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Council of the District of Columbia
441 4th St., N.W. Washington, D.C. 20001
To: All Councilmembers
From: Kathy Patterson, Chairperson, Committee on the Judiciary
Date: February 27, 2001
Subject: Oversight Report on the Metropolitan Police Department's Homicide
Investigative Practices and Case Closure Rate
TABLE OF CONTENTS
II. SUMMARY OF THE COMMITTEE'S JANUARY 25, 2001, PUBLIC
III. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON METROPOLITAN POLICE
DEPARTMENT HOMICIDE INVESTIGATIONS AND CASE CLOSURE RATES
IV. FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR COMMITTEE OVERSIGHT
V. COMMITTEE ACTION
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The Committee on the Judiciary has made the Metropolitan Police
Department performance in homicide investigations a priority for its
oversight work during Council Period 14, which began on January 2, 2001,
and ends in December 2002. There are few responsibilities more important
for a government than homicide investigation, because there is no greater
affront to a community or its residents than the taking of a human life.
The only affront that compares to the taking of a life is the failure of
government to assure a commensurate response to murder, with thorough and
timely and caring investigation.
The District government's response to homicide today is clearly
deficient. Homicide case closure rates in the District are low -- 57
percent last year, according to a measure used by the Federal Bureau of
Investigation -- and have been declining. Moreover, the basic elements of
high-quality homicide investigations have been lacking at the Metropolitan
Police Department (MPD). These fundamentals include rigorous standards for
detective selection, retention, and promotion; extensive and continuous
training; detailed standard operating procedures that outline the
essential steps in an investigation; regular and thorough case review by
supervisors experienced in investigations; and an objective performance
evaluation system that identifies and removes poor performers and
identifies and rewards strong performers.
The purpose of this report is to establish a baseline of MPD's
performance in investigating homicides and to outline the issues that need
to be addressed and monitored in order for MPD to solve more cases. It is
intended to hold the Committee, as well as the MPD, accountable, by
identifying problems to be solved and the tasks that must be accomplished
for the MPD to improve its homicide investigations. The main findings of
this report, drawing on a January 25, 2001, public roundtable held by the
Committee and additional research conducted by the Committee, are
1. Despite a sharp reduction in homicides since the early 1990s, MPD's
performance in investigating homicides has deteriorated from levels that
were already inadequate.
Between 1991 and 2000, the number of homicides in the District dropped
by more than 50 percent, from 479 to 237. In fact, the number of homicides
in 2000 represent a 13-year low. Despite this welcome news, homicide case
closure rates in the District have fallen simultaneously.
There are two main measures for homicide case closure rates. MPD
management believes that the FBI's Uniform Case Reporting (UCR)
definition, which reflects the number of homicides solved in a year
divided by the number of homicides that occurred that same year, is
preferable. MPD's UCR case closure rate has fluctuated since 1993, but
dropped from 70 percent in 1997 to 57 percent in 2000. The drop in the UCR
case closure rate between 1997 and 2000 is particularly troubling because
the number of homicides fell by 40 percent -- from 301 in 1997 to 237 in
2000 -- during that same period.
The second leading measure of homicide case closures -- the
"in-year" or "same-year" rate -- presents an even more
distressing pattern. The in-year rate is calculated by dividing the number
of homicides solved in the same year that they occurred by the total
number of homicides that occurred during the same year. Since 1990, the
in-year case closure rate has dropped steadily, from 57 percent in 1990 to
36 percent in 2000. The in-year case closure rate may more accurately
reflect trends in performance than the UCR rate, because the UCR rate is
more likely to reflect administrative closures -- those that occur when a
suspect dies, is jailed on other charges, or for other exceptional reasons
-- that occur some time after a case is opened. Administrative closures,
which are subject to less scrutiny than cases that are resolved through an
arrest, increased from 10 percent in the late 1980s to 19 percent in 1998.
MPD's increasing reliance on administrative closures may have inflated the
UCR case closure rate and concealed a more serious decline in MPD's
performance of homicide investigations.
Empirical evidence supports the common-sense conclusion that declining
homicide rates should lead to increased case closure rates. An eight-city
study of homicide patterns by the National Institute of Justice, published
in 1997, found statistically significant links between a declining
homicide rate and an increased case closure rate. Conversely, this study
found that declining case closure rates may lead to increased numbers of
homicides, as murderers go unpunished and the threat of punishment
declines in the eyes of potential criminals. This finding is particularly
2. Comparative data reinforce the conclusion that MPD's homicide
investigations are falling short of reasonable standards.
Comparative data on UCR case closure rates reinforce the conclusion
that the District's homicide case closure rate is inadequate. In his
January 25, 2001, testimony to the Committee, Chief Ramsey pointed out
that the District's 61 percent case closure rate for 1999 was identical to
the national average for cities with population between 500,000 to 999,999
(final figures for 2000 are not yet available). Nevertheless, the
District's case closure rate fell to 57 percent in 2000, and the
District's growing reliance on administrative closures could mean that the
57 percent rate is overstated relative to jurisidictions that close more
of their cases through arrests.
A study conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum, using UCR
case closure data from the early to mid-1990s, suggests that the District
should be able to attain a UCR case closure rate of at least 70 percent.
This study reported that in 1993, Baltimore attained a 69 percent closure
rate; Chicago achieved a 70 percent closure rate; and Cincinnati reached
90 percent. Broward County, Florida (which includes Fort Lauderdale),
reported a 97 percent case closure rate for 1995. In 1996, Dallas achieved
a 71 percent case closure rate, and Minneapolis recorded a 66 percent
rate. Other information gathered by the Committee shows that Milwaukee
closed 85 percent of its homicide cases in 1991 and exceeded 90 percent in
1993. Because homicide rates have dropped nationwide since the early to
mid-1990s, it is likely that other cities have increased their case
closure rates since that period.
University of Maryland researchers who studied the factors affecting
homicide case closures in four cities, using data from 1991 to 1994,
reached the encouraging conclusion that sound police practices lead to
high homicide case closure rates. One critical finding was that 37 of the
51 factors that affect homicide closures are within the control of police.
The researchers also found that effective police investigations can
usually overcome the difficulties presented by drug-related violence,
gang-related violence, and other challenges that are more common in big
3. MPD's homicide data appear to reflect a number of anomalies or
unexplained patterns. Issues of data collection, recording, and review
require much greater attention.
The disparity between MPD's UCR case closure rate, which has fluctuated
between 1993 and 2000 but has declined since 1997, and the in-year case
closure rate, which has trended steadily downward, is troubling and
requires further attention. Nevertheless, this is not the only puzzling
pattern in the data.
The Committee is also concerned about a steady increase in the
proportion of cases closed for homicides that occurred in prior years. In
1993, only 6 percent of cases solved represented homicides that occurred
in prior years. In 2000, 37 percent of the cases solved were those of
homicides that occurred in prior years. Certainly, 1993 could have been an
unusual year; the overall case closure rate for that year (48 percent) was
particularly low, perhaps reflecting a failure to investigate cases from
prior years. Nevertheless, the magnitude of the increase in prior- year
closures is large and the overall pattern is puzzling.
The University of Maryland research confirmed that the likelihood of
solving a case declines rapidly as time goes on. Of the homicide cases
that were solved in the four cities included in that study, 88 percent
were closed within six months after the case was assigned to a detective.
This data suggests that MPD could achieve better results by improving
investigative practices and solving more cases in the early stages of an
investigation, when witnesses are more readily identifiable and evidence
can be secured. Second, the data reinforces the need to ensure that case
closures are not recorded improperly -- whether through administrative
closures that are not justified, or through arrests that do not result in
prosecution or conviction.
Finally, the Committee asked Chief Ramsey to respond to several
potential errors in its homicide data. First, the Committee noticed that a
highly publicized case -- the murder of Gallaudet University freshman Eric
Plunkett -- was recorded as closed by arrest in a January 17, 2001,
listing of homicides for the years 1998 through 2000 provided by MPD. The
individual who was first arrested on October 4, 2000, was released almost
immediately thereafter, and the investigation continued until another
individual was arrested for the murder on February 13, 2001. Second, the
Fraternal Order of Police contends that cases counted as homicides during
1999 were not, in fact, so counted, and that other cases represented
double-counts. The integrity of homicide data is obviously critical and
the Committee will consider the merits of creating an independent auditing
function for homicide data.
4. MPD's homicide investigations are marred by widespread, systemic
failures in basic aspects of management and implementation.
Data alone gives us only a general sense about how an agency, program,
or function is performing. As described earlier, data can be incomplete,
inaccurate, or misleading. Several witnesses who testified at the
Committee's public roundtable stressed that the quality of homicide
investigations is the most important measure for a homicide unit, and
Chief Ramsey stated that he would be satisified with a low case closure
rate if investigations were timely, aggressive, and thorough (although the
Chief acknowledged that this is not presently the case).
The Committee's public roundtable, its discussions with MPD detectives
and other outside experts, and its review of MPD program materials
strongly suggests that some of the most basic and essential elements are
sorely lacking in MPD homicide investigations. In many respects, the
homicide investigative program has fallen into a state of collapse. Some
of the most elementary management tools needed to effectively operate any
program or initiative -- such as staff training, position qualifications,
performance appraisals, and standard operating procedures -- appear to
have been absent or sorely deficient. These conclusions are reinforced not
only by the statements of outside experts and public witnesses, but by
Chief Ramsey himself. The following are some of the most salient examples
of these widespread, systemic breakdowns in the homicide investigative
- Chief Ramsey stated that "MPD has no detective selection
process." MPD does not impose minimum experience requirements for
detectives, nor does it require a written exam or writing sample, an
oral examination or interview, or a performance review as part of its
efforts to select detectives. In addition, MPD lacks a probationary
period for new detectives.
- MPD lacks up-to-date standard operating procedures that outline what
all participants in a homicide investigation -- call-takers,
dispatchers, responding patrol officers, detectives, crime scene
technicians, supervisors, and others -- should do at each stage of a
- MPD lacks a formal, comprehensive training program for new
- MPD lacks a performance appraisal system for detectives;
consequently, the department also lacks objective standards for
retaining, promoting, disciplining, or removing detectives.
- Management today adheres to a policy of selecting supervisors
without investigative experience, contrary to views from the best
practices forum and views of other experts.
- MPD has failed to insitute regular reviews of homicide cases, even
though periodic reviews in which detectives and supervisors are
questioned about their investigative approaches and their progress on
a case are common in other jurisdictions.
- MPD has increased its reliance on administrative case closures,
which comprised 19 percent of total homicide case closures, in 1998,
without instituting adequate review procedures for such closures.
- MPD detectives and their supervisors have lacked access to some of
the modern tools of homicide investigations, including crime mapping
data and crime data bases that are easy to use and contain complete,
- MPD case files have been in disarray, despite the issuance of
numerous directives about the proper ways to maintain and preserve
files, and the threat of disciplinary action against those who fail to
follow the directives. In fact, Chief Ramsey advised the Committee
that no disciplinary actions were taken after the Washington Post
reported that 377 homicide case files could not be located and that
136 case files were missing important documentation.
- MPD detectives and other staff have failed to maintain contact with
the family members and other loved ones of homicide victims,
reflecting a lack of sensitivity to family members by the department
and the absence of clear standards for family notification. Numerous
family members advised the Committee that they heard nothing from MPD
about the status of the investigation unless they initiated the
contact. Those who have suffered a tragic loss deserve the utmost
consideration from MPD. Furthermore, the MPD is unlikely to achieve
accountability for homicide cases if it is not accountable to the
families and loved ones of homicide victims.
5. MPD has developed a comprehensive reform strategy for homicide
investigations, drawing on a review of best practices in other
The MPD has developed a comprehensive reform strategy for homicide
investigations that, on paper, addresses many of the deficiencies
described above. The reform strategy draws on the best practices of other
jurisdictions and is informed by two forums that MPD convened last year to
explore the leading approaches to homicide investigations.
First, MPD has drafted new standard operating procedures (SOPs) to
guide homicide investigations. In his January 25, 2001, testimony, Chief
Ramsey stated that implementation of the SOPs would begin in February
2001. The SOPs cover the actions of different types of personnel,
including call takers, dispatchers, responding officers, detectives, and
supervisors, at each stage of the investigative process and in different
settings. For example, the SOPs describe the tasks that detectives should
accomplish at the crime scene, at the hospital, and at the office. The
guidelines address different aspects of an investigation, including
forensic evidence; the handling, shipping, and storing of evidence; morgue
procedures; and the contents and safe- keeping of reports and case
jackets. The SOPs also set requirements for regular case review -- an
integral component of performance review. The SOPs create milestones for
lead detectives, investigative sergeants, investigative lieutenants, and
patrol service area lieutenants at periodic intervals: one day; seven
days; 15 days, 30 days, 60 days, and every 30 days thereafter for the
first year after a case is opened. In the second year after a case has
been opened, the case file would be updated quarterly, and in the third
The draft SOPs also address the important issue of keeping families and
other loved ones informed about the status of a homicide case. The SOP
states the standard that detectives should contact an individual
designated by the family every two weeks for the first two months after a
case is opened, and once each month after the first two months, with the
frequency of contact gradually declining over time.
To improve detective selection, Chief Ramsey plans to unveil a new
application procedure for detectives, including minimum experience and
performance standards, as well as a probationary period to make sure that
newly selected detectives are capable of doing their jobs. Detective
candidates would have to submit a writing sample, and undergo an oral
interview and a review of their past performance. The performance
standards will provide an objective basis for MPD to remove poorly
performing detectives. To upgrade training, Chief Ramsey plans to open a
new criminal investigators academy that will cover the fundamentals of
investigation, the SOPs for homicide and other investigations, and how to
use technology to help solve cases.
MPD has also updated its criminal intelligence data base, the
Washington Criminal Intelligence Information System (WACIIS). MPD official
state that the upgraded system is easier to use and allows detectives to
store and retrieve photographs of crime scenes, view offenders' mugshots
online, and prepare and post reports online. By mid-2001, WACIIS should
also be able to transmit arrest reports electronically to the U.S.
Attorney's office. MPD is also using a review of homicide cases from the
past decade to ensure the accuracy of its files and thereby qualify to
join the FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program network, which
includes information on violent crimes nationwide.
Overall, the MPD's reform plans appear to be well-reasoned and
comprehensive. The challenge for MPD will be to refine and implement the
plans and demonstrate results. The challenge for the Committee will be to
monitor MPD's progress, provide a public forum for sharing that progress
with the public, and support any legislative or budgetary initiatives
necessary to achieve results.
6. Two challenges to reform arise from existing MPD management
policies: decentralized deployment of detectives and selection of
supervisors who lack investigative experience.
As MPD begins implementing its reform program for homicide
investigations, the dispersal of MPD detectives from a headquarters unit
to the seven police districts presents certain challenges. Chief Ramsey
said he implemented this decentralization strategy due to his belief that
changing patterns in homicides -- including an increase in
stranger-on-stranger and drug- related crimes -- require a different
approach in which detectives become more familiar with particular
neighorhoods and develop trust with those who live in those neighborhoods.
In expressing his continued commitment to decentralization, Chief Ramsey
said the debate over decentralization diverts attention from more
important topics, including training, selection of detectives,
investigative practices, and supervision -- the "blocking and
tackling" of homicide investigations. This point is well-taken, and
the Committee offers these comments in the spirit of making a
decentralized system as effective as possible.
Deployment, specialization, and supervision remain important issues in
a decentralized pattern of assigning detectives. First, crime spurts or
crime waves are common, and in a decentralized system where detectives are
assigned to particular police districts, it is more difficult to redeploy
detectives to respond to sudden rises or falls in homicide. Therefore, the
Committee believes that crime-mapping and regular deployment studies are
Second, numerous detectives and outside experts expressed concern that
an experienced homicide detective assigned to a police district may be
assigned to a burglary or a sex crime. As the most serious crime,
involving investigations of considerable complexity and sensitivity,
homicide warrants the most experienced and best-trained investigators, in
the Committee's view, and specialization should be encouraged to apply the
maximum amount of expertise to every type of criminal investigation.
