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Government and People
|Good afternoon. While I am appreciative of the opportunity to
speak today regarding the police department, my appearance here is by no means a
validation of the un-democratic nature of this process, or this institution. In the
interest of full public dialogue, however, I am pleased to be here.
Today I am representing the NAACP Metropolitan Police & Criminal Justice Review Task Force which was constituted in April of this year by the DC Branch President, the Rev. Dr. Morris Shearin. Our mission is to study and evaluate the policies and procedures of the Metropolitan Police Department, the U.S. Attorney's Office, defense services provided under the Criminal Justice Act and the Public Defender, the Superior Court and the Court of Appeals, the corrections system and, most recently, the new Truth-in-Sentencing Commission to offer constructive recommendations to ensure that these institutions serve the citizens, protect the citizens, reflect diversity and respect all human rights. The Task Force includes representatives from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU, the SCLC, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the National Lawyers Guild, the DC Prisoners Legal Services Project, the National Black Police Association, retired police officials, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, ACT UP, the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance and Donald Temple, former Chair of the dissolved Civilian Complaint Review Board.
It is the Task Force's view that the process of reform in the police department lacks integrity. The control board was created to assist with fiscal responsibility in the District-government, not to fight crime, or to micromanage law enforcement. There is no one currently on the control board who has any crime- fighting experience. One MPD officer intimated to me that there are those on the control board who are "reliving their second childhood by treating the police department as though it is a group of toy soldiers -- manipulating the department as though it is an electric board game." This statement and many others we have received further confirms the reality that morale in MPD is at an all-time low.
The perception that our Task Force has, in fact, is that there are too many cooks in the MPD kitchen, and these cooks have too many secret recipes. I do not wish to indict the MOU partners in general, but the way to hold the process accountable is for the process to be made less secretive. We call for all Booz-Allen reports to be made public, and for all MOU partners meetings to be held in the sunshine.
The publicity of Booz-Allen reports however, is not a validation of Booz- Allen's role in this process. We believe that Booz-Allen's very premise about police reform in the District is false. It seems that Booz-Allen has compared the population in D.C. to the population in New York, and the two are really worlds apart.
For example, zero tolerance is an irrelevant and ineffective strategy for D.C. Its success in New York is even questionable, because police brutality there is on the rise. Arrests in D.C. from March, when zero tolerance began, to date are up over 57% compared to the same seven month period in 1996. We would not even have that data if not for the Superior Court -- Chief Soulsby has delayed to the point of denying us MPD's statistics (see attached).
Under zero tolerance, the number of traffic lock-ups and citations rivals the number of felony and misdemeanor lock-ups and citations. In answer to the community's cries for change, we got a zero tolerance policy which disproportionately harasses the very people who called for police reform by enforcing the most common offense our our (Driving While Black). This is not what the community asked the police department to do.
Nor did the community ask the police department or the control board to spend millions of dollars in taxpayers' money to donate to Booz-Allen to produce reports that have already been done. For example, the police department had focus groups in 1994 that reviewed organization, facilities and equipment, training and management, including overtime. In 1996, the Lazenby-Semple Community Task Force was the first to confront the issue of low homicide closure rates especially with regards to the unsolved murders of over 120 African American women in the past decade. In the current climate, all that was necessary was improvement upon the work of these groups.
It is clear that it is time for new leadership in MPD. Contrary to Booz-Allen's and the control board's contentions, Chief Soulsby is not responsible for the reduction in crime in D.C. He was appointed Chief in 1995. Homicides and rapes began to consistently decline in 1993. Burglaries declined consistently form 1991 to 1994, and then actually increased again in Chief Soulsby's first year in office. To suggest that Chief Soulsby is responsible for the reduction in crime is not only false, but it is disrespectful to the churches and community organizations that have been working daily to intervene in the lives of those at risk. They are the ones responsible for the reduction in crime, not Chief Soulsby.
The Task Force endorses the idea or replacing Chief Soulsby. However. we demand a comprehensive national search that involves the community and, in the interest of home rule, that the offices of the Mayor and the Council be allowed to appoint and confirm the new Chief. We do not support Chief Soulsby remaining the Chief, nor do we support any new Chief being appointed by the control board.
It was the community that did demand police reform and public safety improvement. It was the community, after all, neither the Chief, nor this body, who had to withstand a movement in favor of the death penalty supported by the Chief himself; and we had to endure police redistricting without the community's knowledge or input.
In our last meeting, Chief Soulsby himself said, "Whenever we get a police commission, the police will answer to it." Perhaps it is time we become proactive and decide that whenever is now.
The Task Force has worked with Councilmember Evans office to develop a consensus plan for civilian review (see attached). The MOU partners should not resist that plan. In the long-term we will also be presenting a plan for a civilian oversight police commission.
The community knows the reality of crime in the neighborhoods because the community lives in the neighborhoods where the crimes are being committed. Open the MOU Partners to the community, and to paraphrase Dr. Calvin Rolark, allow those who know the most about themselves to participate in the process of saving themselves.
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