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Chief Ramsey Writes Letter Requesting Review of Use of Force Policies and Practices

Wednesday, January 6, 1999
Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

The following letter was issued by Chief Charles H. Ramsey, of the Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, DC.

The Honorable Eric Holder
Deputy Attorney General of the United States
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Deputy Attorney General Holder:

Police departments everywhere have no greater responsibility than to ensure that our officers, who are entrusted by the public to use force in the performance of their duties, use that force prudently and appropriately. And when deadly force is used, police departments have a solemn obligation—to the public and to the officers involved—to investigate these cases thoroughly, accurately and expeditiously.

Upon being named chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in April 1998, I soon recognized that our department’s policies, practices and procedures concerning the use of force and use-of- force investigations did not meet the high standards that I expected. The Washington Post highlighted many of these shortcomings in its recent, in-depth series on the use of force in the Metropolitan Police Department over the last several years.

In November, I instituted a number of reforms to address major aspects of the use-of-force issue. I issued a new, more straightforward policy that codifies a "defense of life" philosophy regarding the use of deadly force and establishes a "use-of-force continuum" that officers are to follow in response to resistant or dangerous individuals. To assist officers in carrying out the new policy, I announced new training curricula and requirements for all sworn officers, and began providing officers with new, less-than-lethal weaponry. Finally, our department set in motion various changes designed to make our investigation of use-of-force situations more effective and expeditious.

These reforms represent important and necessary steps in raising the quality of our use-of-force policies, practices and procedures. But even with these critical changes, I still do not have full confidence that our department currently possesses the resources needed to address these complex and difficult issues to the exacting standards that I expect and which the community demands. Therefore, I am requesting the assistance of the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, in examining the following issues:

  • The Metropolitan Police Department’s policies, practices and procedures concerning the use of force, in both lethal and non-lethal situations. This would include a review of our recently issued use-of-force policy and the training and supervisory oversight that have accompanied that policy.
  • The methods, tools and practices the department currently uses to investigate use-of-force cases.
  • The department’s current methods, tools and practices for keeping records on use-of-force incidents. This would include a review of our current procedures for monitoring officers involved in deadly force situations.
  • The department’s current disciplinary process as it applies to use-of-force cases. I am particularly interested in how our internal investigation and disciplinary process currently interfaces with the work of the US Attorney’s Office.

Additionally, I am requesting the Civil Rights Division to look into all instances over the last 10 years in which Metropolitan Police officers used deadly force, and to assess the quality of the investigations of these cases, both individually and collectively.

Like police departments everywhere, the Metropolitan Police Department relies on the trust and cooperation of the community in carrying out our mission. For the public to have trust in their police department, they must have confidence in our ability to use force appropriately and to investigate use-of-force cases thoroughly. With the assistance of the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, I am confident that the Metropolitan Police Department can meet the high standards that the community has a right to expect from us.

Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police