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Public Safety Services for District Residents

Wednesday, July 10, 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 Committee on the Judiciary, the Honorable Kathy Patterson, Chair, Council of the District of Columbia on July 10, 2002.

Madame Chair, members of the Committee and guests - thank you for the opportunity to participate in today's public oversight hearing. I realize that Committee members have numerous topics of interest, and I have several MPD staff with me today to assist in answering your questions. I do want to present the following opening statement that covers some of the highlights of recent MPD reforms and challenges in providing public safety services. As usual, the text of my prepared remarks is available on the Police Department's website -

PSA Model
Today's hearing falls, almost to the day, on the five-year anniversary of the District's adoption of the Police Service Area (or PSA) model for implementing community policing. Five years later, I believe, the PSA concept remains sound, and I am committed to maintaining - and continuously improving - the model. The PSAs are the backbone of our "Policing for Prevention" strategy. They support the efficient delivery of police services, and enable the types of community-based partnerships and problem-solving collaborations that are essential to neighborhood safety.

Our Department continues to evaluate the PSA model, and we are planning some modifications. But the bottom line is that crime in the District of Columbia has declined - and declined dramatically - since the adoption of the PSA model in 1997. There are certainly myriad factors that have affected crime rates during this period, but one cannot discount the impact of community policing on lowering crime in DC. And whereas other cities and the nation as a whole have seen an "up-tick" in crime over the last 18 months or so, the District continues to buck the national trend, having experienced a slight drop in overall crime. This trend, I believe, is further evidence of the resiliency and the effectiveness of our Policing for Prevention strategy and the PSA model.

As requested by this Committee, we have conducted an analysis of the PSA model, with a particular emphasis on staffing and boundaries. Based on our preliminary analysis, I do plan to reconfigure the 83 existing PSAs, in an effort to optimize our resources and better support community policing. Some PSAs will be split; others will get larger or be consolidated. The overall result will be to reduce the total number of PSAs and to better align those PSAs with natural neighborhood boundaries.

In terms of resources, overall police officer staffing will remain at current and projected levels. There will be no reduction in officers assigned to the PSAs as a result of this reconfiguration. Because the overall number of PSAs will be smaller, we will free up additional lieutenants for other supervisory and management responsibilities within the Department, and we will increase the number of officers assigned to the average PSA. Our Office of Organizational Development is finalizing both the PSA configuration plan and the underlying analysis. We will share this information with the Committee once it has been completed. We also plan a series of community meetings later this year to get public reaction and input on the plan.

In terms of current PSA staffing, we continue to work at implementing the staffing plan that was provided to the Council earlier this year - but we continue to face challenges in meeting our goals. Our hiring of new officers has been slightly behind schedule, although a recent recruiting campaign in Puerto Rico will dramatically increase the number of bilingual-Spanish officers and boost the overall figure as well. (I will provide more details about Latino recruitment during tomorrow's joint hearing with Councilmember Graham's subcommittee.)

More significantly, we continue to face pressures on the other side of the staffing equation, in terms of attrition. We anticipated that some of older officers would be retiring, which is occurring. But now, we are also experiencing the unexpected attrition of younger officers leaving our Department for the federal Sky Marshals program and other agencies. As the Washington Post and others have reported, this is a challenge facing not just the MPD, but law enforcement agencies throughout our region and across the country, as the federal government seeks to ramp up transportation security and other homeland defense functions. This trend only underscores the need for us to remain competitive - in terms of salary and benefits - with other law enforcement agencies in our region.

Finally, PSA staffing continues to be affected by the number of limited-duty officers on the force. We are making productive use of these officers, primarily by detailing them to the Communications Division and administrative units. But their status as limited duty does take away from PSA staffing.

As a result of the combination of these factors, our PSA staffing is currently 93 officers below where we projected it would be in our staffing plan. Even as we evaluate how to close the gap and get back on track over the next several months, we are taking immediate steps to increase our visibility in the community, especially during the summer months. For example, our Summer Mobile Force program begins operation next week. This is a modified version of the redeployment strategy we had previously implemented. The basic concept is the same: most officers, sergeants and lieutenants whose regular assignments are not in the PSAs will be redeployed to field duty for two one-week periods between now and the middle of October. The result will be 90 to 100 additional sworn personnel on the streets during the busy "power shift," each Tuesday through Saturday.

