- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday dismissed complaints from police officers who collect evidence that a new deployment plan is burdening them.
"We've had evidence not being sent to the lab in a timely fashion before [deployment began]," Chief Ramsey said on WTOP radio's "Ask the Chief" program.
"That happened long before redeployment, so you can't blame that on redeployment. Some of that is just people not doing their job like they're supposed to, quite frankly."
But forensics officials, who work in the Crime Scene Examination Section, commonly known as "mobile crime," said evidence work must be careful and painstaking or the prosecutor's case against a suspect will fall apart.
"That's just [wrong]," one lab officer said of the chief's remarks.
"We were short six people before deployment began, not to mention we don't have enough supervisors to follow up on the cases," the officer said.
Prosecutors told The Times that the deployment of the evidence officers has caused investigations to be delayed.
Wilma A. Lewis, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, also is concerned that the redeployment plan will delay evidence from getting to prosecutors, who have 100 days to return a grand jury indictment against a suspect, as The Times first reported Tuesday.
A new burden hanging over lab officers is the daily request to report to the troubled 5th police district, located mostly in Northeast, for patrols in areas plagued by drug trafficking, lab officers told The Washington Times.
"We don't have time to spare for patrol in 5D" because of the current case backlog, one lab officer told The Times. "It goes to show you how much they really don't know about the work we do. There's always evidence to be moved. There's always evidence in your evidence bin that you can send some place."
But Assistant Police Chief William P. McManus told The Times that all specialized units such as canine, bomb squad or the mobile crime officers are supposed to be on patrol if they are not responding to a specific call. If an incident requires a specialized unit, members are paged and told to respond to the scene, he said.
"There should be minimal impact from redeployment," he said.
Mobile crime officers, however, said the only time they're relieved of deployment patrol is for high-profile cases where the department's reputation is at stake, such as the Sept. 28 killing of a Gallaudet University student or the fatal shooting of an undercover Maryland state trooper Oct. 30.
Sgt. Gerald G. Neill, the head of the D.C. police union, again confirmed yesterday the accounts of crime lab officers and agreed it can put cases in jeopardy.
"You're robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said. "Sooner or later, it's going to hurt you."
"The mobile crime lab deals with the most serious crimes, and it's under scrutiny at trial," Sgt. Neill said. "The chief is not the one who stands up [in court] and says, 'We had to hurry.' It's the officer who has to stand up for that evidence."
Chief Ramsey said lab officers should work late to finish the evidence, or pass it on to someone else rather than let it sit for a week while they're on deployment. Lab officers countered that many cases have more than 100 pieces of evidence stored in various places, and having another officer take over brings the risk of a mistake of breaking the chain of custody.
Following a spate of fatal shootings and pressure from the D.C. Council in August, Chief Ramsey announced the new deployment plan, which puts about 800 extra officers on patrol on the District's streets for one week a month, from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
Chief Ramsey and other top officials have said if they find problems, they will fix them or exempt certain units from deployment.
"I've said all along there are consequences to the redeployment," the chief said yesterday.
"I'm not opposed to pulling crime-scene search off this thing, but I think it's premature, and certainly I think you should have all the facts before you make comments."

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