- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Metropolitan Police Sgt. Kelvin Cusick, who has spent the past three years behind a desk in the department's Communications Division, hit the mean streets of the District of Columbia last night.

After roll call, when the officers gathered in the 1st District station in Southwest to get their assignments, Sgt. Cusick said he was "excited … and motivated."

"I've been off the street for 3 and 1/2 years, and I'm looking forward to a change," said the sergeant, an 11-year veteran whose regular job is supervisor of a team taking resident complaints by phone.

Sgt. Cusick's new beat is part of a deployment of about 200 officers on temporary leave from their regular duties as administrators or with special and detective units.

As the new beat officers prepared for the streets, some complained about missed vacation and time away from their families, but others were enthusiastic.

"Fit to fight," one officer responded as Sgt. Frank Edwards read the roll call.

Sgt. Edwards then told the assembled officers they were there for "a simple reason: to help solve crime and lower crime" on the streets of the District.

The plan, announced several weeks ago by Chief Charles H. Ramsey, calls for about 800 additional officers to don uniforms and guns and patrol the streets to reduce crime.

"After a while, they'll get acclimated to the beat. People will really assume the identity of [a 1st District] officer," Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer said last night before the officers left the 1st District station for their new duties.

Sgt. Joe Gentile, the oft-quoted police spokesman, took his beat wearing a bulletproof vest and police boots. He was realistic about the deployment.

"This is a not a cure-all or panacea by any means," he said before leaving for patrol for the first time in more than 30 years.

The spokesman said he was confident in his ability and the abilities of other officers who have been behind desks for years.

"Our roots are in the streets, and we're just getting back to our roots," Sgt. Gentile said.

He added that he and the other redeployed officers were heading out for areas where the degree and amount of violence is much higher than the last time they were on patrol.

"If we saw a gun once a month, that was rare," he said. "Now these young officers come across seven or eight guns a night."

Chief Ramsey and other police officials have downplayed the effort, saying that merely putting more officers on the streets won't stop crime.

Chief Gainer said 223 extra officers were on the street last night, which is a "significant influx."

Problems remained to be worked out, he said, including having enough patrol cars and enough patrol shirts for the officers.

About 30 officers 10 of them part of the new deployment reported for roll call at 7:30 last night at the 1st District station. Their departure for the streets was delayed as the new arrivals familiarized themselves with the neighborhoods they would be patrolling.

Chief Ramsey has blamed poor court scheduling that often makes scores of officers wait in vain to testify in trials that are not held. Other police officials have criticized city agencies that don't do their part in the anti-crime effort.

What's more, the city's No. 2 officer has said more police on the streets can't stop shootings of people "who engage in risky behaviors," such as "getting drunk, shooting craps late at night, hanging out with whores and selling, buying or using dope."

"They have chosen a lifestyle that dramatically increases the opportunity to hurt themselves," Chief Gainer told The Washington Times.

Nevertheless, police officials say that deploying more officers is a necessary component for public safety and confidence.

"It is the right thing to do to bring some peace to the streets," Chief Ramsey said. "It is part of the solution. It is far from being the total."

The redeployment comes in the wake of a rash of violence at least a dozen homicides in nearly as many days, and six shootings and four deaths on July 11, the crime-fighting National Night Out.

Each week, about 200 of the 800 officers will be rotated to street patrol with most of the additional manpower concentrated in the central part of the 3rd, 4th and 5th districts and east of the Anacostia River in the 6th and 7th districts.

The officers normally are assigned to special and administrative units such as internal affairs, mobile crime and the press information office.

The head of the D.C. police officers union yesterday said the deployment plan amounts to "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

"And Peter's going to suffer," union leader Frank Tracy said on WRC-TV (Channel 4) yesterday, arguing that the new deployment will hinder the officers' performances on their regular jobs.

Some of the plainclothes officers being reassigned have said the street patrols will take valuable time away from their investigations into serious crime.

Others have said it will create havoc with family life and will make scheduling child care nearly impossible.

Chief Ramsey yesterday said some special units will lose up to one-quarter of their manpower, but added that the deployment plan is the best way to use all of the police force's resources.

Saying that police need to be "more visible" and "aggressive," the chief noted that 14 more homicides have been recorded this year than at this time last year, making this year's homicide rate about 10 percent greater than last year's.

Chief Ramsey has long complained that the courts, prosecutors, parole and probation officers, teachers, and social workers must step up to the plate to help.

He argues that those agencies need to be open at night: Prosecutors can speed up the paperwork; courts should be open to process individuals; and parole and probation officers need to keep better tabs on their wards.

Another major problem is the amount of time officers have to spend at court hearings.

Inefficient court scheduling costs the police department $3.4 million annually enough to pay and equip about 60 additional officers, The Times reported last week.

Chief Judge Eugene Hamilton has refused to set up the type of scheduling system used by most courts in the country, law enforcement sources told The Times last week.

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