Finally, Chief Ramsey has emphasized case management skills in
selecting investigative supervisors. The Committee notes that U.S.
Attorney Wilma Lewis, former assistant U.S. Attorney and homicide section
chief David Schertler, and FOP Chairman Gerald Neill are among those who
have spoken persuasively about the importance of investigative experience,
and homicide experience in particular, for investigative supervisors (see
Section 2 of this report). Moreover, the findings reported from two
best-practices forums convened by MPD likewise stressed the importance of
investigative experience for supervisors, as does research in Great
Britain described in a recent paper, The Effective Detective: Identifying
the Skills of an Effective SIO." Given this broad range of expert
opinion, the Committee recommends that MPD review policy on qualifications
necessary to supervise detectives as part of a comprehensive review of
promotion standards in order to place more emphasis on experience in
recruiting investigative supervisors.
7. Challenges in recruitment, deployment, and promotion related to
homicide investigations demonstrate the Department's overall need for
effective and transparent personnel policies that highlight performance
During the January 25, 2001, public roundtable, Chairperson Patterson
referred to the 1998 recommendation on employee evaluation by the Council
Special Committee on Police Misconduct and Personnel Management and the
enactment of the Omnibus Personnel Reform Act of 1998, which requires each
District agency to have a comprehensive employee evaluation system in
place. The Special Committee recommended that, "The Department should
move quickly to develop and implement a performance appraisal system for
all Command Staff, police officers and civilian employees as called for
and consistent with the recently passed Omnibus Personnel Reform Act of
1998. The system should provide objective criteria for evaluation of an
individual's performance and should allow for his views and opinions to be
One year after the Special Committee's report Chief Ramsey attended a
press conference held by the Council to provide an update on the
Committee's recommendations. At that time -- October 5, 1999 -- the chief
described the employee evaluation recommendation as having been achieved.
The Department's "Status Report on Recommendations Made by the
Special Committee on Police Misconduct and Personnel Management"
released at that time noted: "there is a performance evaluation
system in place for sworn and civilian members."
The Department's record on homicide investigations and statements
during the hearing alleging that removing poor performers is made
difficult by union contracts are indications that the Department has not
fully implemented the 1998 personnel reform law and has not adopted the
Special Committee's recommendation. The MPD record on performance
management stands as an issue for further monitoring by the Committee.
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Between December 3 and December 6, 2000, the Washington Post ran
a four-part series, "Fatal Flaws: the District's Homicide
Crisis," that documented serious, systemic problems in the
Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)'s investigation and resolution of
homicide cases. The series highlighted a low homicide case closure rate,
poor supervision of detectives in police districts scattered across the
city, hundreds of missing or incomplete case files, and dozens of cases
closed without arrest under unclear circumstances. Moreover, the series
gave voice to the anguish felt by victims' family members who said they
received little or no information from police on the status of cases, and
often were not notified that a case had been closed. The articles
comprising the Post's series are included as Attachment A to this
Some of the critical data cited in the Post series follow:
- Almost two-thirds of homicides that occurred in 1999 remained
unsolved at year's end, the poorest performance in the past decade.
- Police could not locate 377 closed cases, and important documents
were not available for 136 cases that had been located.
- An examination of 100 cases that were closed administratively -- for
exceptional reasons such as the death of a suspect or the arrest of a
suspect in another case -- showed that 29 did not contain documents
explaining why the cases were closed, in violation of police policy.
Although "Fatal Flaws" outlined the problems in homicide
investigations in compelling and extensive detail, the deficiencies cited
were in most cases longstanding and had been identified before. Between
1987 and 1996, MPD amassed a total of almost 1,700 unsolved murders. In
1996, the National Drug Intelligence Center concluded a review of
homicides that occurred between 1991 and 1994 by presenting plans about
how to investigate and quickly close 136 cases. This report, apparently,
was ignored until consultants hired by the Financial Authority drew
attention to it in 1997. The "in-year" case closure rate -- the
percentages of homicides that were solved in the same year that they
occurred -- dropped from 55 percent in 1994 to 42 percent in 1996. Other
studies and media reports over the years have pointed to high rates of
administrative case closures by MPD's homicide investigators.
District policymakers cannot ignore the longstanding and continuing
evidence of systemic failures in MPD homicide investigations and a low
case closure rate. Accordingly, Councilmember Patterson scheduled a public
roundtable on MPD homicide investigations and the homicide case closure
rate as one of her first actions after assuming the chairmanship of the
Committee on the Judiciary on January 2, 2001.
The January 25, 2001, oversight roundtable included testimony on the
MPD's performance in investigating homicides as well as its plans to
reform and improve its investigations. The Committee heard testimony from
Chief of Police Charles Ramsey, representatives of the Fraternal Order of
Police, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who was in charge of homicide
prosecutions, two former MPD homicide detectives, and a criminal justice
professor from the University of Maryland who studied the factors
associated with homicide case closures. In addition, the Committee heard
from 18 public witnesses, most of whom had lost loved ones to homicide and
testified about their experiences with the police department.
Homicide investigation is a priority for the Committee and for
policymakers, first and foremost, as a moral imperative. There are few
responsibilities more important for a government than homicide
investigation, because there is no greater affront to a community or its
residents than the taking of a human life.
The Committee will also seek to apply the lessons learned from
reviewing MPD's homicide investigations to other areas. If homicide
investigations are flawed, then the same problems may afflict the
investigations of assaults, rapes, burglaries, arsons, and other crimes.
As Chief Ramsey has said, "Homicide is the barometer by which we as a
police department are judged." MPD's performance in investigating the
most serious of crimes reveals much about the department's performance as
a whole, and it is important to view homicide investigations in the
context of the entire range of MPD's crime-fighting efforts.
This report summarizes the Committee's January 25, 2001, public
roundtable, as well as other background information about the performance
of MPD's homicide investigations and the Chief of Police's reform plans.
First, the report is intended to set a baseline and to hold the Committee
and other public officials accountable by describing the current state of
MPD's homicide investigations and the outcomes achieved. Second, the
report identifies the issues that the Committee will monitor throughout
Council Period 14 as part of its effort to help the MPD develop a
first-rate homicide unit. The Committee pledges to hold oversight hearings
on homicide investigations and case closure rates during the next two
years, and to regularly review the issues raised in the report so that
persistent problems and failures are addressed, rather than ignored as
they have been in the past. The Committee believes that the MPD's homicide
investigation program must attain the highest professional standards and
achieve a much higher case closure rate, and will work in partnership with
the MPD toward that end.
Part 2 of this report, which begins on p. 12, summarizes the testimony
and discussion at the Committee's January 25, 2001, public oversight
roundtable. Part 3 of this report, which begins on p. 36, provides
additional background on MPD's homicide investigative practices and case
closure rates. Part 4 of this report, which begins on p. 50, sets out
future directions for Committee research and oversight. Part 5 of this
report, which begins on p. 58, contains a summary of the Committee action
on this report.
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II. SUMMARY OF THE COMMITTEE'S JANUARY 25,
The January 25, 2001, public roundtable included a morning segment in
which the Committee heard testimony from public officials responsible for
homicide investigations and from individuals with expertise in homicide
investigations. The hearing also included an evening segment for members
of the public to express their views. Copies of the written statements
presented by witnesses in the morning segment are included as Attachment B
to this report. Copies of the written statments presented by public
witnesses in the evening segment are included as Attachment C to this
Morning Segment of the Public Roundtable
Councilmember Patterson opened the hearing by acknowledging the
December, 2000, Washington Post series and said the hearing provides the
Department with "an opportunity to respond in public and on the
record." She said the hearing would "explore the full range of
issues including training, supervision, deployment, investigative
protocols, case tracking and information systems." Finally, she said,
"this is the opening of a discussion, not the end point....Questions
raised will be questions we return to in subsequent hearings in March and
later this year."
Chief of Police Charles Ramsey was the first witness in the
morning segment of the public roundtable. Chief Ramsey began his testimony
by trying to place the issue of homicide investigations and case closures
in a broader context. First, the Chief pointed out that there has been a
dramatic reduction in homicides in the District over the past decade. In
the year 2000, the District recorded 237 homicides, the lowest total since
1987 and the fourth consecutive year in which homicides declined. In fact,
homicides have dropped by more than 50 percent since the peak of 482
murders in 1991. (note: homicide statistics provided by MPD that
are cited in Section 3 of this report indicate that there were 479 murders
in 1991. There may be other slight discrepancies in MPD data that are
cited in this report). Chief Ramsey stated that the possible causes of the
decline in homicide include a better economy, lower unemployment, fewer
people in the "crime-prone" age groups, changes in drug abuse
and trafficking patterns, and more effective policing. He added that
"The bottom line is that we have made significant progress in
bringing down the District's homicide rate from the intolerably high
levels of a decade ago."
Chief Ramsey acknowledged that the lower homicide rate is nevertheless
unacceptable, stating that "Compared with a decade ago, we are saving
nearly 250 lives a year in the District. But I will not rest until that
number is much, much higher." He acknowledged that "All the
statistics in the world are meaningless when a loved one has been
The second trend cited by Chief Ramsey is what he termed "the
changing nature of homicide." The Chief stated that when he first
became a police officer 33 years ago, "The vast majority of homicides
involved victims and offenders who knew one another -- domestic violence,
arguments between acquaintances and the like. Homicide investigations back
then were usually less a case of 'Who done it?' as much as 'Where can I
find the offender'?" As homicide cases became more complex, Chief
Ramsey stated, homicide case closure rates nationwide dropped from 86
percent in 1968 to 64 percent in 1994, and the nationwide rate has
remained below 70 percent ever since.
Chief Ramsey stated that like other major cities, the District's
homicide case closure rate (also called the "clearance" rate)
has traditionally been below the national average. The Chief stated that
the MPD's closure rate had dipped as low as 48 percent in 1993. More
recently, MPD achieved a 61 percent clearance rate in 1999 and preliminary
figures for 2000 show a 57 percent clearance rate. Chief Ramsey stated
that the nationwide average clearance rate for similarly sized cities was
61 percent in 1999 -- identical to the MPD's closure rate in that year.
Chief Ramsey expanded on his view that homicide clearance rates have
dropped in the District and elsewhere, even as the number of homicides has
fallen, because of the changing nature of homicide, including the
increased frequency of murders committed by strangers. The Chief described
a number of factors that make homicide case closure more difficult. He
stated that more homicides involve victims and offenders whose
relationship stemmed from drug use or other illegal activity. The Chief
further pointed out that, "More murders today are simply cold-blooded
executions, often over drugs, carried out at times and locations in which
few or no witnesses are around -- or the witnesses themselves are
sometimes engaged in criminal activity ... Even in cases where we have
witnesses, those witnesses are often too fearful to cooperate, especially
in gang- and drug-related killings." The Chief concluded that,
"These and other factors have combined to make the solving of
homicides today that much more difficult than it was years ago."
Chief Ramsey stressed that this situational analysis does not mean that he
is satisfied with a 57 percent homicide clearance rate, and that it does
not provide an excuse for why the District's clearance rate is not higher.
Instead, he said that this context is important to understand the
challenges that MPD faces.
Chief Ramsey then turned to some of the changes that MPD has made in
homicide investigations and additional changes that are planned. One major
change was the Chief's decision two years ago to move homicide detectives
out of MPD headquarters and to base them in the seven police districts.
The reason for decentralizing was to get detectives "closer to the
communities they serve; to increase their day-to-day contact with PSA
officers and other field personnel; to help them develop contacts in the
community; and to increase the flow of information among detectives about
all violent crimes occurring in a police district." Chief Ramsey
noted that police chiefs in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other
major cities had decentralized their homicide units. He added that he had
implemented decentralization by providing detectives with additional
resources -- adequate office space, new computers, filing systems,
interview and interrogation rooms, videotaping systems, and enhanced
The Chief expressed dismay that the decision to decentralize the
homicide unit had received an inordinate amount of attention and had
obscured other more critical issues that affect homicide investigations
and case closures. He also advised the Committee that many of the problems
cited in the December 3-6, 2000, Washington Post series had
occurred when the homicide unit was centralized. The Chief stated that:
"I believe this whole centralization-versus-decentralization
issue has been both oversimplified and blown way out of proportion to
its actual impact on criminal investigations. Improving our homicide
clearance rate is not a matter of where a detective has his or her desk.
If it were as simple as putting our violent crime detectives in one
building or another, I would not hesitate for a minute to put them
there. But the reality is just not that simple."
Chief Ramsey acknowledged the need for centralized oversight of a
decentralized investigations unit and advised the Committee that he is
creating a centralized homicide case management review function. The
mission of the centralized review unit, Chief Ramsey stated, will be
"to ensure that investigations follow established protocols, that the
necessary paperwork is completed and filed, that closed cases are ready
for prosecution, and that sufficient progress is being made on open cases.
This will be an important step forward in ensuring consistency and
accountability in our homicide investigations."
Rather than focus on centralization or decentralization, Chief Ramsey
urged policymakers and residents to "get to the true crux of the
matter: the quality of our investigative process, the quality of our
investigators and supervisors, the quality of the tools and training
available to them, and the quality of our case management." He added
that "Improving our homicide clearance rate is about improving our
fundamentals -- basic blocking and tackling, if you will." Chief
Ramsey then proceeded to outline his plans to improve the MPD's practices
and procedures in investigating and closing homicide cases.
First, Chief Ramsey stated that MPD is "putting the finishing
touches" on new standard operating procedures (SOPs) that cover all
aspects of homicide investigations. The Chief noted that this document
"establishes clear-cut standards for everyone -- from the initial
call-taker in the communications center, to the patrol officer and
supervisor on the scene, to the detectives, mobile crime technicians and
others involved in the investigation." Furthermore, the SOPs set
standards for key activities, such as preserving the crime scene,
interviewing witnesses and identifying suspects at the scene, and
canvassing the area for suspects. Finally, the SOPs define a strict review
process for all homicide investigations, including a thorough review of
every closed case to ensure that proper procedures were followed, as well
as random audits of selected open cases every month to monitor progress.
Chief Ramsey stated that the new procedures "eliminate discretion
when it comes to the fundamentals, and strengthen accountability for
detectives and supervisors in the conduct and management of their
investigations." He further advised the Committee that the SOPs were
a significant outcome of two best practices forums that MPD convened
during the summer of 2000, bringing together homicide experts from across
the country to help MPD incorporate the best ideas of the profession.
Another critical area targeted for reform by the Chief is the selection
and retention of detectives. "Unlike almost every other major city
department in the country," Chief Ramsey stated, "the MPD for
years has not used a competitive process for promoting police officers to
detectives. That is about to change." The Chief described plans to
unveil, "in the very near future," a testing procedure for
detectives similar to those already in place for promotions to sergeant,
lieutenant, and captain. The procedure will involve minimum experience and
performance levels that police officers will have to fulfill to qualify
for a detective position. New detectives will also have to complete a
probationary period in which they demonstrate their competence for the
position "in a real-life setting." Chief Ramsey added that MPD
has some excellent detectives, but that there are also "some
detectives who do not measure up and need to be removed." The new
performance standards, Chief Ramsey stated, would allow the MPD to remove
those detectives who are unqualified.
