Office of Professional Responsibility, including the need for a Confidential and Corrupt Practices section. He will advise me on the appropriateness of relocating internal affairs from 300 Indiana Avenue in order to enhance undercover operations and ensure the confidentiality of interviews.
Finally, I am asking this committee to look at the issue of preventing misconduct through early identification and intervention with employees who are experiencing problems. We all need to remember that police work is done in an extremely dangerous and stressful environment, and it is these dangers and stresses that often contribute to misconduct. I am asking the committee for recommendations on a Personnel Concerns program that will train supervisors to identify members who are exhibiting unusual or uncharacteristic behavior, and then provide those members with counseling and other assistance. We owe it to our employees to help them deal with personal problems on the front end, so that we can avoid having to punish misconduct on the back end.
Best practices in the areas of complaint and disciplinary processes and employee assistance exist across the country. We will work with members of our Department—in conjunction with the US Attorney, the Corporation Counsel, the FOP, elected officials and the community—to research these best practices and apply them to our Department. I am confident that we can create a fair, credible and effective process—one that employs progressive discipline, tolerates and corrects inadvertent errors, and treats minor infractions reasonably. At the same time, we will conscientiously and impartially enforce the law, and move forcefully for more severe penalties—up to and including separation and criminal sanctions—when that is warranted.
I know you will be analyzing a lot of statistics today, so I want to offer a caveat about what the numbers may look like in the future. Establishing the systems and controls that I outlined today may have the effect of actually increasing the number of complaints investigated in the short-term. As people gain more confidence in our complaint and disciplinary system, and as the process become more accessible and efficient, we very well may see the numbers rise. My concern is not so much with the short-term fluctuations in statistics. Rather, my commitment is to provide the people of this city, and the members of my department, with an honest, ethical police force that we can be proud of and that can work effectively to reduce crime.
I want to close today with a message to the women and men of the Metropolitan Police Department. To that vast, vast majority of members I spoke of, whose conduct is above reproach, I say, "thank you." Your honesty and integrity seldom get recognition publicly, but they are deeply appreciated by me and by the community. And to those few who would tarnish our badge and betray our oath, I say, "do so at your peril."