But rather than being given specific district assignments, as they were in the past, the redeployed officers will be part of the Mobile Force. This will enable us to devote extra resources to those "hot spots" experiencing the most severe crime and disorder problems anywhere in the city. This flexibility will make our response to these problems more concentrated, more strategic and, ultimately, more successful.

Other steps we are taking include continued recruitment of Reserve officers and expanded use of the Reserves. The Reserve Corps was a crucial element of our July 4th staffing plan. They provided valuable assistance at the Downtown and Palisades parades, as well as other assignments. Currently, the MPD has 168 Reserve officers, up from 112 at the start of the current campaign, and we have another 80 Reserves in the application "pipeline."

Our overall state of readiness in the District is further enhanced by the strong cooperation among the various agencies that operate here. July 4th was only the latest in a long line of examples of agencies in our region working together to ensure the safety and security of our city. On a day-to-day basis, that spirit of cooperation is reflected in the formal, cooperative agreements we have established with a half-dozen federal agencies. These agreements extend the jurisdiction of these partner agencies, allowing their officers to take enforcement actions in areas that were off limits in the past.

Of course, increasing our sworn ranks and implementing our PSA staffing plan remain our primary goals. But in the meantime, we are taking these and other creative steps to increase the MPD's visibility and effectiveness in our neighborhoods.

One last point on this topic: staffing and resources for the PSAs are critically important, but so are tactics and strategy. Our Policing for Prevention strategy includes the traditional elements of community policing: focused law enforcement and neighborhood-based partnerships. But our strategy is unique in its emphasis on what we call "systemic prevention," or addressing the underlying causes and conditions that lead to crime. For example, in cooperation with the US Attorney's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, we recently initiated Project Safe Neighborhoods, a coordinated effort to prevent gun crimes by taking weapons off the street. We have also established effective partnerships with the Neighborhood Services Coordinators, the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration and other city agencies in targeting quality-of-life problems in our neighborhoods.

This summer, our Youth and Preventive Services Division has 185 youngsters enrolled in summer day camp and hundreds more will attend Camp Brown. Our Office of Youth Violence Prevention has also organized a number of programs designed to reduce youth crime, with a particular emphasis on high-crime PSAs and communities. These programs include conflict resolution teams, youth intervention teams, a youth court, and various athletic, artistic and skill-building programs.

My point is that when it comes to public safety services for our residents, we need to look beyond traditional enforcement activities and measures, and think creatively about intervention and prevention strategies as well.

Emergency and Non-Emergency Communications
A second area that I know the Committee has questions about is emergency and non-emergency communications. This is an area where we continue to make improvements, but where we also continue to face serious problems.

Recent improvements have included the opening of the new Public Safety Communications Center on McMillan Drive, NW, and the installation of new technology, including a more reliable telephone system and a state-of-the-art computer-aided dispatch system. We have also expanded customer service training and implemented review procedures to ensure calls are being handled efficiently and courteously.

But as you well know from your constituents, a new facility, new technology and better training have failed to solve the problem of calls not being answered in a timely fashion. Community frustration over 9-1-1 calls being put on hold and long wait times for 3-1-1 continues to build. This is an intolerable situation - one that I take very seriously - and we are taking a number of steps to address it.

Part of the problem is that our call volume has grown by nearly 14 percent over last two years, to a record 1.75 million calls for service in 2001. And we are on pace to match or even top that volume this year. But as our workload has increased, our staffing has not kept pace. Call-taking and dispatching remain high-stress, high-turnover jobs, and we continue to have problems recruiting and retaining qualified civilians for these positions. The relief factor in Communications, largely a result of sick leave, is still higher than the Department as a whole - 1.8 versus 1.6 - so we are aggressively targeting sick leave abuse.

We just recently hired a class of civilian call-takers, which should help ease the burden once they complete their training. And I recently detailed 35 limited-duty officers to Communications. We adjusted staffing schedules to more closely match call volumes by time of day and day of week. And we have implemented new procedures to ensure that overflow calls to 9-1-1 go directly to supervisory positions, so that they can be answered more promptly.