The Chief turned to training as the next topic. Three years ago, the
Chief stated, experienced detectives at MPD did not receive any regular
training. He advised the Committee that he had already addressed that
deficiency by requiring all officers, including detectives, to complete 40
hours of in-service training per year, complying with legislation enacted
by the Council in 1998 that requires at least 36 hours of in-service
training each year. The Chief also described the specialized courses made
available to detectives, including interviews and interrogations, sex
offense investigations, child victimization, and others. During calendar
years 1999 and 2000, MPD offered 46 specialized training courses, attended
by 1,978 staff members, both detectives and officers. To continue
improving the training program, MPD is creating a new criminal
investigators academy for its detectives that will cover the fundamentals
of criminal investigations, standard operating procedures, and technology
Chief Ramsey then described the role that technology would play in
upgrading MPD homicide and other investigations. MPD had just implemented
the latest version of the Washington Area Criminal Intelligence
Information System (WACIIS), according to Chief Ramsey. WACIIS was first
installed in 1992 and Chief Ramsey stated that it had been underutilized
in the past. The Chief advised the Committee that the upgrades would allow
detectives to store and retrieve photographs of crime scenes and view
offenders' mugshots directly from computers in their district stations.
Detectives will also be able to prepare and post reports online, and to
immediately print copies. Information about arrests will be immediately
available to all districts through the new system. By mid-2001, detectives
should be able to transmit arrest reports electronically to the U.S.
Attorney's office through the new system. To make sure that WACIIS'
potential is properly exploited, Chief Ramsey stated that he has required
all detectives to complete WACIIS training in order to stay in their
Chief Ramsey completed his review of MPD efforts to improve homicide
investigations by describing the department's review of all (open and
closed) homicide cases betweeen 1990 and 2000. The Chief said that he
ordered the study, led by former homicide investigators from MPD and other
agencies, because "I knew we had problems with our homicide
investigations but ... wanted to be informed by a thorough and independent
review." Since September 2000, the review team has looked at 1,825
closed cases and determined that 1,539 were properly closed by arrest and
that 252 were properly closed administratively. Only three of the 1,825
cases remain reopened for investigation, according to the Chief.
Chief Ramsey also advised the Committee that the case review team had
located 378 master case jackets that were missing from the homicide file
room maintained at police headquarters. The Chief stated that he has
instituted a new protocol for the homicide case file room so that complete
records will be maintained in the future. MPD is using the information
compiled in the case review to enter data into WACIIS and an FBI data base
called VICAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program). By meeting the FBI's
data requirements, the MPD will have access to the VICAP data base.
Together, the updated WACIIS data base and the VICAP system will allow MPD
to analyze and map cases to detect patterns and identify suspects.
In conclusion, Chief Ramsey noted that the reforms he outlined,
"taken as a whole ... represent a major step forward in ensuring
quality, enhancing accountability, and improving performance." He
called on the Committee and the Council to support MPD in its systemic,
long-term reform effort. Chief Ramsey noted that the District is the only
major city in the country that does not operate and maintain its own crime
laboratory; most of the MPD's forensic evidence is sent to the FBI for
processing. The Chief stated that "To guarantee the kind of quality
and turnaround needed for criminal investigations today, our city needs a
fully functional, state-of-the-art crime laboratory of its own." In
addition, the Chief noted that the District lacks an effective DNA law
that would support the police in collecting and analyzing DNA evidence as
an aid to criminal investigations, including but not limited to homicide.
He called on the Council to support the "two common sense
measures" that he described. (note: on February 6, 2001,
Councilmembers Patterson and Brazil co-introduced Bill 14-63, the
"DNA Sample Collection Act of 2001," which would designate
felony offenses for which persons convicted shall be subject to mandatory
DNA sampling. The Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a public
hearing on the legislation on March 8, 2001.)
Chairperson Patterson asked Chief Ramsey how the MPD could lack a
performance evaluation system for detectives, noting that the
establishment of such an evaluation system was a key recommendation of the
Special Committee on Police Misconduct and Personnel Management that she
had co-chaired with Councilmember Evans in 1998. Chief Ramsey stated that
the collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police
(FOP) limited his ability to establish a performance evaluation system,
and that the FOP had filed a grievance when MPD attempted to implement
changes to the system. In response, Ms. Patterson expressed the view that
performance evaluation is a management prerogative and noted that she had
worked with the D.C. Public Schools in 1995 to give DCPS management the
exclusive responsibility to design and implement performance evaluation. (note:
the collective bargaining agreement between MPD and the FOP does require
any changes in the performance rating plan to be negotiated. Nevertheless,
the plan that is in place calls for annual ratings of outstanding, above
average, average, below average, or unsatisfactory, and provides that
employees with unsatisfactory ratings will be denied pay increases and
referred for other disciplinary action).
Ms. Patterson also asked Chief Ramsey about the accuracy of a statement
in a Washington Post article that only 11 of 33 homicide
supervisors have experience in the field. Chief Ramsey could not answer
definitively, but he said that what matters most are case management
skills and that such skills are lacking. Ms. Patterson also cited a quote
from a Washington Post article of a detective who said that it is
not unusual to come to work after a weekend and find a homicide case on
his desk. Chief Ramsey said that deployment changes need to be made to
take shifting crime patterns into account, so that every homicide case is
immediately assigned. He added that very few people want to work on a
Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. In response, Ms. Patterson noted that the
need to take shifting crime patterns into account sounds like an argument
Councilmember Chavous stressed the importance of outreach to families,
and expressed the view that it would be beneficial for MPD to create a
family outreach unit, and to do so quickly. Mr. Chavous also expressed
concern about the decentralized structure for homicide investigations,
noting that it can create a "silo" approach in which
investigators may be unable to share or take advantage of information.
Chief Ramsey stressed what he sees as the changing nature of homicide and
the growth in stranger crimes, which require a different approach, adding
that he views "solvability" factors as more important than
centralization or decentralization. The Chief also stated that gang
activity and drug-related crime are very local, and that investigators are
more likely to solve cases if they get to know a community and its
Councilmember Ambrose said that she is very concerned about homicides
in the Fifth District. Mrs. Ambrose then cited some of the recommendations
from best-practices forums convened by the Chief, noting that they seem to
support an argument for centralization of homicide investigators. She
noted that the District is a small city, and that crime spills over from
one police district to another, using as an example the case of a teenager
who was killed and whose body was dumped behind Anacostia High School.
This case spanned both the 6th and the 7th Districts. In response, Chief
Ramsey said that the best practices study called for more centralized
oversight, not deployment. He acknowledged that crime spills over district
boundaries, but stressed that a lot of crime is very neighborhood-based.
The Chief reiterated his view that there were serious problems in homicide
investigations when the unit was centralized, and pledged that if
decentralization did not work, he would be willing to change the
organizational structure "in a heartbeat."
Mrs. Ambrose expressed the view that there are serious personnel and
communications problems in MPD's investigative ranks, adding that when she
goes to patrol service area meetings, she finds that officers do not know
about burglaries being discussed because "that wasn't on my
shift." Accordingly, she expressed skepticism that weekly, one-hour
meetings of commanders are sufficient to share information about
homicides. Executive Assistant Chief Terry Gainer stated in response that
there is much more coordination and discussion than a one- hour meeting
held by top officials every week.
Councilmember Fenty described his experiences in going to the scene of
a November 6, 2000, homicide on Georgia Avenue, noting that police arrived
at the scene very quickly but that there did not seem to be much follow-up
investigation. He referred to a Judiciary Committee background memo
stating that of homicide cases that are solved, almost 33 percent of
homicide are solved almost immediately and stressed the importance of
launching investigations quickly and taking the proper investigative steps
from the outset. Chief Ramsey agreed with Mr. Fenty's point, noting that
MPD's new standard operating procedures will help ensure that detectives
follow all of the necessary steps in an investigation from the moment that
a homicide is reported. For example, a detective must arrive to interview
the responding patrol officers and to canvass the neighborhood to identify
witnesses or others who might know something about the crime.
Mr. Fenty also stated that there is a widespread feeling that homicides
in one part of the city are not considered as important as in other areas
-- a perception that "That's just another homicide at 7th &
Emerson." East of Rock Creek Park, or east of the Anacostia River,
there is a sense that cases don't get as much attention as the murders
that occurred in a Starbucks near Georgetown in 1997. In response, Chief
Ramsey stated that there is no "magic pattern" of deployment for
homicide investigations. In each case, MPD officers need to protect and
record the scene and take other necessary investigative steps. Ultimately,
it is the outcomes that are important, Chief Ramsey said.
Councilmember Brazil asked Chief Ramsey if his proposed budget for
fiscal year 2002 would reflect the need to beef up the homicide
investigation function. Chief Ramsey noted that there are a lot of vacant
positions, and that many experienced detectives are near the retirement
age. Councilmember Brazil also expressed concern about the practice of
administratively closing homicide cases. In response, Chief Ramsey assured
Mr. Brazil that such "exceptional clearances" follow certain
rules and that each case will be reviewed by an oversight panel to make
sure that the case closure was justified.
Chairperson Patterson followed up on Mr. Brazil's questions on
administrative closures, and asked about MPD's practice of closing a case
when the U.S. Attorney declines to prosecute the suspect. Chief Ramsey
acknowledged that there is pressure to close cases, but he stated that if
the case closure rate was low and homicides were investigated as
thoroughly as possible, he would be satisfied. The Chief added that he
does not believe that cases are investigated as thoroughly as possible, so
he is far from satisfied with current performance. Chief Ramsey also
stated that the FBI/UCR standards indicate that a case should be closed
even when the U.S. Attorney declines to prosecute. He further advised the
Committee that Executive Assistant Chief Gainer will have to approve all
administrative closures of homicide cases in the future.
Ms. Patterson then asked about the continuing disarray of homicide case
files, noting that a National Drug Intelligence Center report issued in
1996 had cited problems similar to those highlighted more recently by the Washington
Post. She cited several memoranda issued by homicide unit commanders
in 1997 and 1998 saying that detectives would be disciplined if they
failed to maintain complete case files at MPD headquarters, and asked if
anyone had been disciplined for missing or incomplete case jackets. Chief
Ramsey stated that no one had been disciplined, describing the problem as
a supervisory issue related to case management. The Chief added that he
was going to centralize responsibility for case management. Chairperson
Patterson pressed the Chief about why no one had been disciplined when
there had been numerous explicit violations of MPD policy. In response,
Chief Ramsey stated that it was often difficult to tell who was at fault
and that the problem had been exacerbated by frequent reorganizations of
the homicide unit in recent years. Ms. Patterson indicated that she was
not satisfied with this explanation, noting that accountability concerns
had been raised by the Council's Special Committee on Police Misconduct
and Personnel Management in 1998, and that the Council had overhauled the
personnel law in 1998 to give managers the tools to hold employees
Councilmember Fenty pointed out that New York City's homicide rate is
much lower than that of the District -- with a rate of 8.6 murders per
100,000 people in New York, compared with 49.7 murders per 100,000 people
in the District -- and asked how the District can attain that same low
level. Chief Ramsey said that New York had had incredible success,
although it paid a price in terms of civil liberties. He expressed the
view that the District could lower the annual number of homicides to less
than 100, less than half of the current total. Chief Ramsey also stated
that MPD is working on a proposal for a citywide forensic lab that would
serve the MPD, the Department of Health, and the Medical Examiner's
office; presently, the District uses the FBI's lab. In response to a
question from Mr. Fenty, Chief Ramsey advised the Committee that MPD will
rely not only on exams for choosing detectives; an interview and a review
of past performance will also be important factors.
Chairperson Patterson then asked about the WACIIS upgrades and how MPD
would avoid repeating the prior problems it had experienced with WACIIS.
Chief Ramsey said that there was no mandatory training on WACIIS when it
was first installed in 1992; this time, training will be mandatory. If
employees do not undergo WACIIS training, they will not be able to stay in
their jobs. The Chief also pointed out that more people were
"computer-phobic" in 1992; now, there is a widespread
understanding of the importance of computer skills. Executive Assistant
Chief Gainer added that now that WACIIS is well designed, detectives will
want to use the upgraded system.
Ms. Patterson then asked Chief Ramsey about the PD-50 reports that are
used to track investigators' work. Chief Ramsey said that the PD-50s are
no longer used, because they simply measure activity and not performance.
He said that the forms used to include a case closure rate, but that this
measure had been removed and needed to be brought back. Ms. Patterson
stated that PD-50s were required by MPD policy, and asked the Chief if he
was in violation of his own policies. Chief Ramsey acknowledged that MPD
probably was in violation of its own policies.
Councilmember Ambrose asked Chief Ramsey where a new crime lab might be
located, and also expressed her relief that MPD's new firing range will be
located in Cheltenham, Maryland. Chief Ramsey said that he did not know
about possible locations for the crime lab, and that the Mayor's office
was handling the issue. In response to a question from Mrs. Ambrose, Chief
Ramsey also stated that he did not know the status of a proposed public
safety campus for MPD, the Fire Department, and other agencies.
Chairperson Patterson concluded the questioning of Chief Ramsey by
stating that the Committee would hold regular follow-up hearings on MPD's
homicide investigations and case closure rate. She asked the Chief for his
view of when it would be appropriate to review MPD's progress, following
the implementation of the draft standard operating procedures. Chief
Ramsey expressed the view that it would be appropriate to review MPD's
performance after the SOPs had been in effect for at least six months.
Gerald G. Neill, Chairman of the Fraternal Order of
Police/Metropolitan Police Labor Committee, was the second witness.
Sergeant Neill was accompanied by Detective Lorren Leadmon, who chairs the
Fraternal Order of Police's Detective Committee. Sergeant Neill stated
that he represents more than 3,300 men and women at the rank of sergeant
and below on the police department, and added that he had served as a
Sergeant Neill described the awesome sense of responsibility that
homicide detectives feel for each case and the bonds that they form with
victims' families and loved ones. "Each passing hour and day that
slips by without bringing those responsible to justice, takes a personal
toll on the detective and those who survive the victim," Sergeant
Sergeant Neill stated that MPD used to achieve a 90 percent homicide
case closure rate, and attributed MPD's current performance to "a
lack of proper management and resources." He expressed the view that
Chief Ramsey's decision to decentralize homicide investigations was based
on his experience in Chicago, which is much larger than the District. To
improve MPD's homicide investigations and its case closure rate, Sergeant
Neill stated that, "We must bring all of our homicide detectives back
under one roof, where they can share experience, facts, techniques, and
facilities." Sergeant Neill also called for the creation of a career
path for officers who wish to become investigators, noting that "We
must find the best investigators and move them to the most serious
offenses in units utilizing the most effective models of operation."
In calling for investigators to specialize in particular areas, Sergeant
Neill asked "Do you want the person who is treating a
life-threatening brain injury to be a 'well rounded' general practitioner
or a brain surgeon? If you have cancer, do you want the 'well rounded'
general practitioner or an oncologist?"
Chairperson Patterson asked Sergeant Neill and Detective Leadmon why
the homicide case closure rate hasn't improved during a time when total
homicides have dropped sharply. Detective Leadmon stated in response that
the FOP's review shows that personnel, scene coverage, and flexibility are
the most important elements related to MPD's success in closing homicide
cases. He stated that in the 4th District, for example, investigators are
spread far too thin. Detective Leadmon added that the size of
investigative units needs to be doubled if decentralization is to work.
Ms. Patterson also asked if the FOP had been able to review the draft SOPs
for homicide investigations; Detective Leadmon said he had seen the draft
SOPs and that the new guidelines were very good.
Sergeant Neill and Detective Leadmon stressed that family notification
is very important, not only to family members but also to homicide
detectives themselves. Detectives need information and support that the
family and friends of homicide detectives can provide; they are the only
people who care besides the police. Detective Leadmon also stressed that
homicide supervisors must have experience as homicide investigators,
stating that "You have to know the work to manage the work, and you
have to know it well."
Chairperson Patterson then asked for views on performance evaluation,
including Chief Ramsey's statement that the FOP contract is an impediment
to performance evaluation. Sergeant Neill emphasized that the FOP wants to
remove non-performers, because they are a threat to the safety of others.
He stressed that the FOP is quite willing to bargain with MPD management
on this topic.
Councilmember Ambrose also asked about a pay-for-performance approach.
Sergeant Neill stated that there is already a performance component,
because someone cannot advance as a detective without a satisfactory
evaluation. He added that there are serious resource problems as well.
