Police Department Performance in Homicide
on the Judiciary
the District of Columbia
of Charles H. Ramsey
January 21, 2003
Madame Chair, members of the Council, staff and guests . . . good
evening and thank you for the opportunity to present this opening
statement ... before I take your questions. As is customary, the text of
this statement is posted on the Police Department's Website: mpdc.dc.gov.
In the 15 months since the Committee's last hearing on homicide
performance, our Department has made some significant progress, and we
continue to face some serious challenges with homicide. I will summarize
both areas this evening.
First, some of the improvements ....
One year ago, as you know, I established a centralized Violent Crimes
Branch to investigate all homicides in the District. We staffed this
unit with a core group of dedicated detectives and supervisors. And we
provided them with the training and tools they need to do the job,
including a comprehensive Standard Operating Procedure. Our SOP has
gained a lot of attention as a model for homicide investigations.
Our Department has created a formal promotional process for detectives -
something this Committee had advocated for some time. And we have
dramatically expanded and enhanced our training, not only for newly
promoted detectives, but for our experienced investigators who now have
access to specialized courses.
For example, we have a four-week homicide investigations course that is
scheduled to begin in early February. This comprehensive course will
assist us in developing a cadre of trained detectives who can easily
transition into the Violent Crimes Branch when there are vacancies for
Perhaps most importantly, we have intensified our focus on homicide
investigations and we have strengthened accountability for achieving
results. Individual homicide cases are reviewed by myself and other top
Department executives and managers during our Daily Crime Briefings and
our regular TOPS sessions, which stands for Targeted Organizational
Performance Sessions. And we are closely monitoring the productivity and
performance of individual detectives in our Violent Crimes Branch in
fact, throughout all detective units. Where detectives are not meeting
the standards, we are taking action - including transfers and
reassignments, when warranted.
I am cautiously encouraged by the initial results of these and other
reforms - although let me make it perfectly clear that I am far from
satisfied. Between 2001 and 2002, our homicide clearance rate did rise
from just about 50 percent to nearly 55 percent. That places us right at
the average for cities our size, according to FBI statistics. I do not
want to leave the impression that I consider "average" to be
good enough. It is not good enough. But at least over the past year, we
have begun heading in the right direction when it comes to clearing
homicide cases. And I am encouraged that we will have even greater
success in 2003.
The vast majority of our homicide closures in 2002 were the result of a
suspect being arrested and charged in the District. According to FBI
guidelines, a city's closure rate also includes those cases that are
cleared "exceptionally." This means that the police have identified
the suspect, but for any number of reasons, the person cannot be
prosecuted. These reasons include the death of the suspect, his
conviction and incarceration on other charges, a determination of
self-defense or other situations in which the prosecution declines to
A good example of an exceptional clearance during 2002 involved the
sniper shooting of Pascal Charlot on upper Georgia Avenue last October.
He was killed with the same weapon that was used in the other sniper
shootings in our region, and formal charges against the two suspects
have been filed in the District. But because the suspects are not now in
our custody - and, quite frankly, may never be tried in the District -
we cannot close the case with an arrest. But we have closed the case as
an "exceptional" clearance, as prescribed by FBI guidelines.
As part of our homicide SOP, all exceptional clearances are reviewed and
certified by our Office of Quality Assurance. This provides an
independent analysis of the case and helps to ensure the integrity of
the clearance process.
While there are certainly signs of progress, we continue to face serious
challenges when it comes to homicide in our city.
As has been well documented, our homicide rate rose by approximately 12
percent last year - the first significant rise in the past seven years.
While this trend was not limited to DC - almost every jurisdiction in
our region reported percentage increases even higher than ours - last
year's homicide total in DC is simply unacceptable to the Police
Department and to the community. Reducing the violence and lowering our
homicide rate are top priorities for 2003.
In working to meet this goal, we face some additional challenges. As I
have noted on several other occasions, we still need to get more
community members actively involved - both in our Policing for
Prevention activities in general, and specifically in providing
information about individual homicide cases. We continue to carry a
number of open homicide cases where a single witness account or a useful
tip from the community would be the difference in allowing us to get a
warrant and make an arrest.
Part of the issue here is trust. I understand that some people simply do
not feel comfortable or safe in providing information directly to the
police. And we are working every day to build bridges of trust with the
community, so that information can flow more readily. But in addition to
the police, there are plenty of others - churches, community leaders,
elected representatives - who can assist in this regard. The bottom line
is that we need to pull together as a community, to encourage and assist
more citizens to come forward and cooperate with our detectives on some
of these cases. The alternative is the status quo ... and as far as I am
concerned, that is no alternative at all.
Another challenge we face is better and more consistent follow-up with
victims of crime and survivors. With respect to the survivors of
homicide victims, I believe we are doing a better job today than in the
recent past of reaching out and keeping these individuals informed. For
example, following every homicide, our Department sends out a letter to
the primary survivor, expressing our condolences and providing
information about what to expect during the investigation. In addition, our SOP defines specific time periods during which detectives are to
make follow-up calls. This past year, we began calling survivors around
the December holidays and other times of the year that may have been
significant to their loved one.
But there is still a lot more that we can be doing - and should be doing
- in this area, including dedicating resources for victim and survivor
outreach. As I reported in previous hearings, our Department has been
seeking funding to establish a Family Liaison Unit within our Violent
Crimes Branch. I am pleased to report that we have just recently
received a funding commitment that will allow us to hire three civilian
advocates, who will be teamed with one officer in our Violent Crimes
Branch specifically for victim and survivor outreach and follow-up.
