GRAPPLING WITH A DYSFUNCTIONAL POLICE DEPARTMENT
Many decision-makers and observers (including the District's Control Board Chairman Dr. Alice Rivlin) agree that the two major deterrents to living in DC are the abnormally high crime rate and the abnormally low performance of the school system. Both have been branded by their new imported chiefs as "dysfunctional" and suffering from endemic "cultural problems". Totally rebuilding these two fundamental city institutions will be no small task.
In several areas, this web site has established "Turnaround Sections" which try to keep track of the significant positive changes that have become evident. Such a section still does not appear in this Major Issue Area, and so far, NARPAC, Inc. is loath to hold out any great hope.
A review of the daily headlinesshows
that changes are underway since the swearing in of the new chief of the
Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Progress has doubtless been slowed
by having to deal with day-to-day problems, such as a police force in
which most officers had not requalified in the use of their weapons; too
many were on semi- permanent administrative leave--or working off duty
at shady occupations; the homicide division was not solving DC's plentiful
murders; the ballistics division had a huge backlog of untested bullets
despite new equipment donated by ATF; the emergency phone lines were not
being answered (see recent report from the DC Inspector General);
abnormally high adverse action reports against MPD officers; overzealous
parking ticket writing; and so forth.This item has been 'archived'
Despite these distractions, Chief Ramsey has brought in new deputies from outside the DC area, and has now announced major realignments in the organization and management of the MPD. The key elements of this new MPD structure and the rationale for them is included below. The complete text of Chief Ramsey's statement is available on dcwatch.
The Metropolitan Police Department is now taking the critical next step to more effectively police our Nation's Capital. We are restructuring the entire Department to (l) place more resources in the community, (2) focus our resources on reducing crime and solving problems in the city's 83 Police Service Areas (PSAs), and (3) hold managers at every level of the organization accountable for the quality of policing services within their geographic commands. In short, we are putting the Police Department in a much stronger position to take back the city's neighborhoods block by block, community by community, in partnership with our residents and other agencies.
The Chief asserts that these changes will improve the MPD's capabilities to perform its basic functions and regain its "place as the nation's leading police agency". He claims that police departments everywhere exist for the same basic reasons:
NARPAC, Inc. has no expertise in running police departments, but is concerned by at least three aspects of this plan:
a) This is the fifth frontal lobotomy performed on the MPD organization in eight years, and will per force, require another period of adjustment before coming up to strength. On the other hand, it does provide opportunities to make serious personnel changes, and hopefully to begin some "cultural changes".
b) Decentralization of high-skill functions is more effective when there are more than enough high skills available, and the intent is to stimulate additional creativity, initiative, and responsiveness. In an organization where such skills are lacking, decentralization tends to make local performance even worse as the smaller organizations get further and further away from "critical mass".
c) Not even lip service is given in the plan to the concept of crime prevention. Police agencies that are not at least in part trying to work themselves out of a job are unlikely to rank amongst the nation's best.
We wish the Chief every possible success and hope that our concerns are groundless. The DC police department has a very long row to hoe to become the nation's finest.
Chief Ramsey has apparently also looked favorably on establishing (with the help of federal funding) working relations with the Prince George's County police force to thwart boundary-crossing as a popular technique for criminals avoiding arrest. A further description of this effort is provided under regionalism. It is of some interest that Ramsey's predecessors had notpursued this course, and that even now, there will be no direct radio contact between the adjacent authorities because of equipment incompatibility.
Late in December, '99 Chief Ramsey promoted 51 officers, aparently to help "balance the top officers in each district and 83 PSAs" (whatever that may mean). Two weeks later, in January, '00, the Chief found it necessary to make yet another organizational "course correction", promoting and moving 13 top officers to "the best jobs for them".