Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier appeared before the Washington D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety on Jan. 24 to address concerns about police misconduct.
According to a statement from Council member Tommy Wells, who chairs the committee, 47 D.C. police officers have been convicted of committing crimes in the last five years. The hearing was called after the police department has faced embarrassing questions about police misconduct in recent months.
“Today we are holding a public oversight hearing to review and discuss how the Metropolitan Police Department polices its own,” Wells said in an opening statement. “In the last several months, several high-profile cases involving allegations of police misconduct have emerged, including an officer accused of taking pictures of a naked 15-year-old runaway; another charged with running a prostitution operation involving teenagers; and an officer indicted on the attempted murder of his wife.”
Wells said the misconduct has “caused great concern” among D.C. residents.
“The police wield immense power and responsibility and we count on them to keep us safe. The abuse of that power by even one officer hurts the reputation of all our officers, and harms the trust the public has in the force,” he said. “It does a profound disservice to the thousands of men and women who risk their lives each day to protect our communities and keep us safe—and who do so with the utmost integrity and care."
Lanier has been very visible as chief of police, regularly going to crime scenes and holding public announcements, and has gotten high marks for addressing crime problems and reducing the city's crime rate. But as her popularity has surged, some believe she has gone unchecked by city leaders on issues such as police misconduct and the continued high rate of violence in some neighborhoods. Some long-time Black residents feel her officers unfairly side with new, younger and White residents on concerns such as parking in areas around churches.
“Our officers are dedicated to protecting the residents and visitors of the District of Columbia,” Lanier said in her statement. “Every time they put on the uniform, they are willing to risk their lives to protect us. I am proud of their service and expect each officer and Department employee to live up to our high standards of integrity and trust.
At the hearing, Lanier told council members that some of the problems with police misconduct resulted from the department being restricted in its ability to weed out problem officers. She asked the committee to revamp a law that allows officers who lose their jobs to appeal to independent arbitrators who can overturn the firings, even on technicalities.
She said the department is considering placing “on body” cameras on police officers to keep track of their actions on the streets. According to the Associated Press, Los Angeles police officers walking beats in that city began wearing the cameras on Jan. 22.
In the statement Lanier provided to council members, she praised the hiring practices now used to bring in new officers, calling them “the most stringent they’ve been in decades.” She also credited the department’s Internal Affairs Division for holding officers to a high standard and helping administrators to weed out and address problems.
She also outlined methods to identify and address allegations of misconduct and even to identify problem officers before they commit an offense. She said she initiated a program called “Integrity Check” in 2010 to identify officers engaging in inappropriate behavior. She said some of the arrests and prosecutions of bad officers occurred because the department is working to identify officers who may be abusing sick leave, “malingering” or getting involved in behavior that leads to criminal misconduct.
She said a “Supervisory Support Program," which the department began utilizing in 2006 as part of an agreement on its use of force it entered into with the Department of Justice, helps supervisors to watch for inappropriate behaviors.
The system tracks and assigns a point value to reports of incidents involving officers. When the points against an officer total 100, supervisors can meet with the officer involved to decide if intervention is warranted.
Lanier said the program also works to detect problems with substance abuse and domestic violence.