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Public Hearing on Lateral Senior Detectives Act of 2003 and Senior Detectives Act of 2003

Tuesday, March 11, 2003
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 Committee on the Judiciary, the Honorable Kathy Patterson, Chair, Council of the District of Columbia on March 11, 2003.

Chairperson Patterson, other members of the Committee and Council, staff and guests – good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to present this opening statement in support of the proposed legislation before the Committee today. (By the way, my statement is posted on the Police Department’s website, I want to thank Council Chair Cropp for bringing to the Council the important pieces of legislation we are discussing today, and I want to thank the Committee Chair for your holding this hearing.

The goals behind both the Senior Detectives Act and the Lateral Senior Detectives Act are straightforward: first, to improve our Department’s ability to investigate and close homicides and other violent and serious crimes in the District of Columbia; second, to bring a measure of justice to the victims and survivors of these crimes; and third, to make our neighborhoods safer by taking more criminals off the street. Mayor Williams has identified public safety as one of the District’s top three priorities, along with education and opportunity for all. The proposed legislation would help our Department achieve these public safety goals through new detective hiring programs that will be flexible, innovative and, I believe, effective.

As I have testified in recent hearings, the Metropolitan Police Department – with the oversight and support of this Committee – has made important progress in reforming our criminal investigative process. To cite just a few examples … we established a formal promotional process for detectives. We dramatically upgraded training for both newly promoted and experienced detectives. Just two weeks ago, for example, we concluded a rigorous homicide investigations course attended by current members of the Violent Crimes Branch, as well as other MPD detectives who will now be qualified to transition into the VCB when there are future vacancies for homicide detectives. And to illustrate just how far we have come with our training, two other agencies – the Prince George’s County Police Department and the US Park Police – sent detectives to our training. In addition to promotions and training, we have also enhanced the leadership in our Office of the Superintendent of Detectives, and we have increased accountability through our Targeted Organizational Performance Sessions (or TOPS) and our Daily Crime Briefings.

Most importantly, we have begun to see performance improvements, including a five percentage-point increase in our homicide clearance rate last year – from just under 50 percent in 2001 to 55 percent in 2002. Our ability to close homicides and other crimes is still not where it should be, and there is plenty of room for improvement in how we conduct and manage criminal investigations. But I believe we are moving in the right direction. These two pieces of legislation are important components of our ongoing reform efforts in this area.

If enacted, the Senior Detectives Act and the Lateral Senior Detectives Act would provide both immediate and long-term benefits for our Department. In the short term, we would certainly benefit from a resurgence of valuable experience within our detective ranks. Over the last several years, our Department has lost a number of veteran detectives to retirement. As a result, we lost a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge, time-tested skills and investigative acumen. The Senior Detectives Act would help us to recapture those elements by allowing us to hire back some of our most effective detectives who have retired, without their having to forfeit their retirement benefits. These detectives’ knowledge of the Department, the city, our crime problems and past investigative practices – both what worked and what didn’t work – would be a tremendous boost to our investigative efforts.

The proposed Lateral Detectives initiative not only would boost the law enforcement and investigative experience within our agency; it would also have the added benefit of bringing some new ideas and fresh perspectives to our investigative ranks. This has been a critically important outcome of the Lateral Officer program, which the Mayor and the Council have supported so strongly. Over the last few years, the Lateral Officer program has helped to increase not just the number of police officers in our ranks, but also the overall quality of our Department through the addition of new perspectives and skills. Just two weeks ago, I swore in 41 new lateral hires, including 26 experienced, bilingual officers from Puerto Rico – the largest infusion of bilingual talent in many, many years. I have no doubt that a Lateral Detectives program would have a significant impact on quality within our investigative ranks as well.

I want to make sure that my statements in support of these programs are not misconstrued. I know that the MPD has some of the most knowledgeable and effective investigators in the business. In proposing these new programs, we are in no way disrespecting their talents or discounting their contributions, which continue to be significant. But I also know that we can still learn a lot from experienced detectives from our own and other agencies – detectives who may have learned to tackle investigative problems in new and innovative ways. By combining our existing, very talented group of detectives with a small pool of experienced investigators, we have a unique opportunity to create some real synergy and momentum.

Recruiting candidates for the Lateral Senior Detectives program should not be a problem. Our Lateral Officer program has attracted a large number of experienced officers from agencies throughout our region and across the country. I am confident that our Department will be able to attract a similarly strong pool of talented detectives interested in joining our agency. In recent years, the MPD has developed a national – even international – reputation for excellence, opportunity and a bit of excitement. I believe that we will have no trouble finding qualified candidates interested in coming to DC to help us investigate and solve crimes.

So, one immediate result of both of these proposed programs should be an enhanced ability to solve crimes through a more experienced, knowledgeable and diverse cadre of detectives. The long-term benefits of these two programs are equally important. Senior and Lateral Senior Detectives could serve as trainers, mentors and coaches for our newer and less experienced investigators. They could help ensure that many of the time-honored investigative tools and techniques that have served our Department, as well as other departments over the years, will be maintained and institutionalized within the MPD. In short, the experienced detectives we would hire under these programs would help to ensure continuity and consistency over time, as the torch is passed from one generation of investigators to the next. This, I believe, will help us achieve – and maintain – a level of excellence within our criminal investigations over the long term.

I should point out that both Senior and Lateral Senior Detectives would work primarily in field assignments, investigating active cases or, in some cases, investigating gangs, drug trafficking organizations or other organized criminal groups in which the detectives may have expertise. One immediate benefit of these programs would be to expand the pool of “lead detectives” available to head up the investigations of our most serious crimes.

In addition to conducting field investigations, these experienced detectives would also be valuable assets in our expanded case review function. As you know, we recently contracted with several retired detectives from the MPD, as well as Baltimore, to complete the comprehensive, 10-year review of homicide cases in the District. While I do not anticipate the need for such a massive project in the near future, it would clearly be beneficial to have additional experienced detectives on staff to help review open cases for solvability factors and to ensure that leads are being pursued, as well as to assist in our ongoing Homicide TOPS sessions. Finally, these experienced detectives could serve a critical training function, as our Department continues to expand and upgrade its curriculum for investigators.

In closing, I want to emphasize that these two proposed programs are not in any way intended to deny promotional opportunities to our current members. As I pointed out earlier, we recently established a formal testing and promotional process for the ranks of detectives. I am fully committed to respecting and continuing that process. There is tremendous benefit to our Department, and to the community, when we groom and promote members from within our ranks. And the vast majority of our detectives will always be “home-grown.” But I believe these detectives individually, and our investigative function as a whole, will be stronger, more diverse and, ultimately, more effective if we complement our existing ranks with Senior and Lateral Senior Detectives hired under these proposed programs.

I thank you again for the opportunity to present this statement. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.