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Zero Tolerance for Offensive and Hateful Speech

Thursday, March 29, 2001

Zero Tolerance for Offensive and Hateful Speech

Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey released the following statement to members of the Metropolitan Police Department on March 29, 2001.

As you have probably heard by now, I recently directed the Office of Professional Responsibility to initiate a confidential investigation into inappropriate—and, in many cases, disgusting and hateful—e-mail communications sent by certain members over our Mobile Digital Computer network. Details of the investigation have been revealed to the news media, which has compromised the confidentiality of the investigation and prompted me to go public with this matter.

The OPR investigation will be thorough, exacting and wide-ranging. The type of offensive speech and thought displayed in just the small sample of MDC transmissions I reviewed has no place in the MPDC—indeed, no place in our society. I generally don't like the term "zero tolerance" as it has been used in policing. But in this matter, there will be no tolerance for members who spew profanity, perpetuate ugly stereotypes or make references to unprofessional or potentially criminal conduct. Violators will be identified, and discipline will be swift, certain and severe.

The Department has worked hard to provide our members with the tools and technology you need to do your jobs, and do them well. The MDC network has been an important part of this effort. We designed the network to allow officers not only to run vehicle checks and other inquiries, but also to communicate with one another, car to car, in a secure environment that does not tie up radio traffic.

The overwhelming majority of our officers recognize the power of this technology and are using it in an appropriate and productive manner. However, after a review of just a snapshot sample of transmissions, it became clear to me that some officers—far too many—are abusing this technology in ways that are truly reprehensible. I am not going to disable the email capability of the MDCs simply because a small minority is abusing it. But we are going to continue tracking communications very closely and disciplining violators more swiftly.

The transcripts show that for some members, profanity appears to be the norm, rather than the exception. The limited vocabulary and communication skills of these members would be almost laughable, if their language were not so vile and unprofessional.

Far more troubling is the use of negative stereotypes and profiles by some members. Ugly slurs against different racial groups -- white and black—were common. So were hateful comments based on gender and sexual orientation, directed at fellow officers and citizens alike. There were very few groups that escaped the vile and ignorant comments on these transmissions. Possible connections between offensive e-mails and complaints against officers are being investigated aggressively.

Writing this matter off as simply poor judgment ("police officers will be police officers") does not cut it with something as serious as this. I am outraged, both personally and professionally, that fellow officers—individuals who wear the badge and don the uniform of the MPDC—would display this type of ignorance and intolerance.

I realize the actions of a small minority in no way reflect the standards of conduct and professionalism of our Department as a whole. And I know that the vast, vast majority of you—sworn and civilian members—share my outrage and embarrassment over this matter. Still, the actions of a few do impact public perceptions of the MPDC and the police profession in general. We simply cannot sit back and do nothing.

Let this investigation serve notice to all members that MDC transmissions specifically, and our words and conduct in general, are being scrutinized very closely—by the Department and, more importantly, by the public we serve. When transgressions are discovered, we will take action. Where new procedures or additional training are needed, we will provide them. We have already added a log-on warning message to the MDCs themselves and are publishing regular reminders about MDC policy in The Dispatch.

But when all is said and done, doing the right thing is up to each and every one of us. Nobody needs a training course to tell them that offensive language and racism are wrong ... period.

This matter may reveal deeper problems and undercurrents of discontent within our Department—problems in how we treat, respect and relate to one another. These are very serious issues that appear to be coming to a head now. Just as I am committed to addressing individual instances of unprofessional behavior in the short time, I am equally committed to addressing the underlying issues that affect all of us over the long term.

MPDC members are held to a higher standard of conduct—as well we should be. The public has placed a sacred trust in us. Now, some of our members have not only violated the public's trust; they have violated our own sense of dignity and responsibility to one another in ways that are hideous and indefensible. For all of us, the hard work of repairing the damage and restoring the trust begins right away.

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