In addition, we have staffed our Telephone Reporting Unit and are looking into the possibility of expanding the types of calls that can be handled over the telephone, without requiring a police unit to be dispatched and tying up call-takers and dispatchers. In the near future, we also plan to roll out a system that will allow individuals to report online, through the MPD Web site, many of the same incidents now handled by the TRU. This would eliminate a phone call from the entire process.

To reduce call-answer times and improve service, we need to accomplish two objectives: reduce the number of unnecessary calls coming into our Communications Center, and increase our capacity to handle those calls that do come in. A critical step in improving call management is to segregate our 9-1-1 and 3-1-1 call-takers. Right now, all calls come into the same bank of call-takers. 9-1-1 calls get priority, but if all call-takers are busy, emergency calls can - and do - get put on hold. We also know that some 3-1-1 callers are experiencing such long wait times that they end up hanging up and calling 9-1-1 for a non-emergency. This, of course, just further aggravates the problem.

While segregating 9-1-1 and 3-1-1 call-takers is part of the operational plan for the planned Unified Communications Center, we are not waiting that long to implement this reform. With full staffing in the PSCC, we plan to separate 9-1-1 and 3-1-1 call-takers by the fourth quarter of this calendar year, at the latest. This step will dramatically enhance both answering efficiency and customer service in the short term, and provide a tested model for use in the UCC.

Criminal Investigations
The third area I want to touch upon is criminal investigations. Let me state at the outset that I do not consider a 51 percent homicide clearance rate to be good or acceptable. I know there has been a great deal of discussion in recent weeks over our goal for the current year. I have tried to explain that, given the downward trend in homicide clearance rates here in DC and nationally, we were simply trying to assign a goal that was more realistic than the 65 percent goal we set - and failed to achieve - the two previous years. The bottom line is that it is not the goal that is of paramount importance to me, but rather the performance we deliver throughout the year.

Let me give you the rationale behind what we did. As background, when we initially chose 65 percent, it was not a target based on any empirical foundation. This year, we opted to assign more realistic targets in order to set Council's and the public's expectations more appropriately. To do this, we used benchmarking to guide us. By taking the average of 15 cities larger than 500,000 residents, we were able to set a more meaningful goal. We then stated that would increase the homicide closure rate by 5 percent above the prior year until we met that target. What you see in FY02 represents a 5 percent increase over last year's actual homicide closure rate, which we take as a reasonable step toward our larger, benchmarked goal.

This Committee has been following the criminal investigative process in the MPD very closely, and we have implemented a number of reforms identified by the Committee. For example, we now have a formal, comprehensive and competitive selection process for detectives. Earlier this month, I announced the promotion of 83 new detectives - Grades 1 and 2 - pending their successful completion of training. We also instituted regular training for veteran detectives -both overview courses such as homicide investigations and highly specialized courses such as shot trajectory and anthropological principles. And we have begun ensuring that PD-50 summary workload forms and twice-annual performance evaluations are being completed for detectives.

As you know, I revamped the entire structure of criminal investigations last year, placing all detectives - those in the districts and those in specialized units - under the unified command of the Office of the Superintendent of Detectives. In addition, we formed a centralized Violent Crimes Branch to handle all homicides and serious shootings in the District. Another important organizational change is scheduled to occur during the first quarter of fiscal 2003: our Mobile Crime and Crime Scene Search functions will be merged into one unit. This move is designed to improve efficiency and accountability. Unit commanders are developing a budget for new equipment and other resources that will be needed to support their mission.

I believe our new investigative structure, and the executives and managers who are implementing it, are putting us in a much better position to investigate and solve crimes. In the longer term, we believe that the District's Forensic Laboratory, which the city is actively pursuing additional federal support for, will provide the MPD with the resources to be a world-class criminal investigative organization.

We have also implemented new procedures and technology to support the investigative process. Our new Standard Operating Procedures for homicides has been published, and Violent Crimes supervisors and managers are reviewing cases to ensure the procedures are being followed. The WACIIS system - Washington Area Criminal Information and Intelligence System - has been completely upgraded. In order to maintain their rank as detectives, all personnel are required to be trained in and to use the system. In addition, we have entered more than 4,400 homicide cases into ViCAP - the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program.

