- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

There is something terribly wrong in a city when people can become indignant about uncut grass at a few athletic fields, but are mum about lives being cut down many in mid-bloom. Already in the District nearly 200 people have been killed; the number of homicides is rising, not declining as Metropolitan Police Department Chief Charles Ramsey had pledged. Yet, the media and residents seem supremely satisfied with the chief, who has yet to develop an effective crime-prevention or crime-fighting deployment plan, continues to resort to an overtime strategy to achieve what should be accomplished through standard scheduling, and can't meet the two primary goals that led to his hiring. They excoriate the parks and recreation director for failing to cut grass growing quickly during an unprecedented rainy season. But they fete the police chief, whose poor performance has led to the loss of lives. Absolutely mind- boggling.

A media-savvy, sophisticated salesman, Mr. Ramsey could sell a blind man binoculars, which may account for the reason he continues to have favorable rating; a whole bunch of folks can't see the snow job.

In 1998, when he was hired, Mr. Ramsey was told by local elected and appointed officials he needed to get more officers on the street and to implement community policing. Don't sweat it, he told city leaders. He had managed a large portion of the Chicago police force and law-enforcement folks knew him as "Mr. Community Policing." But 24-months later, far too many District residents are sweating it inside. They are afraid of being robbed or murdered. They complain of seeing the police as frequently as Haley's comet, making their appearance a standing neighborhood joke. The image of the city with new, improved public safety is the stuff of commercials and slick, multicolored advertising brochures. Sounds good, looks good, but it's far from reality.

To conceal his failures, Mr. Ramsey, like a frantic magician, pulled excuses out of his hat fast and plentiful. He was reorganizing the department; getting his people the resources they need; improving training; finding better, more educated recruits. He needed to design a new schedule; officers weren't working during the same hours as criminals; policing was viewed as a day job. He acquiesced to union pressure, satisfying the domestic needs of his officers and not the public safety needs of residents they all swore to protect. Mr. Ramsey couldn't even implement a promised plan to put traffic officers at busy intersections. Have mercy!

Finally, in May, D.C. Council member David Catania had had enough; he introduced legislation mandating that the chief put 60 percent of the force on the street. Mr. Ramsey accused him of "micromanaging" his department which these days is as lethal as accusing someone of being a racist. Fortunately, the council approved Mr. Catania's bill.

Still, it wasn't until last week that Mr. Ramsey decided to take as many as 1,000 officers from behind their desks or out of specialized units and put them on the streets. "We will use all members of the police department effective August 22," he said.

"This is permanent," Mr. Ramsey continued. "This is not flash-in-the-pan. People will have to work a bit harder now. We will have to do more cross-training. The solution can't be more, more, more officers."

It took the murder of nine people on National Night Out, an annual crime-prevention observance, before the chief acted as if he faced a public safety crisis. It took 2 years and a salary of more than a quarter of a million dollars taxpayer dollars before Mr. Ramsey finally decided to give people what they had paid for. It's highway robbery, but don't call the law.

Responding to press inquiries last week, Attorney General Janet Reno proposed a series of questions: "What is causing it? What may be the pattern involved? Is it drugs? Is it a drug organization?" This week the chief, and his sidekick, Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrence Gainer, say its emotions. Mr. Gainer says it's risky behavior getting drunk, shooting craps late at night, hanging out with prostitutes and selling, buying or using dope. Duh. Who doesn't understand murder mostly is a crime of passion, often effected while the perpetrator is angry or pained and that criminal activity frequently yields bad results? But the people being hurt by the criminal activity aren't just the criminals and that's the main problem. Innocent residents are damaged and the city's image is marred, once again.

Maybe the chief will act as if he is serious and follow through on this latest campaign without unloading a boat of excuses. Meanwhile, here are few questions for Miss Reno, Mr. Gainer, Chief Ramsey and others in this city: How did law-enforcement officials develop a successful deployment plan, combining local and federal resources and sophisticated intelligence equipment, earlier this year to protect a few World Bank administrators and foreign diplomats, but can't deal decisively with local thugs turning communities into armed camps? Are only the wealthy deserving of protection? What is the value of the life of a poor or working-class person? Surely it is greater than a field of grass.

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