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Public Hearing on the Metropolitan Police Department Management Reform Act of 1998

Friday, November 20, 1998
Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Chief Charles H. Ramsey
Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, DC

Chairman Evans, members of the Committee and members of the community, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. My purpose this morning is twofold: first, to express my support for the overall goals of Bill 12-816, the "Metropolitan Police Department Management Reform Act of 1998"; and second, to propose specific recommendations in select areas where I believe the legislation can be improved.

The Management Reform Act of 1998 is the result of an intensive, unprecedented examination of the Metropolitan Police Department by this Council and by Special Counsel Mark Tuohey and his staff. Our Department cooperated fully with the Special Counsel, providing complete access to records and information, personnel and Department operations. I, for one, welcome such scrutiny from our elected representatives, from the news media, from the research community, from the community at large. I welcome scrutiny, because with scrutiny comes accountability. And, as you know, accountability is the cornerstone of my plan for rebuilding the MPDC.

The Special Counsel's examination, like this week's series in the Washington Post, represents a thorough examination of the past. That is important, because understanding the past is critical to preparing for the future. And my focus, since becoming chief nearly seven months ago, has been decidedly on the future—on rebuilding the Metropolitan Police Department, on restoring the faith and trust of the community, on reducing crime and revitalizing neighborhoods. In the past seven months, our Department has made significant progress in these areas:

  • We have set in motion a reorganization plan that will cut bureaucracy and put more resources in the community.
  • We have supplied our officers with badly needed equipment, including cars, radios, computers and less-than-lethal technology.
  • We have issued new policies in areas such as use of force, and we have strengthened our enforcement of existing policies—ensuring, for example, that all of our officers are completing their semi-annual firearms qualification, which they are.
  • We have intensified our recruitment efforts, and improved our background investigations.
  • We have begun to revamp our entire training function, with an expanded focus on training for recruits, veteran officers, Department managers and the community.
  • We have aggressively addressed a number of blatant crime and quality-of-life problems, including prostitution, environmental crimes and open-air drug markets.
  • And we have opened up new lines of communication with the community—through town hall meetings, the mainstream news media, cable television and, most recently, with the Department's new Web site.

With the support of this Council and the communities you represent, we have made significant progress over the last seven months. As importantly, we have laid a solid foundation for the future. The Management Reform Act of 1998 lays out a vision of the future that all of us can agree upon. That vision includes:

  • A police department that is diverse, educated, energetic and ethical.
  • A police department that is well trained at the beginning of their careers—and remains well trained throughout their careers.
  • A police department that is effectively supervised and held accountable all the way up the chain of command—from the PSA officer to the chief of police.
  • A police department whose members are focused on the mission at hand—and not distracted by the requirements of other employers.
  • A police department that is working with the community to solve problems and make Washington, DC, the safest major city in America.

I think we can all agree that these are important goals for the future of the Metropolitan Police Department. The question, then, is, "how do we get there?"

With the Management Reform Act of 1998, the Council has proposed an approach that relies largely on enacting new laws to attain this vision of the future. In many instances, this legislative approach is beneficial and appropriate. You have identified several key areas that are in need of reform. Indeed, in the areas of enhancing educational standards for recruits, regulating off-duty employment more stringently, and ensuring that seized currency is deposited in interest-bearing accounts, this legislation codifies many important,common-sense reforms that I have already proposed or initiated. These provisions of the Management Reform Act set the broad policy direction for the Department, and then provide me (as well as future chiefs) with the executive latitude and discretion needed to effectively implement the intent of the legislation.

In other areas, however—particularly in the whole area of application, appointment and training—the proposed legislation goes well beyond setting policy and providing direction to the Department. In many cases, the legislation mandates very specific points of implementation—details which I believe are best left to the Department and its leadership to determine, following rigorous standards and practices. The proposals on training are a prime example of this tendency to "over-legislate" our operations. The bill, as currently written, would mandate under law the number of hours of recruit and in-service training the Department must provide, the specific courses to be taught, and the exact qualifications of instructors, among other requirements.

I believe very strongly, as you do, that all recruits should receive a rigorous, challenging and comprehensive course of training before they become police officers. And once they are officers, that same caliber of training should continue throughout their careers. But I do not believe that the length and content of training, and the qualifications of instructors, are things that should be codified into law. Doing so would limit the Department's ability to effectively manage the training function. It would hinder our ability to remain flexible and current in our training, by locking us into legislatively mandated standards and curricula. Furthermore, it would require the Department to come back to this body each and every time we needed to change our training, to keep up with new ideas and changing conditions or circumstances.

