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Statement Before the Council of the District of Columbia, Committee on the Judiciary Oversight Hearing on the Use of Force

Wednesday, January 20, 1999
Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

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

Chairman Brazil and members of the Committee, I first want to thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today, and to congratulate you on your assignments to this important Committee. Mr. Chairman, in the last few weeks you have said on numerous occasions that you look forward to working with me and with all the members of the Metropolitan Police Department to improve police services in our city. Let me state for the record that our department—and myself and my staff, in particular—stand ready to work with you and the entire Committee in achieving our common goals of safer streets, stronger neighborhoods and a secure, less fearful citizenry.

Allow me to introduce the other members of the department who have joined me on the panel this afternoon: Executive Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer, and Assistant Chief of the department’s Institute of Police Sciences, Alfred Broadbent. Other members of the department’s Command Staff are in the audience as well.

I think it is appropriate that the first oversight hearing of this newly constituted Committee focus on the issue of police use of force. For police executives and rank-and-file officers alike, there is no issue of greater importance than our responsibilities around the use of force. And there is no issue—other than official corruption, perhaps—that can have a greater and more lasting impact on the public’s trust and confidence in the police than this one. The public has entrusted the police to carry weapons and to use force—up to and including deadly force, when necessary—in the performance of our official duties. That is a truly awesome responsibility that all police officers share. It is a responsibility that none of us takes lightly, I can assure you.

When it comes to the use of force, I have set very high standards for the Metropolitan Police Department. Fortunately, the vast, vast majority of our officers share my high standards, and live those standards every day while serving and protecting the community. It seldom makes the headlines when one of our officers diffuses a dangerous situation, or apprehends an armed and violent offender, or performs any number of heroic acts without the use of force—even when force may be allowed under law and department policy. But I am here to tell you that these situations happen every week in our city. With all the recent attention paid to police use of force, one basic fact seems to have been all but forgotten: the overwhelming majority of our officers show remarkable professionalism and restraint, often in the face of extraordinary danger.

One need travel no farther than a few blocks from this building, to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, to begin to comprehend the unique dangers faced by police officers everywhere. The situation is no different here in the District of Columbia. Last year, there was an average of almost one assault per day on a Metropolitan Police officer, and we have lost far too many officers killed in the line of duty in recent years. So I am very aware of the environment in which our officers must work. And I am very proud of the courage and professionalism they display.

But the dangers that are inherent to policing in no way relieve this or any other police department from our solemn responsibility to use force prudently. Nor do those dangers lessen in any way our responsibility to investigate thoroughly, accurately and expeditiously those instances in which force is used. When it comes to an issue as critical as this one, our department must be prepared to stand the test of scrutiny from the media, from our elected representatives, from the community.

As Chief, my job is to ensure that our officers have the tools, the training and the investigative support they need to perform their jobs safely, effectively and with the trust and confidence of the community. I take that responsibility very seriously. However, upon coming to the District nine months ago, I discovered that in the past this department did not always provide our officers with these basic necessities concerning use of force. Therefore, one of my top priorities this past year has been to improve the department’s efforts in four key areas: use of force policies, training, technology and investigations. We have made important progress in all four areas.

  • In November, the department issued a new use of force policy that clearly and concisely defines our philosophy and procedures. This new policy establishes the use of force continuum to guide our officers’ actions in those situations where force may be required. And it provides specific guidelines on when deadly force may be used. A copy of this policy has been provided to members of the Committee.

  • In the area of training, we immediately held roll-call training on the new use of force policy, while at the same time we began developing extensive in-service training on firearms safety and less- than-lethal force options. Beginning this year, every sworn member of the department will be required to complete two full days—16 hours a year—of firearms training. That is double the amount of firearms training our officers received in the past. And this training will be expanded to include not only the standard firearms qualification—that is, the ability to shoot accurately at a target. It will also encompass judgment training on when to use force and at what level, along with refresher courses on handling, cleaning and storing firearms.

    During 1998, our department began requiring all sworn members to qualify with their service weapons twice a year. In the past, officers had to qualify only once a year, and even then, this requirement was often not enforced. For 1998, every sworn member qualified during the first half of the year, and all but three members have qualified a second time. We have accounted for those three, which include a Reserve officer who has since had his police powers revoked, an officer who is on leave pending retirement, and an officer who recently went on stress-related leave. I can assure you that as long as I am Chief, we will never again allow our officers to fall behind in their basic firearms qualification.

    One other critical training initiative will begin next month. All sworn members at the rank of lieutenant and below will go through a three-day course on less-than-lethal force options. Those members who have not received training on the ASP retractable batons will stay for an extra day of instruction on its use. Other members of the department—captains and Command Staff members -- will receive less-than-lethal training beginning next year.

  • The department is committed to supporting our new use of force policy with both the training and the tools that our officers need. In recent months, we have begun issuing new OC spray canisters and the retractable batons to our sworn members. Thus far, approximately 2,800 members have been trained in the new OC spray, and 250 have received ASP training. Those numbers will significantly increase over the next year as we continue to focus on less-than-lethal force options.
  • Finally, in the area of investigating use of force incidents, I am initiating a number of significant changes. These changes are designed to improve our ability to monitor the use of force in the department and to investigate incidents quickly and thoroughly. Perhaps the biggest change is that I am making the Office of Professional Responsibility accountable for monitoring and investigating the use of deadly force. In the past, responsibility—and, therefore, accountability—for investigating these incidents were spread among too many different organizational units. The Office of Professional Responsibility will now be issuing tracking numbers for all instances in which members use deadly force, so that these incidents can be investigated and analyzed more effectively.

