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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'
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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 new organizational structure enhances our ability to fight crime by:
  • Increasing police resources in the community. Additional sworn personnel, detectives, investigators and uniformed officers are being moved out of centralized units to assignments in the community.

  • Eliminating bureaus and cutting bureaucracy. The existing bureau structure created excessive bureaucracy and made coordination across units cumbersome and inefficient. Those four bureaus are being eliminated, replaced by a more logical and streamlined command system which promotes team work, communication and geographic accountability for fighting crime.

  • Strengthening the PSAs . Not only are more officers and supervisors being assigned directly to the PSAs. More field resources are being assigned in direct support of the PSAs, and PSA managers are being given greater authority and responsibility to build partnerships and solve problems.

  • Creating full-service police districts. Key operational services, patrol, investigations, focused missions, traffic and prevention, are being placed in the districts. At the district level, these crime-fighting services will be more accessible to the community and of greater support to the PSAs.

  • Establishing geographic accountability throughout the organization. The new structure organizes the districts into three Regional Operations Commands, located in the community and led by a Regional Assistant Chief who is accountable for managing resources and coordinating efforts throughout the region. This creates a complete system of geographic accountability for fighting crime from the PSAs, districts and regions, all the way up to the chief of police.

  • Streamlining the business side of the organization. Administrative and technical functions are being consolidated under a unified command that can more efficiently provide the tools, training and technology that are critically important to field personnel.

  • Creating the capacity to continuously improve the Department. A new focus on strategic planning will identify opportunities to improve the organization and develop innovative strategies and programs that meet the needs of Department personnel. A new quality assurance team will follow up on this work, ensuring compliance with new programs and standards and identifying areas in need of further improvement.

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:

  • To respond to and solve criminal incidents

  • To respond to and resolve non-criminal incidents, and

  • To identify and solve broader crime and disorder problems

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".


This item was archived in April, 2004

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