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Joint Public Oversight Hearing on District of Columbia Preparedness

Friday, October 5, 2001
Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Chief of Police Charles H. Ramsey delivered the following remarks to various committees in the Council of the District of Columbia. The hearing was held October 5, 2001.

Members of the Council, staff and guests ... thank you for the opportunity to present this brief statement concerning the Metropolitan Police Department's response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th and our readiness for future incidents of this type. For your information - and the benefit of our viewing audience on Channel 13 - my testimony is available on the Police Department's Website:

I come to today's hearing with some fresh insights into the events of September 11th - and really a renewed sense of urgency to ensure the Metropolitan Police Department is ready and able to tackle the challenges that may lie ahead. Earlier this week, I - along with Deputy Mayor Margret Kellems and members of my Command Staff - traveled to New York City to tour "ground zero" in lower Manhattan. We wanted to see first-hand the extent of the damages and the nature of the recovery operation - both of which are almost indescribable. Command members and I took a similar tour of the Pentagon attack site last month. Both sites are sober reminders of the threats we continue to face - especially here in the Nation's Capital - and the need to be prepared.

We also wanted to talk face-to-face with officials from the New York City Police Department and other public safety agencies who have been involved with - and so deeply affected by - this national tragedy. Their stories of individual courage and organizational resolve are not only moving, but very instructive to our efforts here in the District.

One theme we heard over and over again in New York was that when the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred, the Police Department and other public safety agencies did not have the luxury of waiting to consult their emergency operations plans. First and foremost, they did what police officers and firefighters and emergency medical personnel do in any incident approaching this magnitude: they rushed headlong into danger. And in doing so, they saved countless lives, even as many of their own did not survive.

The New York City officials were not suggesting - nor am I - that emergency planning is not important. Planning and preparation are critical. September 11th was a wake-up call not only to government agencies, but also to legislators, community organizations and individuals that all of us must be better prepared to deal with the unexpected - indeed, the unfathomable - in the post-"Nine-Eleven" world.

What the New York officials and I are saying is that major incidents such as these seldom, if ever, "go by the book." And for terrorist attacks specifically, the book hasn't even been written in most cases. Our response to such events can never be totally anticipated or carefully scripted. To a large extent, the nature of our immediate response will be dictated by the events themselves, and there will always need to be a great deal of improvisation. As we move forward on developing plans and enhancing our readiness, I think it is important for the Council and the community to understand that ingenuity and spur-of-the-moment action will forever be a part of the equation.

I know a lot has been written and said about the District's performance on September 11th - and the MPD's performance specifically. Some of our Department's preparations and actions have been questioned. In fact, some actions we never even took have been questioned. And that is fine. As we look to continuously improve on our service to the community, we welcome such scrutiny.

But as I look back on the truly unprecedented events of September 11th, I - for one - am very, very proud of how the members and leaders of the Metropolitan Police Department responded. Our members displayed much the same type of determination and agility … bravery and creativity … that were so evident in New York City and northern Virginia.

  • On the morning of September 11th, our Department quickly recalled all officers and essential civilian personnel, cancelled their days off, and put all of our sworn members in uniform, on 12-hour shifts. Our immediate priority was to ensure that we had all of our personnel resources available and ready to deal with any threats or attacks on DC, while also continuing to patrol our neighborhoods. We met that priority quickly and effectively, I believe.

  • We got our newly upgraded Joint Command and Control Center up and running immediately after the second World Trade Center attack. In fact, it was already operational - with both MPD members and personnel from other critical law enforcement agencies - before the hijacked plane struck the Pentagon. Having this joint Command Center from the earliest moments following the attacks allowed us to access, filter, verify and disseminate critical law enforcement information in the very hectic and confusing moments as these events were unfolding.
  • We put officers at critical intersections throughout the city - both to enhance our visibility and to help direct traffic to the extent possible. I think we all recognize the Herculean task the District faced in trying to get that many people out of the city at one time. That we did so, in a safe and mostly orderly manner, is a testament to our police officers and other traffic safety personnel.
  • Our Department sent resources to assist with the Pentagon rescue and recovery efforts - mobile crime officers, search and rescue dogs, and some of our CDU platoons. These members worked long hours, under very grueling conditions, to assist the FBI and local law enforcement authorities. I am very pleased that the Council, under the leadership of Councilmember Catania and others, chose to recognize these and other public safety heroes earlier this week with ceremonial resolutions.
  • We made a similar offer to send personnel to New York, but officials there declined, feeling they had enough people. I did dispatch an intelligence team to New York to collect information and report back to our Intelligence Section.
  • And we continue to assist with the protection of critical federal and local installations here in the District.
  • That our Department carried out these and other missions - while continuing to provide basic policing services in our neighborhoods - is an illustration of our commitment and professionalism.

