Government and People
|Testimony to the Committee on the
District of Columbia City Council
December 12, 1997
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee on the Judiciary, my name is Dorothy Brizill. I am speaking on my own behalf, but I am also speaking on behalf of a coalition of citizens and community activists interested in policing and public safety issues. Last night, citizens from every ward and every police district in the city met, on very short notice, to discuss the current situation in the Metropolitan Police Department. We spoke about how citizens can have an impact on the Memorandum of Understanding partners' operations, how citizens can organize to perform a watchdog function to deal with corruption in the MPD, how citizens can have input into the selection of a new police chief, and how citizens can best participate in this hearing today. At that meeting, we created an organization on this issue, the Citizens Reform Coalition, and we overwhelmingly agreed on the four following principles:
The terms have changed since this hearing was first called, but the subject matter remains the same. Originally, this hearing was to be on the management of the Metropolitan Police Department, but today I am sure that most people will be talking about corruption in the MPD. As I said, the subject remains the same. The question of today's hearing was originally going to be how much progress had been made in the management of the MPD. That question has been answered by events. The question now is how we reform the MPD, and, more specifically, who takes the lead in that reform.
Suddenly, in the past three days, everyone's eyes have been miraculously opened. Like blind men at a faith healing, our city leaders have thrown away their sunglasses and white canes, and proclaimed that they can see again. Well, pardon my skepticism, but I have never believed that public relations initiatives were real solutions to real problems.
Since Wednesday, three separate proposals have been put forward for investigating corruption in the police department. First, the Control Board and the Memorandum of Understanding partners have determined that they will supervise the investigation, under the leadership of an acting Inspector General to be named later by the Mayor. Does anyone take that scenario seriously? Let us take the participants one at a time. The DC Financial Responsibility and Management Authority had already taken control of the Metropolitan Police Department and had arranged matters to its satisfaction. Control Board Vice Chairman Stephen Harlan had repeatedly expressed his complete faith in Chief Larry Soulsby and denounced any questioning of him, most prominently in a letter to the Washington Post dated October 20, 1997. The Control Board held a public hearing on the MPD on as recently as October 22, 1997, at which not one of its members could think of a single hard, or even minimally skeptical, question to ask the management team of the police department, but instead asked questions along the lines of, "Tell us about all the good work you've done," and "Tell us about the progress you've made." The Control Board spent over five million dollars commissioning a study of the MPD by Booz-Allen, Hamilton, in which there wasn't a single whisper of corruption in the police department probably because Booz-Allen couldn't copy sections on corruption from management studies they had done for other cities in the past.
What about the secretive Memorandum of Understanding partners? The MOU partners have preferred the shadows to the sunlight; they have done their work in secret because they knew that it would not withstand public scrutiny. The MOU partners have shown no trust in or respect for the citizens of the District of Columbia; they have earned and they deserve no trust or respect from the citizens in return. In light of recent events, including their steadfast unanimous support for Chief Soulsby up to and including the very day of his resignation, they have no credibility on the issue of reforming the department. The MOU partners decided that they could perform public service without being answerable or responsive to the public and that in itself shows that they are not fit to perform public service. The MOU partners process is corrupted by its secrecy; and therefore the MOU partners do not have the integrity to lead an investigation into corruption in the MPD. In my opinion, the MOU partners have wasted any chance they had to be useful to the citizens of the District of Columbia; they must immediately cease operating in secret, or they should simply cease operating.
What about Mayor Barry, whose responsibility it is, under the 1995 Congressional bill creating the Control Board, to appoint a new Inspector General to lead the proposed investigation? Does no one remember that Mayor Barry's first two appointees to the position of Inspector General were fired and rejected by the Control Board because in their judgment the appointees were not competent to do the job? Does no one remember that it is under Mayor Barry's leadership and as a result of his deliberate actions for the past twenty years that the Metropolitan Police Department went from being a national model for police departments to what it is today? Does anyone take seriously the idea of Mayor Barry as a fighter against corruption anywhere in the government of the District of Columbia? And how much faith should anyone have in anonymous Mr. X, the to-be-named designated hitter who will take responsibility for this investigation?