Mrs. Ambrose urged the FOP to help the Council ensure that budget needs
are met, and stressed that the Council needs to hear from FOP on questions
such as the adequacy of Geographic Information Systems, the adequacy of
training for WACIIS, and other topics.
David Schertler, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney (1984 to 1996) and
the former chief of the U.S. Attorney's homicide unit (1992 to 1996),
advised the Committee that he had worked almost exclusively on the
investigation and prosecution of homicide cases during eight of his 12
years in the U.S. Attorney's office. "During that time," Mr.
Schertler said, "I can say that I worked with just about every
homicide investigator and supervisor in the Metropolitan Police
Department." When he served for four years as head of the U.S.
Attorney's homicide unit, Mr. Schertler supervised more than 20
prosecutors who handled homicide prosecutions. Mr. Schertler's
responsibilities included helping to train and educate homicide
detectives, assisting them in conducting their investigations, and
reviewing investigations when detectives wanted to make an arrest.
Mr. Schertler stressed that, "Homicide investigations as a group
are a unique and specialized type of criminal investigation. There are
certain aspects of a homicide investigation that are unique to homicide
cases and detectives need training and experience in those aspects of
homicide investigations." He added that homicide cases are
distinctive because homicide is the most serious type of crime that,
accordingly, carries the most serious penalties, including the possibility
of life imprisonment without parole in the District. Therefore, Mr.
Schertler emphasized that homicide supervisors cannot be generalists; they
must have extensive experience in the field. "Because of the nature
of the crime of taking someone's life, our society and our community
demand that a certain priority be given to solving these cases and making
sure that justice is done. They demand that these cases be handled with
the highest possible level of competence and professionalism." Mr.
Schertler also pointed out that a police department's success in resolving
homicide cases "is one of the most significant indicators of the
overall performance of that department. The failure to solve homicide
cases, leaving killers to go free and grieving families with no sense of
justice, undermines the fabric of our society."
Mr. Schertler then outlined five recommendations for improving the
performance of homicide investigations at MPD. First, he stressed the
importance of centalization, saying that "Homicide investigations
must be centralized in one homicide investigative unit, under one
command." Decentralization, in Mr. Schertler's view, "splinters
homicide investigators among seven police districts and prevents them from
sharing intelligence and investigative ideas and experiences." He
added that decentralization undermines department-wide consistency in
training, investigative protocol, and accountability. Mr. Schertler
further suggested that the goals of decentralization -- making
investigators more familiar with communities and neighborhoods -- can be
realized through a central homicide unit with subdivisions of
investigators who are assigned to specific police districts.
Second, Mr. Schertler called for strong and experienced leadership in
the homicide unit, with a commander who has the authority to "build a
strong, supportive and experienced command structure of lieutenants and
sergeants." Third, Mr. Schertler emphasized the importance of
selecting quality homicide investigators. "Only the best should be
entrusted to investigate homicides," Mr. Schertler stated, adding
that there should be written and oral tests for promotion to the homicide
unit and that investigators should be selected by a panel that includes
the commander of the homicide unit and two senior members of management.
Fourth, Mr. Schertler advocated a formal month-long training program,
covering all aspects of homicide investigations and prosecutions for new
investigators, as well as ongoing training to address new issues and
technology, and to reinforce the basics. Finally, Mr. Schertler stressed
accountability "for each and every homicide case. There should be
weekly reviews by the supervising sergeants and lieutenants of each case
under their command and written memoranda memorializing what is said in
those meetings about the progress to date and the future steps in the
investigation. The Commander should meet weekly with his supervising
sergeants and lieutenants to ensure that every case is being worked in a
thorough, expedient, and professional manner."
Mr. Schertler concluded his testimony by stating that his ideas were
not new; and that then-Commander William Hennessy implemented many of
these policies in 1993-94. "The results were immediate," Mr.
Schertler said, with the homicide clearance rate rising quickly from 48
percent to 60 percent. "The city's homicide unit received uniform
praise and was looked on as a model for the rest of the country." The
more recent struggles of the homicide program, Mr. Schertler stated,
reflect "a failure of (MPD) leadership, who have denied investigators
the organizational structure, guidance, and resources they need to do
their jobs well."
Chairperson Patterson asked Mr. Schertler how homicide investigators
can get close to communities and build knowledge of neighborhoods, as well
as trust, in a centralized deployment system. Mr. Schertler said in
response that a central homicide unit could have a 7th District division,
and that when a call came in from that district, the appropriate
detectives would go to the scene. At the same time, detectives assigned to
other districts who were available could also assist with the case by
helping to control the crime scene and doing interviews. In that way, Mr.
Schertler said, homicide investigators would be knowledgeable about
neighborhoods, but resources could still be deployed flexibly to reflect
changing crime patterns.
Ms. Patterson also asked Mr. Schertler what was different about the
1993-94 period when Mr. Schertler witnessed the implementation of reforms
by Commander Hennessy. Everything was different, Mr. Schertler said in
response. The unit was centralized and detectives in the homicide unit
worked only on homicides; now, detectives might work on burglaries as well
as homicides. Too many supervisors don't have a background in homicide,
Mr. Schertler stated. He added that two- to four-week training, covering
essential topics such as Miranda rights and forensic and medical evidence,
used to be mandatory for new investigators.
Chairperson Patterson then asked Mr. Schertler for his perspective on
the tension between MPD and the U.S. Attorney in prosecuting cases.
"That tension exists, and will always be there," Mr. Schertler
said. He noted that the standard for arresting someone -- probable cause
-- is different from the need to prove "beyond a reasonable
doubt" in court. Mr. Schertler also expressed the view that
centralization leads to better coordination between the MPD and the U.S.
Attorney's office. Ms. Patterson asked Mr. Schertler how homicide
investigative performance can best be measured. In response, Mr. Schertler
recommended looking at conviction rates.
Councilmember Ambrose asked Mr. Schertler about links between different
types of crime, noting that police officers sometimes do not take
fingerprints after burglaries and pointing out that leads on other crimes
might result if there was better investigative work in a host of areas.
Mr. Schertler noted that such links may not be very promising for homicide
cases, particularly in investigations of crime that are typically
committed by small-time criminals. He added, though, that more stringent
drug laws tend to lead to important observations and apprehensions.
Mrs. Ambrose then brought up the subject of centralization, noting that
the District is smaller than other cities such as Chicago that have
decentralized homicide investigations. She also cited the importance of
having detectives together "to kick things around," pointing out
that such discussions often lead to important information. Mr. Schertler
agreed with Councilmember Ambrose's points, and added that centralization
allows for a more consistent application of investigative standards --
which is hard enough to ensure, even under "one roof," in Mr.
Retired MPD Captain William Corboy drew on his 20 years of
experience as a homicide investigator in presenting his testimony to the
Committee. Mr. Corboy challenged the idea that the "good old
days" were really so good, and stressed that there had been
persistent problems in MPD homicide investigations. He recounted his
experience upon first starting as a homicide detective in 1981, when he
handled 17 cases with little oversight or supervision even though he was
the most junior detective and had no training. On the verge of quitting,
Mr. Corboy remained a homicide detective after an experienced investigator
started to mentor him. It took two or three years, Mr. Corboy said, before
he was really capable of doing the work.
Mr. Corboy described two deaths that occurred in 1987 to illustrate his
point that "Closure rates mean absolutely nothing to me." In
this case, two homeless people occupying an abandoned building at 1461 P
Street, N.W., died after a fire that was initially attributed to
electrical causes. After investigating, Mr. Corboy found that there was no
electricity in the building, and also identified an individual who had
seen someone throw a Molotov cocktail into the house. The case was never
reopened, according to Mr. Corboy, so it is recorded as a closed case and
as an accident, instead of an unsolved homicide. Instead of case closure
rates, Mr. Corboy emphasized that the quality of investigations is what
matters. He noted that a "same- year" case closure rate of less
than 40 percent in the last few years should have triggered a review of
investigative practices, but added that MPD managers were at a loss about
what to do.
Mr. Corboy stated that in early 2000, when the Washington Post requested
homicide case files, he assumed that the Post was going to look at
the growing use of administrative case closures. None of the practices
exposed in the Post series, including the disarray of case files,
was new, Mr. Corboy said. "We could have salvaged homicide cases in
the year 2000," Mr. Corboy said, by properly working the cases.
Chairperson Patterson asked Mr. Corboy if he had seen MPD's draft SOPs
for homicide investigations; Mr. Corboy said that he had not examined the
SOPs. Ms. Patterson asked about in-service training for homicide
detectives during Mr. Corboy's 20 years on the force. Mr. Corboy said that
there had been little training, and that former assistant U.S. Attorney
David Schertler had directly provided much of the training for detectives
when he led the U.S. Attorney's homicide unit.
Ms. Patterson asked Mr. Corboy if crime mapping had been used at MPD
before he retired last year. "We didn't even use pin maps," Mr.
Corboy said. He described a March 1999 meeting detailing plans for the
introduction of IRMA, a crime-mapping system, but said that he understands
that IRMA is still not used today. Mr. Corboy also stated that he had
requested homicide crime maps from the relevant MPD unit shortly before he
left the force, and was told that this was not done on a routine basis.
Mr. Corboy said that he had tracked homicides personally since 1988, and
that his analysis shows that there are very localized crime waves.
Therefore, flexibility in the deployment of homicide investigators is
extremely important. Mr. Corboy advised the Committee that when there are
a lot of homicides in a police district, the detectives become overwhelmed
and naturally focus on the easiest cases. The harder cases don't receive
the attention that they need, making it unlikely that they will ever be
Chairperson Patterson then asked Mr. Corboy what MPD should be doing to
exploit the potential of gun recoveries in solving cases. Mr. Corboy said
that MPD has not recognized the importance of using gun recoveries as an
investigative tool. Gun information should be part of WACIIS, MPD's
criminal intelligence information system. Mr. Corboy expressed concern
that an analysis of 1,800 unsolved cases by the National Drug Intelligence
Center, completed in 1996, might not have been entered into WACIIS. Part
of the problem, Mr. Corboy stated, is that WACIIS is a proprietary system
without open architecture.
Mr. Corboy then described some of the problems with WACIIS. From the
time WACIIS was first implemented in 1992, he said, the system was
"extraordinarily difficult." As an example, Mr. Corboy stated
that WACIIS lacked a "cut-and-paste" function allowing
investigators to move information from one place to another. Detectives
stopped inputting information into WACIIS because it was so cumbersome and
time-consuming. Mr. Corboy said that he was not familiar with the recent
WACIIS upgrade, so he could not say if the problems had been effectively
In response to additional questions from Chairperson Patterson, Mr.
Corboy said that he did not think MPD could afford a "cold-case"
squad when performance on newer cases is so poor. He also stated that he
does not accept the argument that the nature of homicide has changed so
markedly, making it more difficult to close cases. He expressed the view
that MPD has not done the work needed to solve cases, so it is premature
to claim that it can't be done. "I've done this work," Mr.
Corboy said. "This is not theoretical to me." He stressed that
in homicide cases, there is always someone out there who knows what
Charles Wellford, chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice and
Criminology at the University of Maryland, described research he had
conducted on the factors associated with the closing of homicide cases. He
noted that homicide closure rates have declined over time, but added that
"Some cities have continued to show relatively high clearance rates
for homicide as well as for other crimes. The question that motivated our
work on homicide clearances was 'What makes one department's clearance
rates better than another'?" To answer this question, Professor
Wellford and his colleagues examined 200 homicides in each of four large
cities to identify the factors that affect homicide rates. In doing this
work, the researchers collected information on 215 characteristics of the
case or the investigation, and drew on the advice of experienced homicide
investigators in designing the research.
Professor Wellford found that there were 51 elements that were
significantly associated with closing a homicide case, and that 37 of
these factors described what the police did to investigate and solve the
case. Of the 15 characteristics that best predicted case clearance, the
vast majority described activities that the police control.
Professor Wellford found that the likelihood of closing a case
increased significantly when the following factors were present:
- the first officer on the scene quickly notifies the homicide unit,
the medical examiners, and the crime lab;
- the first officer on the scene attempts to identify potential
witnesses, secures the area, and identifies witnesses in the
- a minimum of three detectives is assigned to the case; and
- a detective arrives at the crime scene within 30 minutes.
In addition, Professor Wellford stated that his research also
"demonstrates the growing importance of computer checks of various
types, particularly computer checks on guns, suspects, and victims. Cases
in which computer checks were conducted on the victim, suspect, witness,
and guns were more likely to be cleared." He acknowledged that
drug-related homicides continue to be the most difficult for police to
solve, but cautioned that "The results of our homicide clearance
study show that even in drug cases police responses can lead to improved
levels of arrest."
Professor Wellford noted that, following the publication of this
research, he had been asked by MPD to participate in two best-practices
forums last year to review homicide investigations. He commended MPD for
developing a research program to analyze past cases to understand the
factors that affect the homicide closure rate in the District, and for its
development of new standard operating procedures for homicide
investigations. Professor Wellford stated that, "In my judgment,
based upon reviewing homicide standard operating procedures in a number of
large cities, if the operating procedures for homicides that are contained
in the document labeled 'final draft December 2000' are carefully
followed, the MPD will have one of the most comprehensive, evidence-based
approaches to homicide investigations in the country."
Professor Wellford then commented on the measurement of homicide case
closure rates. He noted that the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports define the
closure rate as the number of closures in one year divided by the number
of homicides that occurred that year. The other approach, Professor
Wellford stated, is to calculate an "in-year" clearance rate, in
which the number of closures for cases that occurred in the current
calendar year are divided by the number of homicides that occurred in the
calendar year. Professor Wellford described the FBI measure as the
"standard definition" of the homicide closure rate, adding that
the "in-year" closure rate can be misleading because the mean
time for clearing a case is nine months (note: although most
homicide cases are closed within the first six months, some cases that
take much longer to solve raise the overall average). Therefore, Professor
Wellford stated, homicide case closures will often occur in the year after
the crime was committed, meaning that the in-year closure rate could be
misleadingly low. He further advised the Committee that "From the
research perspective, the best way to define clearances is to take all of
the homicides in a year and then determine at various intervals whether
those cases have been cleared."
Professor Wellford concluded his testimony with a discussion of
centralizing or decentralizing the homicide investigative unit. He noted
that some homicides -- perhaps 10 percent -- will never be solved, and
that a significant proportion will be solved almost immediately at the
crime scene. Therefore, a police department's performance will depend on
how it handles the approximately 60 percent of cases that are neither
simple, nor almost impossible, to solve. Professor Wellford expressed the
view that community policing should help police departments solve those
cases by building trust and knowledge of local circumstances. He stated
that, "The logic of community policing, as it is applied in a
homicide investigation situation, suggests to me decentralization can help
overcome the reluctance of community members to assist police -- provided
that the level of morale and prestige that comes with participation in a
central unit can be maintained by the department. That is a big if and one
that needs careful consideration."
Chairperson Patterson stressed the importance of Professor Wellford's
finding that 37 of 51 factors that significantly affect homicide case
closures are under police control. She asked Professor Wellford for his
views on which of the 37 practices the MPD is not following. Professor
Wellford said that accountability for a case must be established at the
outset, and that the solving of homicide cases is largely a process of
hypothesis testing that begins when a detective arrives on the scene. The
detective has to keep testing his or her hypotheses, and must have someone
looking over his or her shoulder as this proceeds.
Ms. Patterson asked Professor Wellford for his views on
"cold-case" squads. Professor Wellford responded by saying that
cold-case investigations should not be a priority in terms of resources,
because of the need to focus on cases that are solvable. He added that
there should be a triage process to identify the cases that are most
likely to be solved. With regard to training, Professor Wellford stressed
in-service training, in particular to help detectives learn about
technological developments. He reiterated that computer checks were found
to be important in his study, and that technological advances probably
mean that such checks have even greater utility now. On the subject of
performance evaluation, Professor Wellford cautioned that evaluations need
to take into account the difficulty of cases that are assigned. Finally,
he stressed the importance of the way in which police policies reinforce
each other. As an example, he said that early arrival at the scene is
important for detectives, but that this is difficult to achieve if
detectives don't have cars that they can take home.