I am also initiating regular quarterly meetings with some of the groups
that are represented here tonight, including Survivors of Homicide,
ROOTS and STARS. These meetings will allow us to get issues on the table
early on, and to address them quickly and effectively.
Finally, we face the challenge of continually improving our homicide
closure rate. As I mentioned earlier, being "average" is
simply not good enough when it comes to homicide clearances. We owe it
to the survivors of past homicide victims to do everything we can to
close these cases and bring some measure of closure to the families. And
we owe it to the community at large to take murderers off the street and
bring them to justice, before they can kill again.
In meeting this challenge, we will continue to monitor very closely the
progress of individual cases and the productivity of individual
detectives and detective supervisors. For example, we have recently
added two lieutenants to the Violent Crimes Branch, to provide more
hands-on management of cases and supervision of detectives. In the near
future, we will also be creating an investigative squad with the Violent
Crimes Branch that will handle apparent "natural deaths" that
occur in the District. This will free up more detectives to work on
active homicide investigations.
We are also working closely with the US Attorney's Office - I,
personally, meet with US Attorney Roscoe Howard on a regular basis - to
ensure that we are progressing on specific homicide investigations. And
through our Daily Crime Briefings, we are constantly tracking patterns
of violence in our city - and deploying our discretionary resources based
on these patterns. I will talk more about this process later in my
More than 75 percent of the homicides in DC are committed with firearms,
so in conjunction with other agencies, we are placing a renewed focus on
guns in our city. We are tracking gun crimes and gun recoveries on a
daily basis. And through the Project Safe Neighborhoods, our Focused
Mission Team officers are
receiving specialized training in gun crimes and gun recoveries. In
addition, the ATF is now tracing all guns that are recovered in the
District, so that we can go back and try to match them up with previous
gun crimes. And the US Attorney's Office has pledged to seek tougher
penalties against gun criminals.
Beyond these and other enforcement actions, we are continuing to
emphasize neighborhood partnership and systemic prevention efforts. For
example, we are expanding upon the faith-based partnerships that began
east of the Anacostia River - and we are now working to establish these
types of grassroots efforts here in Northwest and in other parts of the
city challenged by violence.
Before I take your questions, I do want to address the issue of police
staffing and deployment, because I know it remains a concern. To be
successful in reducing violence and solving crimes, we clearly need to
have the right people in the right assignments - and we need those
people performing at a high level. And we need to achieve this while
operating within the budget appropriated by the Council.
Our total sworn strength at the beginning of this calendar year was
3,637 - or about 1 percent below our target. Approximately 58.2 percent
of our officers, sergeants and lieutenants are currently assigned to the
PSAs - again, just slightly below our target. Our Department is working
hard, and within our budget, to try and meet the targets we have
established, especially with respect to PSA staring.
But I also want everyone to understand that PSA officers are by no means
the only resources that we are devoting to neighborhood patrols and
neighborhood crime problems. The PSAs are being supported by a number of
other critically important units that are all focused on one mission:
fighting crime in our neighborhoods.
These additional resources include our redeployed officers ... our
Focused Mission Teams ... our Power Shift officers ... our Canine Units,
which are now given specific neighborhood assignments every day ...
Mobile Force ... Narcotics Strike Force ... the Prostitution Unit ...
and our Horse Mounted Unit. I can assure the Committee that effectively
matching these crime-fighting resources with the specific crime problems
in our neighborhoods crime problems is the number one priority of MPD
It's what we do - myself, the Assistant Chiefs, Commanders, and other
ranking members - every day in our Daily Crime Briefings. Using
sophisticated maps and other information displayed in our Command
Center, we look at crimes and crime patterns over the past 24 to 48
hours. And we decide
how we can best deploy our discretionary resources to address those
problems. This process is giving our PSA teams some of the critical
support they need to address neighborhood crime problems. I would invite
any Councilmembers or staff who are interested in observing a Daily
Crime Briefing to contact my office, and we will make the necessary
I am not in any way suggesting that we do not need to fully staff the
PSAs - the PSAs remain the foundation of our neighborhood
crime-fighting. What I am saying is that to effectively fight crime in
our communities, the PSAs need the support of these additional units,
which bring a wealth of resources, skills and tactics to our
It is also critically important that when we assign officers to a PSA,
those officers are available for full duty. We continue to face a
serious problem with far too many officers who have been placed on
limited duty or extended sick leave - and who are allowed to remain in
that status for long periods of time. Legislation has been proposed to
address this problem once and for all, and I hope the Council gives it
Also, I would call on the Council to review the processes and
productivity of the Police and Firefighters Retirement and Relief Board,
which hears these long-term disability cases. My opinion is that this
Board could hear, and rule on, many more cases than it currently does.
Finally, I would encourage the Council to support the continuation - and
expansion - of our night papering and other papering reform efforts with
the US Attorney's Office. We continue to have too many of our best, most
productive officers sitting in court - and not patrolling our streets -
because of overscheduling by the courts.
Getting more officers in our neighborhoods is a goal that all of us
share, but achieving this goal is not as simple as mandating through
legislation a set number of PSA officers. Finding the right combination
of resources to deal with the serious problems of crime and violence in
our neighborhoods - and deploying those resources intelligently and
effectively - represent an ongoing process for our Department ... and a
priority that we focus on each and every day of the year.
Thank you again for the opportunity to present this statement. My staff
and I will be happy to address your questions at this time.