Perhaps the biggest technological innovation has been the creation of the Columbo system. Columbo is a "Google-like" search engine that allows investigators and other personnel to search, retrieve and link information from various criminal databases. This information can be invaluable in developing leads, identifying suspects and linking crimes. The system is also used during regular homicide TOPS sessions. TOPS stands for Targeted Organizational Performance System. Several times a month, MPD executives, along with representatives of the US Attorney's Office, meet in our Joint Operations Command Center with detectives and detective supervisors to review the status of open homicide cases. These sessions help to identify some of the missing pieces in individual investigations, and they allow Department executives to see recurring issues in the investigative process that may need additional resources or attention.

These and other reforms notwithstanding, we continue to struggle with our homicide clearance rate. As of today, our 2002 rate stands at approximately 49 percent - roughly the same as our year-end closure rate for 2001. During the 1990s, the homicide clearance rate in DC fluctuated from a high of 70 percent in 1990 and 1997, to a low of about 56 percent in 1995 and 1996. Our true goal is 100 percent - to clear every single case that crosses a detective's desk. However, the reality is quite different.

Unfortunately, when people examine homicide closure statistics in a vacuum, they often assume the worst on the part of the police - sloppiness, incompetence, indifference. I can assure the Committee that our ongoing challenges in closing some homicides are not the result of sloppy or indifferent or incompetent police work. We have assembled a very good and dedicated team of homicide investigators and supervisors, and they are working very hard to close these cases. In many instances, our detectives have developed suspects - solid suspects - but they lack corroborating information from the community that would allow us to obtain arrest warrants. The lack of community cooperation - oftentimes cooperation from victims themselves - continues to be one of our biggest impediments to solving more homicides. The shooting earlier this year on Garfield Terrace, in which five people were shot with an AK-47, is a perfect example. Not one of those victims has cooperated with our investigators, and we have received scant information from other witnesses either.

The root of this problem may be fear or intimidation, indifference, lack of confidence in the police, the desire to take matters "into their own hands" or a combination of the above. Whatever the cause, this is a very serious problem that we need your help in overcoming. Our Department has offered substantial rewards - $10,000 dollars in homicide cases - and we have worked to improve our witness protection and victim assistance programs. But these efforts have not resulted in a marked improvement in community cooperation in many of these cases.

Our Department will continue these and other efforts. For example, we continue to look for ways to permanently staff a family liaison function that would assist victims and the survivors of homicide. Proposed grant funding for these positions was not approved, so we are using existing internal resources to fill this need on a temporary basis. We understand that the city will shortly be receiving a permanent funding stream for victim services, and we believe the MPD will benefit from that in providing enhanced services to victims. Still, we will need the advocacy and support of our Council members and other city leaders in encouraging people to report crime, to cooperate with the police and to help us put more of these murderers where they belong - in jail.

Other Issues
While I don't intend to go into detail on them, our Department continues to move forward on a number of other important areas that impact public safety services.

  • Last month, we announced the Biased Policing Project - a comprehensive examination of any sources of bias within the MPD and how they may affect our service to the community. This project will eventually lead to the development of a sophisticated data collection and analysis system for measuring police-community contacts.

  • Despite some early stumbles with missed deadlines, we are now on track with implementation of the historic Memorandum of Agreement with the US Department of Justice on use-of-force issues. We are moving ahead with new policies, procedures, training and community outreach efforts, many of which began long before the MOA was signed.
  • Our Police Training and Standards Board continues to make progress on a number of fronts, including the development of a comprehensive new set of rules and regulations governing training.
  • Our Department continues to work with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies - CALEA - in meeting its strict accreditation standards. We remain on track for being accredited by the fall of 2003.
  • Our infrastructure improvement program continues, with the planned opening of two important new facilities later this year: the 4D-1 substation on Park Road, NW, and the new ROC-North headquarters at the former Petworth Elementary School, also in Northwest.

As you know, our Department has six strategic goals for this year and a number of performance measures for meeting those goals. While most of the initiatives and programs we are discussing today fall within those goals and performance measures, our Department is doing a lot more that extends beyond these parameters. Why? Because unexpected circumstances come up, and we need to be flexible in responding to them.

I can assure the Committee that we are working extremely hard to meet and exceed our goals and to perform with quality and excellence in everything we do. Our overriding goal is to provide the people of the District of Columbia with the best police service possible. I will be the first to acknowledge that we are not there yet. But I will also be the first to defend our commitment, our effort and our progress.

Thank you again. I would be happy to take your questions.