Louis Richardson, retired detective sergeant in the Metropolitan
Police Department, advised the Committee about the importance of
experience in the selection of homicide detectives and informants, and
expressed concern that many people are in their jobs due to cronyism. In
recruiting new investigators, he urged the MPD and policymakers to look at
those who serve as "Officer Friendly" in junior high and senior
high schools. These officers, Mr. Richardson stated, develop a rapport
with youth and the knowledge about neighborhoods that will serve them well
Chairperson Patterson asked Mr. Richardson what ideas or
recommendations had made sense to him in today's hearing, and which ones
did not. Mr. Richardson expressed the view that the burglary suspect
should be used as a source of information because he might know about
something that happened around the corner. He also stated that patrol
service area officers should spend more time on liaison with families
because the detectives don't always have time. Mr. Richardson also
expressed skepticism about a possible District-owned crime lab, stating
that it was more important to devote resources to hire more officers and
train them properly.
Wilma Lewis, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia,
provided written comments to the Committee for the hearing. First, Ms.
Lewis noted that MPD's homicide investigations "suffer from resource
shortages in a number of areas." She stated that MPD lacks a
sufficient number of experienced and well-trained detectives to
investigate homicides. Ms. Lewis also cited a shortage of important
equipment, including radios, cars, and functioning videotape machinery.
The Mobile Crime Laboratory Unit, in her view, is not "adequately
staffed or equipped to satisfy the forensic needs of the city's homicide
cases." She added that "the MPD unit that conducts lineups is
inadequately trained and poorly staffed" and that "the Medical
Examiner's Office, among other deficiencies, does not have the staff to
generate timely autopsy reports."
The U.S. Attorney expressed the view that substantial resources must be
invested to correct the shortcomings described above. She wrote that,
"Serious consideration should be given to the proposed D.C. forensic
laboratory project and to increased funding for the Medical Examiner's
Office to rebuild its toxicology laboratory and otherwise improve its
services. We also suggest that support be given to MPD's efforts to update
or replace WACIIS, its outdated and cumbersome investigative
software." Finally, Ms. Lewis urged the Council to enact legislation
designating the offenses for which a convicted offender must contribute a
sample to a DNA data bank, and stated that other jurisdictions have had
considerable success in solving homicide and other violent crime cases
using DNA data banks. (as noted earlier in this report, on February 6,
2001, Councilmembers Patterson and Brazil co-introduced Bill 14-63, the
"DNA Sample Collection Act of 2001," which would designate
felony offenses for which persons convicted shall be subject to mandatory
Ms. Lewis also pointed to deficiencies in training, noting that
"the quality of MPD's detective work reflects a lack of consistency
that, in our view, is largely attributable to the absence of comprehensive
training in the fundamentals of criminal investigation. Over the years, it
has not been unusual for MPD officers to graduate to the detective rank
without having a firm grasp of important investigative matters such as
evidence handling, interviewing techniques and crime scene analysis, with
the result that critical steps in homicide investigations are sometimes
overlooked or unwittingly mishandled."
On the topic of decentralization of homicide investigators, Ms. Lewis
stated that this approach can succeed "only if MPD has sufficient
resources and manpower in each of the seven districts. To date, such has
not been the case." She expressed the view that there are often too
few detectives to respond to a homicide scene, canvass for witnesses, and
take witness statements, and that the assignment of investigators to the
police districts often leaves some district squads without experienced
detectives or supervisors whose guidance is essential to the successful
conclusion of an investigation. Ms. Lewis also advised the Committee that
"Many of those benefits (of centralization) could still be achieved
... by assigning detectives by district within the centralized pool. MPD
successfully employed such a model in the mid-1990s -- a period during
which MPD achieved a higher homicide closure rate than is now the
Finally, the U.S. Attorney noted that the recent redeployment to street
patrol of personnel from specialized units "has interfered with and
adversely impacted the speed with which critical investigative tasks are
impacted. Any delay in performing such tasks, like the processing of
forensic evidence from a crime scene in a particular case, could easily
jeopardize the detective's ability to close that case." Therefore,
she called for careful consideration of whether an appropriate balance has
been struck been police presence on the street "and the cost of
diverting precious manpower and resources from the investigation of
homicides and violent crime cases."
Evening Segment of the Roundtable
The Committee heard testimony from 18 public witnesses during the
evening segment of the roundtable. Chief Ramsey along with at least a
dozen MPD employees listened to all of the testimony, and were available
to meet with witnesses to follow up on the issues and problems that they
Leslie Dow testified about the death of his sister Jeannette
Marie Dow, who was found murdered in the 3rd Street tunnel on September
29, 1999. Ms. Dow's murder remains unsolved. A ward of the state, Ms. Dow
had been stabbed 16 times. Mr. Dow said that his sister, who was 46 years
old at the time of her death, suffered from schizophrenia and had
struggled with drug addiction. Ms. Dow had been in and out of St.
Elizabeth's Hospital since she was 17 years old.
Mr. Dow stated that "Jeanette died -- not just by the hand of an
assassin, she died also because the system failed her. Instead of being
cared for and watched over properly, she was left to deal by herself. She
was a sitting duck for the sick person who took her life." Mr. Dow
concluded his testimony by saying "I feel tremendous hurt and
betrayal -- I lost my only sister and it seems no one cares. There is a
murderer on the loose and no one cares."
Chairperson Patterson asked Mr. Dow about the police investigation and
whether he was kept informed as an investigation proceeded. Mr. Dow
reiterated that he read about his sister's case closure in the newspaper,
and that no one from MPD had contacted him (note: an MPD list of
homicides between 1998 and 2000 lists Ms. Dow's case as open). He asked
how there could be no active investigation of so many murders, and also
appealed for more support for the mentally ill. Unsolved murders, Mr. Dow
stated, tell people "that they can kill again." Mrs. Ambrose
expressed her sorrow to Mr. Dow, noting that "There was a lot of pain
on that list" of 1,500 unsolved murders.
Keith Jarrell, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for single-member
district 6A03, opened his testimony by stating that "Washington,
D.C., is truly a great place to live and a great place to commit murder
... Clearly, if you murder a citizen or a visitor in the District of
Columbia, you stand an alarmingly high chance of getting by with it."
Mr. Jarrell then proceeded to describe the murder of Susan, a young
neighbor of his, in early 2000, as well as the subsequent investigation of
the murder. He noted that:
"Five and a half months later, that collection of evidence was
sitting in a closet ... Through our intense questioning, we discovered
that if there was a cataloging or organizational method in place, the
Lieutenant in charge of the investigation could not tell us what it was.
He did not know! The system failed! Our neighbor was dead, the murderer
was still in the community and there were no answers or valid
After the police department scrambled to submit the forensics evidence
to the FBI five months after the murder, Mr. Jarrell said, the U.S.
Attorney's office "offered no follow up on the murder," adding
that, "One phone call to check the status from a tickler system would
have thrown up a red flag of concern." Nevertheless, this did not
happen. Mr. Jarrell expressed the view that, "This frightfully high
unsolved murder rate will never be brought under control until stricter
standards, modern training, and proper oversight are instilled as the
basis of how every case is handled."
Mr. Jarrell stated that "It is my greatest desire that if nothing
else comes from this committee hearing you will move to immediately set
standards of calling for a complete revision in the system, and every
component of the investigation process," including "forensics,
oversight, training and management of personnel and evidence, involvement
of the prosecutor's office." He concluded by saying "Now nearly
two years later through your efforts today Susan once again has a voice.
Don't let the system continue to fail!"
Chairperson Patterson stated in response that the Committee will give
voice to Susan, Jeanette, and other murder victims in the District. She
cited the University of Maryland research that found that 37 of the 51
characteristics associated with the closing of homicide cases are under
the control of police, adding that if MPD had good standard operating
procedures in place covering all aspects of a homicide investigation, the
community would not be witnessing so much suffering.
Councilmember Ambrose said that she had few questions in response to
Mr. Jarrell's testimony, because she had lived through this particular
case which occurred in her ward. She noted that the fault was not with the
1st District officers who rushed to the scene, but rather with the
handling of the evidence and the subsequent investigation. She asked Mr.
Jarrell if he knew what had happened to the individual who failed to
process the evidence; Mr. Jarrell did not know because he was told by the
police department that it was a private personnel matter. Mr. Jarrell
reiterated his shock that the supervising lieutenant knew little about the
case or about procedures for handling evidence. He asked the Committee why
it was not possible for someone to put a notation in a book and say
"Check on evidence by a certain date." Councilmember Ambrose
pointed out that residents in patrol service area 106 had stayed on this
case, and wondered how many other cases there were in which no one took
action and processed the evidence. "We have too many throwaway lives
in the District of Columbia," Mrs. Ambrose said.
Leroy Thorpe, Advisory Neighorhood Commissioner for single-member
district 2C02, expressed the view that less attention is paid to the
deaths of African Americans. He called on MPD to work better with
individual communities, and also expressed the view that MPD's witness
protection program is very ineffective.
Reverend Judy Talbert, Executive Director of the Reintegrating
Alternatives Personal Program, described her experiences as the pastor
of Faith Tabernacle of Prayer and as a member of the Clergy, Police, and
Community Partnership formed by Chief Ramsey and the Reverend Anthony
Motley in August 1999. Dr. Talbert stated that this partnership was formed
to "reach and assist young people whose lives have been affected by
drugs, violence, and crime." As executive director of the
Reintegrating Alternatives Personal Program, Dr. Talbert helps provide
mentoring, parole and probation monitoring, counseling, victim support,
therapy, academic enrichment, job training, and other services to young
Dr. Talbert commended Chief Ramsey and the MPD for working
collaboratively with the community and for achieving reductions in the
homicide rate. She noted that the number of homicides had dropped from 454
in 1993 to 237 in 2000, and called upon all concerned invididuals to
"work together as opposed to finger pointing, browbeating, and
Ms. Darnell Roseboro spoke about the loss of her son, James
Lewis Bullock, Jr., who died after being shot four times on August 9,
1999, in the 1600 block of Olive Street, N.E. Ms. Roseboro outlined three
First, she told the Committee that three detectives have handled her
son's case and that the case remains unsolved. "If I had not stayed
in contact with the police department on a regular basis," Ms.
Roseboro said, "I would not have been aware of my son's case being
transferred to three different detectives." Ms. Roseboro also stated
that the detective currently assigned to the case has never initiated
contact with her, although she follows up with him every two weeks. She
expressed the view that leads in her son's case had not been properly
Second, Ms. Roseboro noted that her son had been murdered 17 months
ago, and that she had been told that homicides that occurred this year
were the priority. "Where does that make my son's case fall within
the priority?" she asked.
Third, Ms. Roseboro said that she received a call on January 22, 2001,
from Sergeant Hoop in the Fifth District. Sergeant Hoop was following up
on a town meeting that Ms. Roseboro had attended on January 9, 2001. Ms.
Roseboro said that the sergeant had incorrect information about her son's
case and that she is no longer clear about who is working on the case or
if there is a full investigation proceeding. She advised the Committee
that "It once was suggested that my son's case be turned over to the
Cold Case Team," and asked "How can that be suggested if a full
investigation has not been completed?"
Ms. Roseboro concluded her testimony by stating that "I believe
the attitude of the department is my son's case is just another homicide
file number, because there are so many cases similar to his." She
added that, "No person deserves to be murdered the way my son was. He
was 25, born Christmas day, a godfather of seven, and had a heart of gold.
He could walk in a room and make everyone smile. He would give his last to
help his friends and family."
Dick Clark delivered the prepared testimony of Reverend Anthony J.
Motley, who was unable to attend the roundtable. Mr. Motley's written
statement described several barriers to effective homicide investigations,
including "a climate of non-involvement" within the community as
well as individuals' fear of being identified as a police witness. Mr.
Motley also noted in his statement that some people "have family
members who are either the victim or perpetrator of a homicide, and the
family either wants to respond on their own terms or they don't want their
friend or family member taken away from them."
To support effective homicide investigations, Mr. Motley emphasized the
need for more trained and experienced detectives, "more up to date
technology and resources allocated to the homicide detectives," and
ways to protect witnesses and encourage them to come forward. Mr. Motley
concluded his statement by saying "that the issue of unsolved
homicides needs to not just be a police issue but a community issue ... We
need to rally around our police department with resources and a promise to
commit to a long-term sustained effort."
Cardell Shelton emphasized the need for vocational training,
life skills training, and counselors in schools to help youth. He stated
that the District needs more recreation centers and community centers, and
called on the community to reach out and show its interest in children.
Ms. Hannah Cherry testified that her brother was killed on
December 16, 1998, near Howard University. Her brother had worked in a
supermarket in Chevy Chase, and according to Ms. Cherry, was left in an
alley "worse than a dog or a cat." She called for community
involvement and outrage, and asked, "Why are all these seats not
filled tonight?" In response to Chairperson Patterson's questions
about her brother's death, Ms. Cherry said that a Detective Wheeler was
assigned to the case, adding that she had not heard anything from the
police and that her brother's case was still open.
Rahim Jenkins, the director and president of the Righteous Men's
Commission, described the work his organization had done with youth,
including rites of passages programs and violence prevention efforts. In
1997, his group discovered that 150 women had been killed, 70 of whom were
killed east of the Anacostia River. Mr. Jenkins expressed dismay that
little had changed in four years. Mr. Jenkins noted the attention that the
arrival of two pandas at the National Zoo had received and stated that if
one of the pandas died, the panda would be the subject of news reports and
a thorough investigation of his or her death.
Mr. Jenkins spoke about an attitude in the city that retaliation is an
acceptable response to violence, almost as though people are willing to
sit back and wait for retaliation to take place. He also pointed out that
four years ago, bodies were piled up unexamined in the city morgue as an
example of the lack of concern for people who died. Mr. Jenkins expressed
the view that if a lot of murders occurred near Georgetown, there would be
an enormous public outcry.
Mr. Jenkins stressed that there is no excuse for a detective not to
call back a family member or friend of a murder victim, even if the
detective cannot report any new information or progress on the case. He
also emphasized the importance of employment and training for children,
noting that the Mayor had just held a $550,000 youth summit but that more
direct results are needed. Finally, Mr. Jenkins called on policymakers to
hold police accountable. If Trinidad and Langston Terrace are having a
beef, Mr. Jenkins said, police should know about it and be able to
intervene before the cycle of violence continues. In conclusion, Mr.
Jenkins stated that he had been giving the same presentation since 1997.
Councilmember Chavous stressed the importance of police responsiveness
to the family and friends of murder victims, and suggested that within the
next 30 days police should contact the family members of each homicide
victim whose case is unsolved. He emphasized that every homicide case
deserves and requires the same amount of care and attention.
Milton Brown testified about the death of his son, Milton Brown,
Jr., on March 31, 1996. Almost five years after his son's death, Mr. Brown
said that he would not go away and let his son's death become a statistic.
Mr. Brown added that he had told police who the likely suspect was and
that the suspect was in jail already when Mr. Brown had told them about
the suspect. He disagreed with Councilmember Chavous' statement about the
importance of each case, saying that black lives do not matter to the
Chairperson Patterson asked Mr. Brown for some of the details about the
police investigation of his son's homicide. Mr. Brown said that he begged
the police for follow-up, but that the case was eventually sent to the
"cold case" squad. He said that his last contact with 3rd
District investigators assigned to the case was two months ago, adding
that the police treat family members "like they don't have any damn
Vernon Gudger, a police sergeant from MPD's 7th district
described two highly publicized homicide investigations that were
improperly handled, and compared these flawed investigations to internal
MPD investigations of his own conduct that resulted in several
suspensions. Sergeant Gudger expressed the view that he had been treated
unfairly in these investigations. Chairperson Patterson advised Sergeant
Gudger that the Committee would review the materials he had presented, but
reminded him that the purpose of the roundtable was to discuss homicide
investigations and that he should confine his remarks to that subject.
