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What the MPD needs
Dorothy Brizill
Testimony at the confirmation hearing of Charles H. Ramsey

April 20, 1998




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Testimony of Dorothy A. Brizill
Committee on the Judiciary, District of Columbia City Council

PR 12-699, Chief of Police of the Metropolitan Police Department Charles H. Ramsey Confirmation Resolution of 1998

Good morning, members of the Judiciary Committee and Deputy Superintendent Ramsey. I am Dorothy Brizill, a resident and citizen of the District of Columbia. I am also executive Director of DC Watch, a good-government organization working to reform the District government, that has a special interest in public safety issues.

To Deputy Superintendent Ramsey, congratulations on your appointment. I look forward to working with you.

Since Mr. Ramsey's appointment is a foregone conclusion, I would like to use my testimony to make some observations and offer some unsolicited advice regarding the Metropolitan Police Department.

Effective policing requires a true partnership between citizens and the police department that they employ to protect them and enforce the law. In the District of Columbia, there is good and bad news about this partnership. The good news is that there is a multitude of active, involved citizens in every neighborhood of this city who have dedicated years of their lives to improving this city's public safety. I'll name a few — James Foreman, Sally Byington, Anne Renshaw, Sam Bost, Norma Broadnax, Carl Rowan, Mario Acosta-Velez — but there are hundreds more whom I have not named, and thousands of others who are active members of civic and community organizations that work on these issues.

Despite the efforts of these citizens, however, the bad news is that there remains a huge gulf between citizens and their police force. For years, the elected officials and police officers in this city have blamed us, the citizens, for the crime that we have had to bear, and have claimed that the problem was that residents of the District didn't care enough about crime. Just last week, an Assistant Chief of Police, in a public speech in Ward 2, again blamed this city's crime problems on citizen apathy, and claimed that "only two percent" of the District's citizens are actively involved in fighting crime or working with the police department. Too many rank and file police officers, nearly seventy percent of whom are residents of the suburbs, also believe that people in the District deserve whatever we get, because we are foolish enough to continue to live here. Indeed, many officers look upon the residents of the District not as the people whom they are to serve, but as part of the problem.

But there is a gulf between citizens and the MPD that is even more serious. It is widely recognized that the MPD has been weakened by years of neglect, mismanagement, and political interference by the city's mayors. But now it is the victim of a management system that is, if anything, worse. The Memorandum of Understanding Partners, a secretive, extra-legal group that was created in December 1996, operates in the shadows and in complete contempt of the citizens of the District, and asserts without any legal basis that it has the authority to manage the MPD. No police department of any city in a democracy should be managed by a back room group that meets in secret and that is not answerable to the citizens. Since you will become Chief of Police under the very dark cloud of the Memorandum of Understanding Partners, your very first task must be to assert your independent authority and to insist that you will not operate under secret orders from a Star Chamber group.

Another issue that divides the MPD from the citizens is the undue influence of outside consultants. Millions and millions of dollars have been spent for advice from Booz-Allen & Hamilton, and that consulting firm has written dozens of reports that are still being hidden and kept secret, more than half a year after the public was promised that at least a sanitized version of those reports would be released. It's time to cut the consultants' cord, and to stop wasting millions of dollars of taxpayers' money for advice that the MOU Partners and the MPD could get for free from any community group or block club, if only they were willing to listen to the real experts.

My message for Mr. Ramsey is a simple one. To turn this police department around, he must recognize that effective policing isn't a public relations campaign. We don't want public relations; we don't want a new crime initiative announced every few months with great fanfare and limited follow-up. We want communications from the MPD to be straightforward, to consist of honest numbers, honest accounting, honest statistics. Don't try to make things look better than they are. We, in the various neighborhoods of the District, know when things are working and when they aren't. We know, long before it is ever officially acknowledged — if it is ever officially acknowledged — when the number of officers actually on the beat or in a police service area are being exaggerated, when the crime statistics are being minimized, and when the budgets are being fudged. Be honest with us. We are tired of the lies — and we have heard all the lies before, so we recognize them fairly quickly.

We don't expect miracles or overnight reforms. We know that it will take some time, that you will make some mistakes, and that there will be many false starts. Just acknowledge and correct your mistakes, when you make them, and you'll find that the people of the District are remarkably understanding and forgiving. Deny your mistakes, cover them up, or persist in them, and you'll find it true that politics in Washington is a blood sport.

Effective reform of the MPD will require you to address MPD's management problems first. Nearly everywhere you turn, you will find poor management practices. The promotion process and the standards for promoting officers need to be reviewed; supervisory and management training needs to be instituted. Payroll and attendance record keeping are broken systems, and the present system for assigning and tracking personnel is better suited to hiding officers than to locating them. Overtime rules and procedures need a complete overhaul. Information technology and equipment purchasing and procurement systems are haphazard at best; you must insist on detailed, multi-year plans that include timetables, rationales, and real numbers — and you must insist that plans be adhered to, and that the money dedicated to upgrading computer systems, purchasing equipment, and repairing cars not be funneled into salaries and overtime. You need to develop effective criteria for evaluating and assessing the performance of all MPD officers, from top to bottom. Police officers deserve to know what is expected of them, and to know that those standards will be fairly and evenly applied to everyone.

Effective policing, and effective reform of the MPD, will require changes in the senior management team of the MPD. But please don't make those changes too fast. Take a little time to learn your way around the Department, to learn whose advice and judgment you can trust, and to learn whose performance has been bad many times in the past. And then act decisively. Develop plans for personnel, management training, and information technology and equipment procurement, and share those plans openly and widely with all your officers and the public. Let all of us, both inside and outside of the Department, know what we can expect.

And, finally, let us all see that you have undertaken a serious initiative to root out mismanagement and corruption. Months ago, when public outcries against corruption and mismanagement in the MPD reached a crescendo, citizens of the District demanded a wide-ranging, public, and open investigation. What we got instead was a promise that the US Attorney would conduct a secret investigation — of which we have heard nothing since; that a new Inspector General would be appointed to conduct a secret investigation — which has not even begun yet; and that the Council of the District would conduct a tightly controlled and stage-managed series of hearings that seem designed to bore us out of paying attention to the problem. Since our city leaders seem determined not to address this issue effectively, perhaps you can.

I hope so. In fact, as you must realize, you embody a lot of our hopes. In the course of a few months, three events will occur that will determine the future of our city for years to come — the appointment of new members of the Control Board, the election of a new Mayor or the reelection of the current one, and the appointment of a new Chief of Police. As the embodiment of our hopes, we wish you all the best, and the best of luck, in the difficult job ahead. And I hope that you bring us luck, too.

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