The study of corruption in the Metropolitan Police Department led by the Control Board and the MOU partners, and managed by an Inspector General to be named later by Mayor Barry, is discredited and lacks credibility before it has even begun.
Second, the City Council has announced that it will conduct its own investigation, regardless of what the Control Board and MOU partners do, into the very limited issue of time keeping and overtime pay in the MPD. I suppose the City Council rests solidly on its reputation for effective oversight of the MPD in the past or, to speak plainly, teeters precariously on nothing in thin air. Let me give just one representative example of how the City Council has managed its oversight authority on this very issue in the MPD in the past few months. On September 25th, Sergeants Harry Hill and Christopher Sanders testified before the Committee on Government Operations of the City Council about how Lieutenant Lowell Duckett, their superior in the Metropolitan Police Department, forced them to falsify overtime and attendance reports, how they were physically threatened by Lt. Duckett and punished in their careers for their unwillingness to falsify reports, and how upper-level managers in the Police Department, including Deputy Commander Carolyn Boggs and Police Chief Soulsby, were informed of and fully aware of the situation and did nothing to correct it, thereby tacitly approving of it.
What did the City Council do about this testimony? Nothing, so long as Lieutenant Duckett, Commander Boggs, and Chief Soulsby remained on the force. But, on December 5, 1997, after these three officers had safely retired, Sergeants Hill and Sanders were called back again to testify before the Council. Councilmembers were shocked shocked to hear that there was gambling going on in the back room at Rick's and expressed their dismay that Lieutenant Duckett, Commander Boggs, and Chief Soulsby couldn't be called to testify, since they had retired from the MPD. Avoidance of tough, hard-hitting, effective oversight is what citizens have come to expect from the Council, and we have no reason to expect anything different from it in the future.
The third separate proposal to investigate corruption that has been made in the past three days came from Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. Delegate Norton has asked Acting U.S. Attorney Wilma Lewis to initiate and lead an investigation of corruption in the Metropolitan Police Department. This is the same U.S. Attorney's office that for three and a half years, under the leadership of Eric Holder, never found a single instance of high level corruption in the District of Columbia government that was worth bringing to indictment, much less to trial. Does anyone here think that that simply indicates that the DC government has been remarkably free of corruption? And Ms. Lewis, who is coming to the position from her current post as Inspector General for the Interior Department a real hotbed of urban corruption is so new to her job that she isn't even working there full time yet. To say the least, this is not a very promising avenue to pursue.
Not one of these three proposals not one contemplates even the marginal participation of the two most important groups that must be involved in the effort of reforming the MPD and weeding out corruption. Those groups are the citizens of the District of Columbia, the residents who bear the burden of this government, and the honest, hardworking officers in the Metropolitan Police Department who want their department to be one of which they can be proud. Those groups are effectively shut out, and shut down. That will not do.
The citizens of the District of Columbia demand and deserve real involvement in the process of investigation and reform that lies ahead, and that to date been stalled by the actions of the Control Board, the MOU partners, the Mayor, and the Council.
We are not talking about the kind of phony involvement effort that the Mayor has designed for his Citizens Advisory Committee on the appointment of a new chief of police. In that effort, as you know, the Mayor hand-picked a group of people whom he wanted to be on the panel, and he told them that they would consider only the nominees who were presented to them, that only a small subgroup of their panel would actually review the résumés and interview the nominees, and that after they made their recommendation he may or may not take their advice. Nobody is fooled by that; nobody mistakes it for community participation, or even for effective community input into the process.
It is time to stop the phony public relations efforts by the Mayor, the Council, the Control Board, and the MOU partners. It is time for public officials, both appointed and elected, to stop shutting citizens out. It is time for citizens to take control. The elected and appointed officials can follow behind us if they want to, or they can try to obstruct us, if that is their desire. But they cannot stop us.
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