Loreitha Gray spoke about the death of her brother, Jerome
Purcell Gray, Jr., on December 20, 1998. Ms. Gray described her brother as
a hard-working individual who was not involved with drugs. She told the
Committee that her brother's case was put aside for six months during the
decentralization of the homicide squad; the case was reassigned to another
detective during this organizational change. Ms. Gray said that her
brother had died after being hit over the head with the top of a toilet
tank, but that her family found more evidence at her brother's apartment
-- clothing that did not belong to her brother, as well as a cigarette and
cigarette lighter -- that the police had not secured. Ms. Gray said that
she had called detectives numerous times since January 1999, but that no
progress had been reported; in fact, there were no results from
fingerprint or DNA testing.
Chairperson Patterson asked Ms. Gray about the current status of the
case. Ms. Gray stated in response that another detective in the 6th
District had been assigned to the case, and that this detective had given
her some confidence that the investigation would move forward. Ms. Gray
also described how lost she felt when she did not hear anything, saying
that, "You lose hope; you lose faith."
Wilma Harper told the Committee that her niece was one of seven
young girls or women who were killed by the "freeway phantom"
between 1971 and 1972. Her niece was killed on September 5, 1972, just
before she was to enter high school. The undertaker had found hair in her
niece's mouth, but that now that there is technology to analyze the hair,
the evidence is missing. Ms. Harper concluded her testimony by expressing
her desire to teach young people basic life skills so that they can live
within their means, and to work to console people who have lost family
members or friends to homicide.
Sonise Muldrow spoke about the death of her brother, Kenneth
Muldrow, Jr., who was beaten and found dead on December 8, 2000, at the
age of 19. Ms. Muldrow told the Committee that she did not want to be here
two years from now, and that she did not want her brother's case to end up
with a cold case squad. She stated that the detectives assigned to her
brother's case had been helpful, but that she had to go to them first.
Ms. Anderson spoke about the murder of her two sons, who were
shot in front of her house in September 1986. The detective assigned to
the case said that he did not have time to call her, Ms. Anderson said.
The shooting started after an altercation, according to Ms. Anderson, who
also asserted that the police know who was responsible. The case is still
unsolved. Ms. Anderson said that she received a call recently from the
police for the first time in 11 years. She concluded her statement by
stating that the lives of children have been devalued.
Mary Junior told the Committee that her son, David Junior, was
slain on July 20, 1993. Detectives came to her house but only talked to
her brother. After calling the detectives, she was told that they had no
leads. Former Police Chief Fred Thomas assigned another detective to the
case, but it was never solved. Ms. Junior said that she received a phone
call from the police the prior week, following her attendance at a January
9, 2001, town hall meeting on homicides sponsored by WOL.
Elsie Miles testified that issues such as robbery and racial
profiling need to be addressed. She said that her mother disappeared in
1975 and her body was not found for three days. "I will never give
up," on her case, Ms. Miles said.
Richard Bartel, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for single-member
district 3C04, suggested that the MPD consider receiving pro bono
assistance from licensed private investigators.
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III. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON METROPOLITAN POLICE
DEPARTMENT HOMICIDE INVESTIGATIVE PRACTICES AND CASE CLOSURE RATES
The Committee examined a range of other information about MPD's
homicide investigations and the case closure rate to inform its oversight
work and provide additional perspective on the topics discussed at the
January 25, 2001, public roundtable. The Committee examined available data
about homicides in the District, as well as some comparable data for other
jurisdictions; surveyed external research on homicide investigative
practices; and reviewed supplemental information provided by MPD. This
section summarizes some of the key facts and findings.
Background on Homicide Statistics
The FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system defines homicide as the
willful, non- negligent, killing of one human being by another. The
classification of this offense is based solely on police investigation, as
opposed to the determination of a court, medical examiner, coroner, jury,
or other judicial body. Justifiable homicides are not included in the
If a homicide occurs in one year, but is not ruled to be a homicide
until a subsequent year, the homicide is counted in the year when it was
determined to be a homicide, according to the UCR program definitions. The
reason for this policy is that the homicide is not known to the police
until it is ruled to be a homicide. Therefore, no reporting of the
homicide can take place before that point.
In defining case closure, often referred to as case
"clearance," the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice
Statistics has stated that "Law enforcement agencies clear or solve
an offense when at least one person is arrested, charged with the
commission of the offense, and turned over to the court for
prosecution." In addition, cases can be closed through
"exceptional" means -- which are often referred to as
"administrative" case closures.
Department of Justice guidelines state that "A law enforcement
agency clears a crime by exceptional means when elements beyond its
control prevent the placing of formal charges against the offender. In
such circumstances, law enforcement must have identified the offender,
possess enough evidence to support arrest, and identify the offender's
location." Some of the circumstances that may permit exceptional
clearances include the death of the offender; the victim's refusal to
cooperate with the prosecution after the offender has been identified; the
arrest or imprisonment of the offender due to another crime or crimes; or
the offender's flight to another jurisdiction where extradition is not
The FBI's data show that the national homicide clearance percentage was
69 percent in 1999. Through most of the past four decades, the national
clearance rate fell steadily, dropping from 94 percent in 1961 to a low
point of 64 percent in 1994, before inching back up to 69 percent in 1999.
There are a number of theories about why homicide clearance rates have
gradually declined over time, although none has been definitively proven
or widely accepted. One leading explanation is an increase in
stranger-on-stranger homicides, partly due to illegal drug activity; such
crimes are said to be tougher to solve. Some researchers cite a reduced
willingness by the public to cooperate with police, particularly in urban
areas where police are less trusted, and others point to reduced resources
for police investigations.
Homicides in the District of Columbia: Sharp Reductions Still Leave
the District With One of the Highest Homicide Rates in the Nation
Homicides have dropped by more than 50 percent in the District, from a
peak of 479 in 1991 to 237 in 2000. An examination of homicide data for
the District's seven police districts, covering 1993 to 1999 (final data
for 2000 have not been released) suggests that most of the city has shared
in the sharp reduction in homicides. The table below compares the 1993 and
1999 homicide totals for the seven districts, and shows the percentage
change between those years.
Homicides in MPD's Seven Police Districts, 1993 and
% Change, 1993 to 1999
Source: Metropolitan Police Department
In fact, only the 2nd and 3rd Districts have failed to see considerable
progress in reducing homicides, though the overall number of homicides in
the 2nd District is so low that it is hard to detect any pattern. In the
3rd District, there were 34 homicides in 1993 and 31 in 1999.
The 7th District, which suffered by far the most homicides in 1993, had
achieved the sharpest reduction in homicides -- 62 percent -- by 1999. The
total number of homicides in the 7th District fell from 133 in 1993 to 51
in 1999. The 5th District also achieved a very sharp reduction in
homicides (57 percent), from 85 in 1993 to 36 in 1999.
Despite these major and welcome gains, the District's homicide rate
remains extremely high, compared with other cities. As a result, MPD
homicide investigators face some of the most difficult and daunting
challenges in the nation.
U.S. Department of Justice statistics from 1998 suggest that the
District was the murder capital for cities with populations greater than
250,000, with a murder rate of 49.7 per 100,000 population. This rate
slightly exceeded that of New Orleans (48.8) and Baltimore (47.1). In New
York, by contrast, the homicide rate was 8.6 per 100,000 -- one-sixth that
of the District. (note: the U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that the
District's population was almost 50,000 more than the 1998 estimate,
meaning that the District's actual homicide rate may have been lower than
that of Baltimore and New Orleans -- assuming that population had not been
underestimated in those cities as well).
The following table showing 1998 homicides in cities with similar
populations to the District reflects the magnitude of the challenge facing
MPD. The District had more than twice the number of homicides as Memphis
or Milwaukee, and eight times the number of homicides as Boston.
Homicides in Washington, D.C., and Similarly Sized
Population (est., 1998)
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Sourcebook of
Criminal Justice Statistics, pp. 281 to 290.
At the same time, it is important to note that police departments
affect the homicide rate. High homicide rates can reflect a police
department's failure to deter homicides or to identify and apprehend
violent criminals. MPD also has greater resources to fight crime than
police departments in similarly sized cities. For example, Boston's Police
Department has an FY 2001 budget of $213 million and 3,010 full-time
equivalent employees (FTEs), whereas MPD has an FY 2001 budget of $305
million and 4,580 FTEs, even though both Boston and the District are very
similar in population.
The District's Homicide Case Closure Rate Falls Even as the Number of
It is surprising -- and distressing -- that MPD's homicide case closure
rate dropped from 70 percent in 1997 to 57 percent in 2000, even as the
number of homicides continued to fall. The case closure rates shown in the
table are those used by the FBI in its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR)
system. This measure reflects the number of homicides solved in a calendar
year, divided by the number of homicides that occurred during the same
Homicides and Case Closure Rates in the District of
Columbia, 1993 to 2000
# of Homicides
Homicide Cases Closed
Percentage of Cases Closed
Source: Metropolitan Police Department. This table uses
the FBI's Uniform Case Reporting measure for homicide case closures.
The table shows that MPD recorded a 57 percent case closure rate both
in 1996, when there were 397 homicides, and in 2000, when there were 237
homicides. In other words, there was no increase in the homicide case
closure rate even though the number of homicides fell by 40 percent. The
sharp decline in homicides, which has been accompanied by reductions in
sexual assaults, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts, and
arsons, should give detectives more time to focus on and resolve
particular cases, and the District should be witnessing significant
increases in the homicide case closure rate.
A 1997 study by the National Institute of Justice of homicides in eight
cities ("A Study of Homicides in Eight U.S. Cities: Trends, Context,
and Policy Implications") provided empirical support for the idea
that declining homicide rates should lead to increased case closure rates,
as researchers reported a statistically significant link between the two.
The same study also found that decreased case closure rates were linked to
increased homicide rates in the following year. Quite logically, if
offenders are not identified and punished, they may strike again. In
addition, the perception that punishment is neither sure nor swift may
embolden others to commit crimes. Therefore, MPD's failure to increase the
homicide case closure rate may make it more difficult to continue the
sharp reductions in homicide that the District has experienced in recent
years. This is a result that the District cannot afford to tolerate.
The In-Year Case Closure Rate Shows Steady Erosion in MPD Homicide
Another measure of homicide investigative performance -- the
"in-year" case closure rate -- demonstrates that MPD's
performance in solving homicides has steadily deteriorated. The "in-
year" case closure rate is the number of cases that were solved in
the same calendar year that the homicide occurred, divided by the total
number of homicides that occurred during the year.
The in-year closure rate presents a more immediate, or short-term,
measure of performance and is important because cases that are not solved
in the first few weeks or months are much less likely ever to be solved.
The University of Maryland study described earlier in this report showed
that, on average, almost 30 percent of cases were closed within one day of
assignment to a detective, that 50 percent were solved within a week, and
that 88 percent were solved within six months in the four cities that were
part of the study.
In addition, administrative closures, which often result from the death
of a suspect or the jailing of a suspect on another charge, are less
likely to occur during the same year that a homicide occurred. Therefore,
the "in-year" closure rate may be a better measure of current
investigative performance. The table on the next page shows that the
"in-year" case closure rate has plunged by more than 20
percentage points even as the number of homicides has fallen by more than
Moreover, the table raises some serious questions about the overall
output of the MPD's homicide investigations. In the early 1990s, when the
murder rate was much higher, the MPD was closing more than 200 cases
during the same year. As of 2000, MPD only closed 86 cases that occurred
during that same year. Some cases will never be solved, and the welcome
reduction in the number of homicides means that the number of cases solved
would inevitably decline. Still, it seems clear that the reduction in
workload should have enabled MPD homicide investigators to devote more
attention to individual cases and keep the overall case closure rate above
Homicides and "In-Year" Case Closure Rates in
the District of Columbia
1990 to 2000
# of Homicides
In-Year Case Closure Rate
Source: Metropolitan Police Department.
Comparing the FBI and In-Year Case Closure Rates
A comparison of the the percentage of cases solved during the same year
to the percentage of cases solved from prior years reveals an unusual
trend: namely, that the ratio of in- year closures to prior-year closures
has shifted dramatically. Consider the following:
- In 1993, according to MPD data, the 48 percent case closure rate
reflected a 45 percent in-year case closure rate, plus a 3 percent
addition reflecting homicides that had occurred in prior years. This
means that six percent of the cases closed during 1993 were from prior
- In 2000, according to MPD data, the 57 percent case closure rate
reflected a 36 percent in-year case closure rate, plus a 21 percent
addition reflecting homicides that had occurred in prior years. This
means that 37 percent of the cases closed during 2000 were from prior
This marked disparity could reflect a number of factors. First, in the
1993 base year, MPD homicide investigators may have been doing a
particularly poor job of investigating prior- year homicides, or
investigators' focus might have been on very recent crimes. As MPD
improved its performance, the number of prior-year homicides that were
solved increased, increasing the percentage of prior-year cases solved.
Cold-case or other specialized squads could also be responsible for a
large increase in prior-year closures.
At the same time, there are less benign explanations for the sharp
increase in the percentage of prior-year case closures, from 6 percent in
1993 to 37 percent in 2000. One obvious explanation is an increase in
administrative closures in prior-year cases that conceals a steeper drop
in homicide investigative performance. The Washington Post's
"Fatal Flaws" series supports such a conclusion, at least in
part. The Post reported that approximately 10 percent of homicide
cases were closed administratively between 1988 and 1990, with that figure
almost doubling to 18 percent by 1997. Data provided by MPD for 1998 show
that the administrative closure rate increased to 19 percent, with 32 out
of 169 cases closed administratively. Even worse, there could be an
increase in poorly documented and justified case closings of all types --
cases closed by arrest and cases closed by administrative means.
Ultimately, the overall pattern is still problematic. As stated
earlier, of homicides cases that are solved, the vast majority are solved
within the first six months. The steady decline in MPD's in-year case
closure rate suggests an overall decline in investigative performance that
makes a corresponding increase in prior-year closures even more puzzling.
If there are, in fact, vast improvements in prior-year case closures, then
those techniques need to be more widely shared so that cases can be solved
more quickly on the front end, when witnesses can be more readily
identified and evidence can be secured.
Other Caveats About the Data
Homicide statistics, like any other kind of statistic, can be
manipulated. Policymakers and the general public should interpret the
homicide data provided by any police department with care, because there
are a number of uncertainties about the data and there are some things
that the data cannot tell us.
First, the standards that jurisdictions use to close a case may differ,
and the standards may change over time. As noted earlier, if the MPD is
relying excessively or inappropriately on administrative closures, then
its overall case closure rate is inflated.
Second, case closure rates do not provide information about the
ultimate disposition of a case, because some arrests do not result in
indictments or convictions. When the U.S. Attorney declines to prosecute a
homicide case presented by the MPD, the case is not reopened. Therefore,
homicide case closures are an important indicator, but they are not the
only measure that matters.
Finally, there is no guarantee about the integrity of the data or the
systems that are used to compile, summarize, and report the data. The
Committee has several concerns in this regard. First, a list of homicides
for 1998, 1999, and 2000, generated by MPD on January 17, 2001, showed one
obvious error -- the murder of Eric Plunkett, a Gallaudet University
student who was killed in September 2000, was listed as closed due to
arrest on October 4, 2000. As a result of the considerable publicity this
case received, it is well known that a first suspect was released almost
immediately following his arrest, and that the investigation of Mr.
Plunkett's death continued until the arrest of another individual on
February 13, 2001. In a conversation the following day with Councilmember
Patterson, Chief Ramsey acknowledged that the case should have been
carried as "open" but department staff failed to correct the
computerized database between October 4, 2000, and January 17, 2001.
