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Hearing on Crisis Response

Tuesday, March 5, 2002
Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police
Metropolitan Police Department

Chief Charles H. Ramsey delivered the following statement to the US House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services Military Procurement Subcommittee, the Honorable Curt Weldon, Chairman. The hearing was held March 5, 2002.

Mister Chairman, members of the Subcommittee, staff, and guests: I appreciate the opportunity to present the testimony on the needs of our "first responders" - in particular, our police officers - to incidents of domestic terrorism. I applaud the Subcommittee for its leadership on this issue, and I thank you for reaching out to local officials such as myself, to hear directly about our requirements and our perspective in this critical area.

While the themes of my testimony certainly apply to cities and communities throughout the country, I do want the Subcommittee to recognize that the District of Columbia faces truly unique challenges when it comes to domestic terrorism. As the nation's capital, our city is not only a primary potential target of those who would wage war against our nation; our city is also impacted any time there is a serious terrorism threat to Americans anywhere. Mayor Williams recognizes the unique roles and responsibilities we have in protecting our nation's capital in this new and uncertain environment, and he continues to show strong leadership and support of our law enforcement and emergency preparedness efforts. The Metropolitan Police Department is working very hard to meet our unique responsibilities, in close cooperation with our federal partners, and we certainly appreciate the strong budgetary support we continue to receive from Congress and the Bush Administration.

When it comes to first responders, the area of anti-terrorism equipment is of critical importance. In the event of a release of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) agent, it is the local police and fire departments that would provide the initial response in almost every instance. Federal agencies would respond as well, and depending upon the nature of the incident, very well may take over lead responsibility. But local police officers would play key roles in managing the crime scene, coordinating any immediate evacuations and, later, in the rescue and recovery phase. The need for specialized equipment and training is critical to the safety of the public and our officers.

In a chemically contaminated environment, protection of the officer's respiratory system is the first priority. Most chemical and biological contaminants must be respirated into the body to be dangerous. However, protection of the skin must also be considered.

In the area of personal protection equipment, both negative pressure respiratory protection - that is, gas masks - and positive pressure - self-contained breathing apparatus - are essential. Chemical-resistant clothing, including boots and gloves, are also a necessity. So is a whole range of decontamination equipment, including specialized sprayers and chemicals needed for immediate decontamination, as well as containment and storage devices to prevent run-off and further contamination.

Other equipment needs include explosive mitigation devices, including bomb suits and containment vessels; chemical and biological threat detection equipment, to accurately sample and monitor the environment; and specialized vehicles for transporting personnel and equipment into and through contaminated areas.
Six months ago, for most police departments, this type of equipment was something you read in science fiction or saw on the Discovery Channel. Today, especially in major cities such as Washington, DC, they are necessities that we dare not ignore. That is why, in addition to the equipment itself, it is critical that local law enforcement have access to testing, standards and evaluation information in this area. Over the years, police departments have developed a great deal of expertise in determining what makes a good 9 mm. service weapon or pair of handcuffs. But local law enforcement lacks the baseline knowledge and expertise to always recognize quality bioterrorism clothing and equipment. Yet, collectively we will be buying literally millions of dollars worth of this type of equipment in the coming months and years. We desperately need the federal government's assistance in setting standards, evaluating equipment and sharing that information with local law enforcement.

Similarly, local law enforcement is now scrambling to develop internally, or procure externally, training programs in a variety of topics related to terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, intelligence and the like. These courses are needed not only by our specialized response technicians, but also by all officers who may be called upon to respond to a terrorist incident. In large departments such as ours, training represents a monumental undertaking. Our ability to adequately train our officers, and to respond effectively to terrorist acts, would be vastly enhanced by two things: first, the development of training standards, and second, the availability of leading-edge courses and curricula. Again, local law enforcement is looking to the federal government for leadership and resources in the area of training as well. Its importance cannot be understated.

With respect to policies and procedures, the District of Columbia has taken a leadership role in integrating the law enforcement function into our city's larger emergency planning efforts. When the District began re-examining emergency preparedness in the aftermath of September 11th, we discovered that the existing Mayor Williams plan, upon which our efforts were originally based, did not include a support function specifically for law enforcement. We added that function, and I had the privilege of chairing the working group that developed our action plan.

The key policies and procedures we examined included personnel recall and staffing, radio communications, security around government buildings, emergency traffic plans, the deployment of equipment, and the activation of mutual aid agreements and other resources such as the National Guard. We also developed a new law enforcement operational response plan that specifies different levels of response to different conditions. And we have trained our managers and line personnel in carrying out the response plan at each level.

Finally, the area of interoperability and coordination - among local, regional and federal entities - has taken on added importance in the post-9/11 environment. This was a lesson we had learned in the Washington area long before the cowardly attacks of September 11th. Our Department enjoys a long history of communication, coordination and cooperation with federal and other local public safety agencies in our region. This ethic of cooperation was invaluable on September 11th, and has continued to be essential in the weeks and months that have followed.

One critical need we recognized - and have met - is the creation of a joint command center for various public safety agencies to come together, and plan and direct activities. The Joint Operations Command Center we created at MPD headquarters is truly a state-of-the-art facility that can accommodate all of the critical law enforcement agencies in our city and region. The center - and the technology behind it - are helping to improve information collection, sharing, analysis and dissemination during major events or periods of heightened alert. For example, one key development we are implementing is radio communications interoperability - a system that will allow different agencies in our area, using different radio frequencies and systems, to easily communicate with one another, using our Command Center as the hub.

In recent weeks, the use of video surveillance technology in the Joint Operations Command Center has received a great deal of attention. But video is only one aspect of our Command Center. Far more significant, I believe, is the fact that the center brings together, in one facility, people from different public safety agencies, with different perspectives and different resources at their disposal. As a result, we can jointly assess information in real time, and quickly develop strategies and tactics for both first responders and follow-up personnel. I am very proud of our Joint Operations Command Center, which has dramatically improved our region's capacity to respond to any future terrorist attacks. And I believe our center can serve as a model for promoting interoperability, cooperation and coordination in other urban areas as well.

I thank you again for the opportunity to present testimony today. I know I speak for my fellow police executives in saying that local law enforcement recognizes - and we fully accept - the unique responsibilities we have in preparing for and, if need be, in responding to any future acts of terrorism on our soil. To be effective, law enforcement needs not only new equipment, training and technology, but also the technical standards and evaluation information to help us make wise and prudent decisions. Finally, we need to maintain and strengthen the spirit of communication, cooperation and, above all, trust that have served us so well over the last few months. Thank you.