The overall intent of this portion of the bill is sound. What I am proposing today is an alternative that would retain your legislative intent, while providing the Department with the professional guidance and flexibility we need to effectively manage police training. With my testimony this morning, I have submitted for your consideration proposed legislation that would create the District of Columbia Police Training and Standards Board. This board would include police, community and governmental representatives. It would be responsible for:

  • Establishing the requirements for employment of police officers in the Metropolitan Police Department.
  • Setting the requirements and standards for recruit, in-service and firearms training.
  • Prescribing minimum qualifications for instructors.
  • Certifying police officers as having completed all the requirements established by the board to be eligible for employment as police officers in our Department.

In short, the Police Training and Standards Board would provide valuable insight and expertise into how we should provide training in the MPDC. It would also provide independent oversight of how we are doing our job. This model is currently used—and used effectively—in almost every state in the nation, through their POST agencies or similar training boards. A training and standards board in the District of Columbia would allow us to learn from the best practices of these other jurisdictions, while providing the flexibility to ensure our selection and training processes are kept current and meet our unique needs. I appreciate your favorable consideration of this alternative proposal.

One of the other responsibilities of the proposed training and standards board would be to establish standards for accepting previous training and law enforcement experience from police officers in other jurisdictions seeking employment with the MPDC. In the near future, I hope to make employment opportunities above the entry level available to qualified, experienced candidates from other agencies. Legislation establishing such a lateral-entry program will be submitted for your consideration in the near future. Since becoming chief, I have received numerous inquiries from officers in neighboring departments about the possibility of joining the MPDC at an experienced level or rank. This is in stark contrast to our past experience, when the MPDC was always a fertile recruiting ground for other agencies. Lateral entries would help our Department add sworn personnel quickly and relatively inexpensively, while providing us with valuable experience and know-how. I look forward to coming back before this Committee to discuss this proposal in greater detail.

Also with my testimony this morning, I have submitted a detailed, section-by-section analysis of the Management Reform Act, along with some specific recommendations for change. I will not go over these recommendations in their entirety, but I do want to highlight a few of the more significant changes we seek:

  • I recommend deleting the provision that would require candidates who decline a job offer from the MPD to reimburse the Department for the cost of the background check. None of the surrounding jurisdictions has such a provision, and I fear it would add one more obstacle in our ability to compete with these other agencies in recruiting quality candidates. As an alternative, I would support the concept of requiring officers who complete training to commit to a certain tenure before they can leave the Department, or face a reimbursement for training expenses.
  • I recommend eliminating any maximum age for hires at this time. This provision may have a negative impact on the lateral-entry program I hope to initiate.
  • I recommend that candidates be disqualified for prior termination from any police department, not just the MPDC. And I recommend that the language of the bill be strengthened to specifically authorize the chief to inspect the juvenile records of all applicants.
  • I recommend extending the probationary period to include 18 months of full operational duty, above and beyond the time personnel spend in the Academy or on extended leave during their initial field experience. This extended probationary period would provide the Department with a demonstrated track record of whether an individual can perform the unique and demanding functions of a police officer.
  • Finally, in the regulation of off-duty employment, I have two areas of concern. First, the definition of an ABC establishment would include businesses such as hotels and convention centers which have ABC licenses, but whose primary source of income is not from the sale of alcoholic beverages. I have no problem with our officers working off-duty in such establishments. Second, the legislation raises the possibility of the Police Department assuming day-to-day oversight and management of the off-duty employment of our personnel—up to and including, negotiating wages and working conditions. A similar program in Boston has turned into a bureaucratic morass, requiring more than three dozen full-time employees to manage. A similar program here would only take personnel away from community policing, crime fighting and other, more critical needs of the Department. I would like to work with the Committee on developing alternatives in these two areas.

Let me conclude this morning by re-stating my support for the goals of this legislation and the Council scrutiny that preceded it. We may have some differences of opinion on the best means for achieving these goals. But we are in complete agreement, I believe, that by implementing these and other reforms, we can make this the best police department in the nation, serving the safest major city in the country. Thank you very much.