Second, the Committee received information from the Fraternal Order of
Police suggesting that (1) six cases ruled as homicides during 1999 were
not in fact counted as homicides during that year, and that (2) seven
cases counted as closed in 1999 were in fact closed, and counted as
closed, in prior years. The Committee Chairperson has requested that Chief
Ramsey review these allegations and report his findings to the Committee.
The Department responded February 16, 2001, that the first six cases
represented instances where deaths in prior years were ruled homicides in
1999 and that, therefore, they were correctly counted in 1999 statistics.
MPD reported that the seven cases were appropriately counted as homicide
cases in 1999, but included arrests made in other years. The arrests, and
not case closure, were reflected in UCR data for other years, according to
the MPD correspondence (see Attachment D to this report).
Comparative Data Suggest that the District Can Significantly Increase
its Homicide Case Closure Rate
Comparative data indicate that the District has considerable room for
improvement in the performance of its homicide investigations, as measured
by the case closure rate and keeping in mind the limitations associated
with this measure. Unfortunately, comparative data is not widely available
and is therefore more suggestive than definitive. The FBI collects
homicide clearance data from cities throughout the nation but does not
publish the data, partly due to concerns about differing ways of
collecting and reporting data among jurisdictions.
In his testimony during the Committee's public roundtable, Chief Ramsey
pointed out that MPD's 61 percent homicide case closure rate for 1999 is
identical to the national average during that year for cities with
populations ranging from 500,000 to 999,999 (the 2000 Census resulted in a
population count of 572,000 for the District). Nevertheless, the
District's homicide closure rate fell during 2000, with the preliminary
rate calculated at 56.5 percent (the national average for 2000 is not yet
It is also worth noting that during 1999, the average homicide case
closure rate for cities with population between 250,000 and 499,999 was 70
percent. With a population of 572,000, the District is as close in
population to many of the cities in the 250,000 to 499,999 category as it
is to cities in the 500,000 to 999,999 group.
The Police Executive Research Forum published a report in 1999 that
included UCR homicide clearance rates from a number of cities at various
points in the 1990s, with much of the data from 1993. Although some of the
information is not current, it nevertheless suggests that the MPD should
be achieving much higher case closure rates than it is now. For example,
Baltimore had a 69 percent clearance rate (1993); Chicago had a 70 percent
rate (1993); Cincinnati, 90 percent (1993); Dallas, 71 percent (1996); and
Minneapolis, 66 percent (1996). Broward County, Florida (which includes
Fort Lauderdale) reported a 97 percent case closure rate for 1995. Because
big cities have seen sharp reductions in homicide since the early to mid-
1990s, it is likely that their clearance rates have increased since that
Additional data on homicide clearance rates in large cities comes from
"An Analysis of Variables Affecting the Clearance of Homicides: A
Multistate Study," the research led by University of Maryland
researchers described in Section 3 of this report. Researchers Charles
Wellford and James Cronin examined homicide clearance rates and overall
crime clearance rates in the 20 largest cities in the U.S., using data
from 1994. The FBI provided the researchers with access to unpublished
data as part of this study. In dividing the 20 cities into
"high," "medium," and "low" clearance
categories, Wellford and Cronin labeled Washington, D.C., as having a
"medium" overall clearance rate and a "low" homicide
clearance rate. The data presented earlier in this section show that there
is little reason to believe that the District has improved its performance
in closing homicide cases, compared with other cities. By contrast,
Milwaukee's homicide case closure rate stood at 85 percent in 1991 and
exceeded 90 percent in 1993.
In the same study, Wellford and Cronin also reported the startling
conclusion that 96 percent of homicide cases can be solved if the
following four conditions are met: (1) three or more detectives are
assigned to the case, (2) the detective arrives at the scene within 30
minutes of being notified, (3) the detective documents the crime scene in
notes, and (4) the detective follows up on all information provided by
witnesses. Even if one of the conditions listed above was not met, the
homicide case closure rate never fell below 92 percent in the four cities
that Wellford and Cronin studied.
The following quote from Wellford and Cronin's paper is particularly
"We think that homicide cases, and most other crimes, begin with
different levels of 'solvability.' Our research suggests that homicides
do differ in regard to the probability of an arrest, but even more
importantly, we think there are few homicide cases that given the right
initial response, the right timing, and the right dedication of
resources cannot be solved."
Chief Ramsey advised the Committee in response to written questions
that he seeks to achieve a 65 percent homicide case closure rate during
2001. The available data for urban areas suggests that this is a useful
short-term goal, and that the District should increase the closure rate to
at least 70 to 80 percent in the longer term.
Background and Recommendations from MPD's Best Practices Forums
Chief Ramsey provided the Committee with additional information about
some of MPD's plans to improve its homicide investigations and raise the
homicide case closure rate, while ensuring that closures truly reflect the
solving of a case.
A summary of best-practices forums (see Attachment E to this report)
convened last year by MPD provided considerable information about the
policies and procedures used in other jurisdictions, as well as reform
plans that MPD could adopt. This information, covering detective
selection, standard operating procedures, training, supervision, and
removal -- supplemented the reform plans that Chief Ramsey outlined in his
testimony at the Committee's public roundtable in January.
A review of detective selection procedures in Chicago, Boston, New York
City, Houston, and Atlantic County, New Jersey, shows that detectives are
typically selected from officers who have some experience, often two to
four years, on the police force. Officers usually undergo a written exam,
an oral interview, and a performance review before they are selected as
detectives. Many new detectives start in property crimes, or sex crimes
and family violence, before they can become homicide investigators. These
policies stand in marked contrast to the District. In Chief Ramsey's
words, "MPD has no detective selection process."
The consensus from the best-practices forums was that MPD should
develop a formal detective selection process and require a minimum length
of time, such as two to three years on the police force before officers
can apply to become detectives. The screening process for detective
candidates would include an oral interview, a writing sample, and a review
of the candidate's work history at MPD. Newly selected detectives would
begin by working on property crime investigations and would have to
undergo a probationary period of 12 to 18 months.
Standard investigative protocols or case manuals, not surprisingly,
were a feature of homicide investigations in Chicago, San Diego, Boston,
New York, Houston, and Atlantic County. The consensus from the
best-practices forums was that detectives and supervisors need a
"moderately detailed standard operating procedure, so long as it
allows some flexibility in investigative approach." The SOPs would
"provide detectives with actual checklists that would guide them in
Chief Ramsey provided the Committee with a copy of the draft SOPs for
homicide investigations, which he planned to implement in February 2001.
The SOPs covers the actions of different types of personnel, including
call takers, dispatchers, responding officers, detectives, and
supervisors, at each stage of the investigative process and in different
settings. For example, the SOPs describe the tasks that detectives should
accomplish at the crime scene, at the hospital, and at the office. The
guidelines address different aspects of an investigation, including
forensic evidence; the handling, shipping, and storing of evidence; morgue
procedures; and the contents and safe-keeping of reports and case jackets.
Particularly important is the creation of milestones for lead detectives,
investigative sergeants, investigative lieutenants, and patrol service
area lieutenants at periodic intervals, including one day; seven days; 15
days, 30 days, 60 days, and every 30 days thereafter for the first year
after a case is opened. In the second year after a case had been opened,
the case file would be updated quarterly, and in the third year, annually.
The draft SOPs for homicide investigations also address the important
issue of keeping families and other loved ones informed about the status
of a homicide case. The SOPs establish the standard that detectives should
contact an individual designated by the family every two weeks for the
first two months after a case is opened, and once each month after the
first two months. One year after the case had been opened, MPD would
reevaluate the case to determine if regular family notification is still
needed to advance the investigation and meet the family's needs; if not,
MPD would then provide annual updates on the status of the case. The
Committee has provided comments to MPD on the draft procedures including
recommendations on aspects that merit review, and that correspondence is
included as Attachment F to this report.
The review of training in the comparison jurisdictions (Boston,
Chicago, Houston, New York, San Diego, and Atlantic County, New Jersey)
revealed that it is a common practice to require a training period of
approximately four weeks to new detectives and to provide specialized
training to newly assigned homicide investigators. The consensus reached
at the best-practices forums was that MPD should institute a three- to
four-week curriculum for new homicide investigators, and provide new
detectives and investigative supervisors with experienced mentors. Other
recommendations were that MPD should provide newly assigned homicide
investigators with specialized training in crime scene management, general
homicide investigation, and specific types of homicide, such as homicide
related to domestic violence. In addition, patrol officers responding to
the homicide report should be trained in how to secure the crime scene,
provide emergency care, and cooperate with detectives at the scene. Chief
Ramsey advised the Committee that after the implementation of the homicide
investigation SOPs, his next priority would be to implement a new training
program for investigators at MPD's Institute for Police Science and to
begin certifying the skills of experienced detectives.
The study of supervision and management procedures in other
jurisdictions highlighted an emphasis on regular and thorough case review,
as well as the importance of having detectives work as teams on particular
cases. The consensus that emerged from the best-practices forums
emphasized the importance of selecting experienced investigators to become
investigative supervisors, as well as the importance of regular meetings
between supervisors and investigators to review witness statements, track
the analysis of evidence by the crime lab, and other investigative steps.
The recommendations also stressed the importance of having detectives
record their work in WACIIS so that supervisors can review their work, and
the need for supervisors to use a performance evaluation tool. Another
suggestion was that MPD should assess the need to deliver crime scene
evidence technician services to homicide crime scenes, so that technicians
can assist homicide investigators by taking photos and videos of the crime
scene, dusting and extracting fingerprint evidence, collecting trace
evidence, and collecting biological fluids for DNA analysis.
Some of the recommendations concerning supervision and management
seemed to indicate concerns about the District's decentralization of its
detectives, or at the least a need to strengthen the oversight of
detectives operating from seven police districts. First, the forum
participants recommended that MPD consider adopting a "team"
approach to homicide investigations in place of its "lead
detective" model. Another recommendation was to promote
specialization by "not assigning homicide detectives to lesser crimes
against persons" -- something that is more likely in a decentralized
police district structure for detectives. "The most experienced
detectives should be assigned only to homicide cases," the
The best practices forum, as well as witnesses at the January 25
hearing, emphasize the importance of investigative experience for
supervisors. A recent paper, "The Effective Detective; Identifying
the Skills of an Effective SIO" (senior investigating officer),
published by the British Home Office, concludes that three skill sets are
necessary for senior investigative officers: investigative ability,
knowledge levels, and management skills. This paper warns that if
detective supervisors lack investigative experience, "There is an
increased risk that an investigation will fail due to sub-optimal
investigative decisions being made."
Other recommendations related to supervision and management were for
MPD to conduct an analysis to determine if the allocation of highly
experienced homicide investigators to each police district matches the
workload, and to consider creating the position of homicide commander to
monitor the quality and uniformity of major homicide investigations. In
the present decentralized structure, detective lieutenants report to a
field support captain and to the precinct commander.
On the final topic -- the removal of ineffective detectives -- the
best-practices forums found little in the way of exemplary approaches that
the District should follow, possbly an indication that the Metropolitan
Police Department may need to look beyond other police departments for
best practice information regarding personnel policy. One recommendation
that emerged from the forum was for MPD to use an 18-month probationary
period for new detectives, and use a formal evaluation process at the end
of that period to determine whether the individual should be retained as a
detective or returned to his or her prior assignment. Another
recommendation was to use the SOPs as the basis for developing and
implementing a performance evaluation tool, because "Rigorous ongoing
accountability sessions may help prove whether a detective is doing his or
her job well."
Additional Information Provided by the Metropolitan Police Department
MPD provided the Committee with supplemental information on a variety
of other topics, including (1) plans for homicide case audit and review,
(2) information about lines of authority and detective deployment, (3)
ways of improving family notification, (4) the status of the witness
protection program, and (5) the reporting of homicide case data. This
information is summarized below.
First, Chief Ramsey advised the Committee that in the future the Office
of Quality Assurance and the Office of Operational Services will audit the
quality of open homicide cases, selected at random. The lead detective and
his or her supervisor will be summoned to appear before senior officials
from both offices, and the review will involve a discussion of the case
status, an inspection of the case folder, and a dialogue about
investigative strategy. The case audit will result in a report to the
Executive Assistant Chief of Police, as well as monthly summaries for the
Chief of Police and the Executive Assistant Chief of Police.
Second, Chief Ramsey provided data on the deployment of detectives and
the command structure in the new decentralized system. Overall, there are
86 violent crime detectives who investigate homicides, 22 sergeants who
supervise violent crime detectives, and seven lieutenants (one position is
vacant) who manage violent crime detectives, for a total of 115. The
lieutenant who heads each police district's violent crimes section reports
directly to the district commander, who in turn reports to a Regional
Assistant Chief. The Regional Assistant Chiefs report to the Executive
Assistant Chief of Police.
District commanders spend at least one hour per day reviewing the
status of homicide investigations, according to Chief Ramsey, and
detective lieutenants spend a minimum of eight hours per day managing
investigations. Each Regional Assistant Chief and district commander
receives a daily homicide report summarizing each homicide. Weekly
meetings of homicide commanders include the violent crime lieutenant from
each district, and the meetings are chaired by a Regional Assistant Chief,
or in his absence, the commander of the Special Investigations Division.
These meetings encompass all violent crimes, not just homicides. Each
violent crime commander is questioned about murders in his or her district
and the steps that investigators are taking to solve them.
To improve communication with the families and other loved ones of
homicide victims, MPD plans to provide in-service training to patrol
officers about how to provide emotional support and important information
to the survivors. MPD is considering establishing a family liaison
responsibility within the detective teams assigned to a particular case,
or using "civilian advocates" to provide support to family
members. MPD is also conducting a victims' survey, in which victims of
violent crime and their families will be contacted. The survey will
provide MPD with feedback about its current performance and inform its
strategies to improve communication with family members. MPD has also
pledged to ensure that families are informed about the financial
compensation that is available through the Crime Victims Compensation
program, which can help families with burial expenses, counseling, and
MPD operates a witness protection program that generally does not
exceed 72 hours. MPD offers protection not only to witnesses who assist in
homicide investigations, but also to victims and witnesses in serious
assault cases, rapes, robberies, drug trafficking, and other serious
felony cases. Individuals in the witness protection program can be turned
over to the U.S. Marshals' Service if the U.S. Attorney's office approves
a formal request for protection. MPD's witness protection unit provided
protection for 25 witnesses or victims and their families during fiscal
Chief Ramsey also informed the Committee about new procedures that MPD
will use in classifying homicide cases. MPD will use three categories. The
first is open/active, for cases that have not been solved. The second
category is closed/active, for cases in which a suspect has been arrested
or administratively cleared, but which also require further investigation
to apprehend an additional suspect or suspects. The third category is
closed/inactive, for cases in which all of the suspects have been arrested
or administratively cleared.
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IV. FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR COMMITTEE RESEARCH AND
One of the most important purposes of this report is to provide a
baseline of the current performance of MPD's homicide investigations and
to document the issues that the Committee will monitor and address
throughout Council Period 14 to help MPD improve its homicide
investigations. The goal is to provide a road map for the Committee's
work, drawing on the information gathered at the January 2001 public
roundtable and other research conducted by the Committee, and to hold the
Committee accountable by laying out some of the most important next steps.
To this end, this section of the report summarizes important issues and
questions that the Committee should continue to probe during the next two
March 7, 2001 Performance Hearing
One of the first opportunities for follow-up will be a March 7, 2001,
Committee performance review hearing that includes MPD. The Committee
intends to review the status of the investigations of homicides that
occurred between the January 25, 2001, public roundtable and the end of
February, as well as other issues raised in this report. Specifically, the
Department will be asked in writing to respond to two specific concerns:
- For each homicide that has occurred since the Committee hearing on
January 25 through the end of February, please provide summary
information including those assigned responsibility for investigating
the homicide, status of the investigation including whether arrests
have been made, number of contacts with family members of the victim,
and an approximate number of man-hours devoted to each investigation
- With regard to each witness who testified in the evening session of
the January 25 roundtable and sought assistance from MPD
representatives in attendance, provide a summary of the Department's
followup and status of each case.