Of course, our response to the events and aftermath of September 11th has impacted the resources we have been able to devote to community policing and other field operations. In times like these, providing additional personnel for dignitary protection and other security operations is part of our Department' s unique responsibility of policing the Nation's Capital. Unfortunately, under our current staffing and deployment strategies, these additional personnel who staff our CDU units must be pulled from their regular assignments on our PSAs and other field units.

As we plan for the future, our challenge will be to respond to crises and provide adequate staffing levels for our PSAs and other units. To accomplish these dual goals will require some degree of reorganization, such as permanently assigning more officers to our Special Operations Division and more effectively spreading out CDU members across watches and PSAs. Our current staffing strategies simply did not anticipate the type of large-scale and consistent response that may be needed in the future. So we need to find the additional resources, and organize and deploy them in the most efficient manner, so that our PSAs are not impacted as they have been in recent weeks.

One thing our trip to New York did reinforce is the need to have comprehensive, well-thought-out plans to support not only the initial responders, but also the entire range of individuals touched by events such as these: the victims, their families, the other agencies that take part in the rescue and recovery efforts, neighbors, school-children … the list goes on. In other words, I think our plans need to build the type of support network that will enhance the safety and effectiveness of the initial responders, while creating a broad safety net for those who come in behind us.

For the MPD, there are a few critical areas we are focusing on, as we work to update and improve our emergency response plans.

  • Equipment is certainly critical, especially given the potential threat posed by biological or chemical attack. Like police departments in major cities across the country, we are now looking to upgrade the clothing, masks and other protective gear we issue to our officers - particularly those in specialized assignments that would be among the first responders to these types of critical incidents. As we continue this process, I think we need to look to the military and other parts of the federal government for standards and other guidance.

  • Training is another critical area. In fiscal 2000, we provided all sworn members of the MPD with a basic, four-hour training on weapons of mass destruction, as part of their regular in-service training. But we need to do much more. So we are now in the process of putting together a three-year training plan that will build on the basic "awareness" course with more specifics on how to handle "bio-chem" and related events.
  • The World Trade Center attacks demonstrated the importance of communications - both primary and backup - in events such as these. New York, like most cities, relies on a single vendor for its telephone service - in this case, Verizon. When Verizon's main switching station in lower Manhattan was rendered inoperable, telephone communications for the Police Department broke down. We need to be looking at backup providers - and backup procedures - to help us operate when the primary provider goes out.
  • I mentioned traffic earlier. Our Department is working closely with the District Division of Transportation to first develop an evacuation plan for the District. Then, we will be going to neighboring jurisdictions to ensure that our plans are coordinated with theirs. This is a regional issue, and we must deal with it in a comprehensive, regional manner.

These and other changes are being incorporated into a new General Order that updates and improves our basic Emergency Response Plan. This order establishes different levels of emergency situations, and includes a matrix of decisions and activities that will occur within each level. We are also in the process of developing more detailed Standard Operating Procedures for major operational and support units. These SOPs will put the overall plan into action.

As I mentioned earlier, this type of planning is important, and the MPD is working hard to ensure our plans are comprehensive, creative and meaningful. At the same time, I don't want members of our Department or members of the community to be lulled into a false sense of security, just because there is a new and improved plan.

There are no "rules" for the type of heartless attacks that occurred on September 11th. And because of that, there can be no hard-and-fast "rules" for how police officers and other first responders will react. Responding to the threats we face today will necessarily entail a great deal of quick-thinking, ingenuity and improvisation on our part. Our emergency response plans will play an important role in ensuring that we can respond as safely and effectively as possible - and that our officers will have all of the support mechanisms in place to carry out our unique and heroic responsibilities to the community. Thank you very much.