    We have also begun to put together "shooting teams," known formally as the Force Investigation Team, within the Professional Responsibility office. Once it is fully staffed and trained—probably in the second quarter of this calendar year—the Force Investigation Team will be responsible for ensuring the quality and thoroughness of all deadly force investigations. Just today, leaders of this new unit are meeting with members of the FBI’s Civil Rights Division to open up dialogue with them and to begin developing new protocols and training around our deadly force investigations. The members of this team, which will be led by a captain, bring fresh perspectives and experience to this important task.

That is a quick summary of the recent steps the department initiated to improve our effectiveness in the use of force area. These are important steps, and I think they will result in noticeable improvements. But even as positive as these changes are, it has become increasingly clear to me that our department has, unfortunately, lost much of the trust and confidence of the community concerning our use of force. Some of this may be driven by the extensive media attention being paid to this issue right now. Some of it may be the result of personal experience or the experiences of others. Regardless of its source, the bottom line is that the community’s faith in us has been damaged, and I believe that it cannot be fully repaired without the assistance of an independent third party. That is why I wrote to Deputy US Attorney General Eric Holder on January 6th, requesting the Justice Department’s assistance in examining a broad range of use of force issues within our department. I recognize this is an unusual step—to willingly ask for a federal government investigation. But I believe very strongly that it is a necessary step that will ultimately help restore the public’s trust and confidence in the Metropolitan Police Department’s ability to effectively manage the use of force issue.

Next week, I will be meeting with representatives of the Justice Department to define the parameters of their inquiry. Attorney General Reno and Deputy Holder have been very gracious and energetic in their response to my request. I believe we all share the same goals and vision for what this joint initiative should entail. And I pledge to keep this Committee informed as our plan of action with the Justice Department unfolds.

Today, I want to briefly explain what I will be asking the Justice Department to do, what I will not be asking them to do, and what I think we can anticipate as a result of their involvement. First, I will not be asking the Justice Department to delve into the minute details of each and every officer-involved shooting in recent history. This is not a witch hunt trying to find a police officer who failed to file a certain report or make an obscure notification on a case that happened 10 years ago. If there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the conduct or investigation of any past case, that case will certainly be re-investigated. But my interests are much broader than a retrospective look at past cases. I will be asking the Justice Department to use its unique expertise to evaluate our policies, our training, our record-keeping and monitoring procedures, our investigatory practices. I want them to look at these matters in depth and to provide us with one of two outcomes: either a clean bill of health or specific, concrete recommendations for improvement. Only through such a detailed, independent inquiry can we begin to get off the dime on this issue. My goal is put behind us, once and for all, the constant questioning and second-guessing of our department on this issue, so that we can move forward on the critical areas of community policing and crime reduction.

Beyond the Justice Department inquiry, I see the continued professionalizing of our department as equally critical to restoring the public’s trust and confidence. There are a number of reform proposals which I have presented in the past, and on which I will continue to need the assistance of this Committee. I want to briefly mention four of them:

  • First is the standards for future police recruits, specifically the educational level they will be required to meet. The full Council has already approved emergency legislation mandating the equivalent of two years of college for new recruits hired after October of this year. I would urge this Committee to pass permanent legislation establishing this requirement once and for all. In today’s more complex, technologically driven society, our police department needs to attract officers who possess the unique knowledge, skills and abilities that come from higher education.

    I realize that some controversy has arisen around this proposal since it was first passed by the Council last year. We need to iron out any outstanding issues and move forward. Raising the educational standards for new recruits is, I believe, a critical step to enhancing the quality of our department, as well as bolstering the confidence of the community in our department. One possibility I would like to explore with the Committee is the re-establishment of the Police Cadet program. A Cadet Program would allow the department to attract young people from the District who are truly interested in a career in policing. It would provide them with valuable experience while also allowing them to attend college to meet the enhanced educational requirement. I hope we can pursue this concept at a future hearing.

  • The second area involves the lateral transfer of experienced police personnel from other agencies into the MPDC. As I testified before the full Council in November, I strongly support lateral entry into the Metropolitan Police Department, and I will be submitting legislation to create such a program in the near future. I believe lateral entry is a low-cost, high-impact way of meeting our recruiting goals, while continuing to professionalize the department.
  • The third area is the recent proposal to create a Police Training and Standards Board for the Metropolitan Police Department. Using the input of outside experts, such a board would help define the training needs and practices for our department. It would help us better anticipate and respond to future challenges, before they become an emergency.
  • Fourth is my request to amend District law to make it optional for sworn police personnel to carry their service weapons while off-duty. As I have mentioned before, there are many instances when I believe it is inappropriate for an officer to carry a firearm while off-duty. Greater flexibility on this issue will have a positive impact on use of force issues as well.

In closing, let me just say that the recent discussions and debates on the use of force in the MPDC have been difficult and painful at times, but ultimately I believe these discussions will prove to be healthy and beneficial. Throughout the discussion, I have emphasized that the Metropolitan Police Department must do a better job of addressing the use of force issue—not because we are a "bad" department or because our members are somehow lacking in sensitivity when it comes to the use of force. Quite the contrary, in fact. We have a great department, and the vast majority of our members fulfill their duty to serve and protect with the utmost respect and professionalism.

But like police departments everywhere, our department relies on the trust and cooperation of the community in carrying out its mission. Without that trust and cooperation, we simply cannot be effective. For the public to have faith in their police department, they must have confidence in our ability to use force appropriately and judiciously, and to investigate use of force incidents thoroughly and professionally. I am confident that with the assistance of the Justice Department, this Committee and the entire Council, the Metropolitan Police Department can meet the high standards that the community has a right to expect from us. Thank you very much.