The Committee also plans to hold additional public hearings after the
new standard operating procedures for homicide investigations have been in
place for at least six months.
Ongoing Review of Current MPD Practices
The Committee's public roundtable and its other research have raised
many constructive questions about MPD's homicide investigative practices.
These concerns require further attention and review, particularly in light
of the drop in the UCR homicide case closure rate from 70 percent in 1997
to 57 percent in 2000, even as the District witnessed a 40 percent drop in
the total number of homicides. The steady erosion of the in-year case
closure rate since 1990 provides even greater cause for concern.
First, Chief Ramsey has expressed his strong commitment to the
decentralization of detectives, who are based in the seven police
districts instead of operating from a centralized headquarters unit. The
Chief has also stated his concern that the issue of decentralization can
obscure more important questions relating to the quality of
investigations, training, supervision, and case management, and has
pledged to provide stronger centralized management of the decentralized
investigations program. Given the Chief's commitment to a decentralized
structure, it is important for the Committee to monitor the following
issues to ensure that the decentralized approach is as effective as
- What are the best ways to promote the sharing of information among
detectives and supervisors in a decentralized investigations program?
- What level of specialization among detectives is appropriate in a
decentralized system? Many detectives have expressed concern to the
Committee that under the decentralized system, an investigator working
out of a police district may be assigned to a rape case, even if
homicide is his or her specialty and he or she lacks knowledge of rape
cases (or vice-versa). Because homicide is the most heinous form of
crime, there is a strong argument for assigning the best investigators
to work only on homicide cases.
- How can MPD implement and enforce common standards for homicide
investigations in a decentralized system where investigators report to
seven different detective lieutenants in each of the seven police
districts? What kind of oversight is needed to make the system work,
and how can it be provided in a system of seven police districts and
three regional operations commands?
Another major concern raised during the January 2001 public roundtable
as well as in private communications to the Committee is deployment
patterns in a decentralized investigations program, and, more
specifically, MPD's ability to respond quickly to changing homicide
patterns by redeploying investigators. Those who have raised concerns
about deployment have pointed out that annual data on homicides
obscure sudden, sharp rises and falls in murders during the year,
particularly as homicides can feed on each other in a cycle of
retaliation. Therefore, the Committee must regularly consider the
- Has MPD adequately reviewed the present deployment patterns for
detectives in its decentralized system? Do deployment patterns match
the crime data? Is there a fair distribution of experienced
investigators? Is further review needed?
- How does MPD redeploy detectives to respond to crime waves? Are
these procedures adequate? Although Chief Ramsey expressed firm
support for decentralization, he also expressed his willingness to
reconsider deployment patterns if decentralization does not produce
the results he is expecting. Therefore, it will be useful for the
Committee to learn about modified or hybrid systems with more
centralized control and deployment that also allow detectives to
develop and maintain knowledge and trust in particular communities.
The following topic may be particularly important in this regard:
- How could a more centralized homicide investigations program work?
Could there be a centralized detective pool, based at headquarters, in
which detectives are assigned to particular districts? This approach
might combine the information sharing and closer supervision that is
fostered in a centralized system with the knowledge of communities and
individuals that is fostered in a decentralized system.
Another critical issue is the experience of detective supervisors.
Although Chief Ramsey expressed the view during the Committee's public
roundtable that case management abilities may be more important than
experience, and that a good investigator does not necessarily make a
good supervisor, other witnesses strongly emphasized the importance of
prior experience for supervisors. In response to questions from
Chairperson Patterson, Chief Ramsey was unable definitively to affirm
or contradict a Washington Post report that only 11 of 33
detective supervisors have experience in homicide investigations.
Accordingly, the following questions are critical:
- How many detective supervisors have a background in homicide
investigations? What kind of background should supervisors have?
During the Committee's public roundtable, several concerns were also
raised that the MPD is failing to take advantage of important
techniques or resources that could help solve homicide cases. The
following questions are important in that regard:
- What kind of crime mapping techniques are employed by MPD, and what
kind of crime mapping information is routinely available to detectives
at the patrol service area, police district, and citywide levels?
- How are gun recoveries used to help solve cases?
- Does MPD need more technician services at homicide crime scenes, so
that technicians can assist homicide investigators by taking photos
and videos of the crime scene, dusting and extracting fingerprint
evidence, collecting trace evidence, and collecting biological fluids
for DNA analysis?
- Has data on 1,800 unsolved cases compiled by the National Drug
Intelligence Center in a 1996 study been entered into the WACIIS data
base so that detectives can draw on the information in identifying
patterns and solving homicide cases?
Several witnesses also expressed concern that MPD specialized task
forces consume too much in the way of resources without making a
sufficient contribution to the solving of crimes. The Committee should
- What are the specialized task forces presently operating, and what
are the resources committed to these task forces in terms of staff and
funding? What are the outcomes of these task forces, and could the
resources be better used elsewhere, such as by increasing the number
of officers on patrol or the number of detectives?
- What are the outcomes of MPD's homicide cold-case squad? What are
the merits of focusing on older cases if MPD is not doing an adequate
job of solving new cases, which tend to be the easiest to solve?
This report has also raised a number of concerns about the way MPD
reports homicide case data. First, MPD's rate of closing cases
administratively -- 19 percent of cases were closed administratively
in 1998 -- appears to be particularly high. Second, a case closure
does not necessarily indicate a thorough or effective investigation. A
case can be recorded as closed even if the U.S. Attorney declines to
prosecute a case, suggesting that an arrest does not always reflect
the solving of a case. Third, the Committee has raised concerns about
the accuracy of MPD's data in Section 3 of this report, based on (1) a
highly publicized case that was listed as closed by MPD in January
2001, even though a suspect had been released three months earlier and
the investigation continued until the arrest of another individual on
February 13, 2001, (2) allegations that MPD listed several cases as
being closed in more than one year, and (3) allegations that MPD never
included a number of cases in the tally of homicides reported for a
particular year. Finally, the Committee noted a troubling disparity
between the UCR case closure rate for MPD, which shows a more even
path, and MPD's in-year case closure rate, which shows a steady
downward pattern. Therefore, it should be a priority for the Committee
- What happens to cases that are not prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney?
Is MPD reviewing the cases to see if further investigation is
warranted? Are such cases pursued adequately before they are recorded
- Is independent and impartial review needed to ensure the accuracy of
MPD homicide data? Is there a role for independent entities such as
the Office of the Inspector General?
- What explains the disparity between MPD's UCR case closure rate and
its in-year case closure rate? Are administrative case closures
inflating the UCR case closure rate and concealing a downward trend in
- What accounts for the sharp increase in the percentage of prior-year
cases solved, from 6 percent in 1993 to 37 percent in 2000? Why would
prior-year closures increase when MPD is having difficulty with
Monitoring MPD Reform Plans
In his testimony at the Committee's public roundtable and through other
communications with the Committee and the public, Chief Ramsey has
outlined in considerable detail his plans to improve homicide
investigations. The plans are comprehensive, addressing detective
selection, retention, promotion, evaluation, and removal; standard
operating procedures; training, management and supervision; technology;
and communication with families. It must be a priority for the Committee
to track regularly the implementation of the reform plans and provide
assistance, as appropriate, during this process. Accordingly, the
questions described below will require considerable attention.
- What is the status of the standard operating procedures prepared by
MPD? Are staff at all levels -- patrol officers, detectives, crime
technicians, supervisors -- following the SOPs? Is training adequate?
Are the SOPs improving the investigation of homicide cases? In
tracking the implementation of the SOPs, it will be important for the
Committee to seek feedback from MPD officers, detectives, and
supervisors, as well as outside experts.
- Has MPD implemented the periodic case reviews called for in the
SOPs? Are milestones being documented and met for lead detectives and
supervisors at one day, seven days, 15 days, 30 days, 60 days, and
every 30 days thereafter during the first year after a case is opened?
Are cases being periodically reviewed after that point?
- Is MPD proceeding with random case audits, in which lead detectives
and supervisors are required to discuss a case with senior officials
and justify the steps they have taken? How are policy and practiced
systematically informed by the audits?
- Has MPD moved forward with new procedures governing the selection
and retention of detectives? Has MPD implemented a minimum experience
requirement, and is it subjecting detective candidates to a written
test, an oral interview, and a performance review? Has MPD implemented
a probationary period for new detectives?
- Has MPD implemented a new performance evaluation tool for detectives
and supervisors, based on the standards set out in the homicide SOPs?
Have evaluations been conducted? What have the results been of the
- Is MPD using its performance evaluation system to discipline and
remove poorly performing detectives and supervisors when appropriate?
What kind of disciplinary guidelines are in place and have they been
used? If so, how often and in what circumstances?
- Has MPD launched its new training program for criminal
investigators? What kind of results is the new training program
achieving? What are the opinions of investigators and external experts
about the quality of the training? Does the training allocate
appropriate time and attention to Fourth Amendment search and seizure
issues? What kind of in- service training opportunities are available
for experienced investigators?
- Is MPD following through on its plans to improve internal controls
over homicide case jackets? Are all of the case files complete and
available at the headquarters location? Have there been disciplinary
consequences for detectives and others who do not maintain complete
- How is the implementation of the newly upgraded WACIIS proceeding?
Have all investigators been trained about how to use the upgraded
system, and more importantly, are they adding case data to the system
as required? Are detectives taking advantage of WACIIS' new
Chief Ramsey also called on the Committee to support a proposal for
the District to build its own forensic lab that would serve the needs
of MPD, the Medical Examiner's office, and the Department of Health.
Presently, the District's forensic evidence is sent to the FBI's lab
for processing. To assess the Chief's recommendation, the Committee
should research the following issues:
- What is the current performance of the FBI lab in processing the
District's evidence? How does the FBI's responsiveness and capacity to
handle MPD evidence vary over time and with regard to particular types
- What are the performance gains that would be likely if the District
established its own lab? What are the expected costs of building the
lab, and would the lab represent a more effective use of District
funds than other steps to hire new officers or detectives, upgrade
training, provide equipment, or improve technology?
More generally, the Committee must give attention to the following
resource issues as MPD tries to reform and upgrade its homicide
- Are there sufficient numbers of detectives available for duty? Is
MPD able to recruit and retain skilled detectives?
- Are there sufficient funds for training and necessary equipment,
such as radios, cars, and functioning videotape machines? Do
detectives have access to the necessary technology to do their jobs
- Does MPD have enough support from other agencies that it needs to
solve homicide cases? For example, is the Medical Examiner's Office
able to generate autopsy reports on a timely basis?
Finally, Chief Ramsey has made a commitment to improve communication
with the families and other loved ones of homicide victims. This
commitment is particularly important, because the lack of information
about a case only increases the anguish that families feel after a loved
one has been murdered. As Fraternal Order of Police representatives
stated, the support from family members -- not only the information but
also the emotional support that they can offer -- can be very beneficial
to detectives. Moreover, the concern of family members may be the most
powerful tool of accountability, ensuring that cases are not put aside and
To improve communication with family members, the draft standard
operating procedures create guidelines for periodic communications between
detectives and family members. Chief Ramsey also raised several ideas to
improve communication during the Committee's public roundtable, including
the possibility of creating civilian family liaison positions. Chief
Ramsey has also announced that MPD will be surveying family members of
homicide victims about their experiences with MPD to establish a baseline
of current performance and elicit suggestions for how MPD can do better.
To follow up on this critical issue, the Committee needs to ask:
- Have the new guidelines for contacts between detectives (or any
other designated MPD staff) been publicized and enforced? What is the
feedback from family members about the frequency and the sensitivity
of these contacts?
- Is MPD advising families about the assistance that is available
through the Crime Victims Compensation program administered by the
D.C. Superior Court?
Lessons for Other MPD Operations
As indicated in the hearing summary and Section 3, the requirement in
the 1998 Omnibus Personnel Reform Act that District agencies implement a
performance management system, including employee evaluations and
pay-for-performance, has apparently not been met by the MPD -- not with
regard to homicide investigators and presumably not with regard to the
Department as a whole. This raises the question on whether there are other
areas appropriate to Committee oversight identified with regard to
homicide but relevant to other aspects of the Department's
- What is the status of MPD's compliance with the 1998 Omnibus
Personnel Reform Act pertaining to performance management, and the
status of adoption of personnel recommendations made by the Council
Special Committee on Police Misconduct and Personnel Management?
- Training has been cited as a critical element in the Department's
anticipated reforms in homicide investigation. What is the status of
in-service training across the Department, and is that training
meeting all the identified needs?
- Similarly, deployment has been cited as a critical element in the
Department's record in investigating homicides. Are there other
related issues with regard to deployment across the Department?
Comparisons with Other Jurisdictions
In Section 3 of this report, the Committee outlined a range of
information about homicide rates and investigative outcomes in other
jurisdictions. Nevertheless, additional work to learn about the
experiences of other jurisdictions would benefit both the Committee and
the MPD in understanding the problems in MPD homicide investigations and
informing the solutions. The following are some important questions for
the Committee to explore:
- Despite the sharp reduction in homicides in the District of Columbia
in recent years, why is the District's homicide rate so much higher
than in other cities? Why was the District's homicide rate of 49.7 per
100,000 in 1998 more than six times that of New York, where the rate
was 8.6 per 100,000? What can the District learn from cities such as
New York that have much lower homicide rates?
More generally, the District's homicide case closure rate (57 percent
in 2000, according to the UCR measure) seems lower than the closure rates
typically found in other cities. Therefore, it is worth asking:
- What are the leading cities in the nation in terms of homicide case
closure rates, and what can we learn from those cities?
- What are the case closure rates achieved by the
"best-in-class" cities in the nation? This information
should inform the setting of goals for the District for annual
improvement in its homicide case closure rate.
In his testimony to the Committee, Chief Ramsey also pointed to New
York, Los Angeles, and Chicago as examples of cities that have
decentralized their detective squads with good results. Nevertheless,
these examples are not fully persuasive because all of the three cities
cited are much larger than the District; decentralization may be almost
inevitable in such large cities. Therefore, it would be useful for the
Committee to explore:
- What are the deployment patterns of other cities, and what are the
outcomes associated with centralized or decentralized deployment
patterns? How do cities such as Boston, Baltimore, or Seattle that are
more similar in size to the District deploy their homicide and other
Back to top of page
V. COMMITTEE ACTION
The Committee on the Judiciary met on February 27, 2001 to consider and
approve the Oversight Report on the Metropolitan Police Department's
Homicide Investigative Practices and Case Closure Rate. Present and voting
were Councilmembers Patterson, Chavous and Evans.
Chairperson Patterson introduced the report and explained that the
purpose of the report is to establish an accurate baseline of MPD's
performance in investigating homicides and to outline the issues that need
to be addressed and monitored in order for MPD to solve more cases. She
also stated that the report is intended to hold not only the MPD, but also
the Committee, accountable for addressing and monitoring the tasks that
must be accomplished in order to improve homicide investigations.
Councilmember Chavous stated that he was interested in having a better
understanding of the role of the MPD Major Crimes Unit in investigating
the highly publicized homicide cases at Gallaudet University. He also
expressed a desire to better understand how the decision to involve the
Major Crimes Unit in any homicide investigation is made. He wondered if
the need for the involvement of that unit on high-profile cases is itself
an argument for the re- centralization of the Homicide Unit. Councilmember
Patterson said those issues were included in questions sent to the
Department in anticipation of the Committee's performance hearing on March
Councilmember Evans stated that he was pleased with the comprehensive
nature of the report and also complimented committee staff for the hard
work and short turnaround time reflected in the report.
Chairperson Patterson then moved for approval the Oversight Report on
the Metropolitan Police Department's Homicide Investigative Practices and
Case Closure Rate, with leave for staff to make technical corrections. The
Committee voted 3-0 to approve the report with members voting as follows:
YES: Councilmembers Patterson, Chavous, and Evans
ABSENT: Councilmember Ambrose and Councilmember Brazil