- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2000

The District of Columbia police department has not held a promotion test for the rank of detective since 1994, adding to the agency's troubled history of solving crimes and angering investigators over lost pay and rank, police officials say.

A recent ruling by an arbitration board mandates the department begin testing for officers now classified as investigators and "Grade 2" detectives in order to fill the ranks of "Grade 1" detective, a job that includes a significant step up in pay and responsibility.

While the decision by the D.C. Office of Employee Appeals stems from a legal dispute motivated partly by desire for better pay and rank, it also illustrates a long-running problem with the investigative and crime-solving ability of the Metropolitan Police Department.

The department's focus on community policing and prevention brings an overemphasis on promoting officers other than detectives, according to about two dozen investigators who filed the complaint three years ago.

"The investigative side is getting the short end of the stick" regarding promotions, said one Grade 2 detective who asked not to be identified.

Trevor Hewick, a retired Grade 2 detective who also is part of the complaint, said the neglect of detectives can have real consequences.

"The bottom line is not only is the department going to suffer, but the citizens are the ones who actually suffer. They're the ones who are going to feel it," Mr. Hewick said.

Investigators and Grade 2 detectives are officers detailed to investigations who receive "technician pay" a stipend based on their particular expertise.

A Grade 1 detective holds the civil service rank of detective, which comes with a higher base salary and does not rely on a stipend that can be taken away.

At one time in the early 1990s, the police force had as many as 100 Grade 1 detectives. Now, there are about 30, according to several investigators who filed the complaint.

"Whether it's a homicide, a pattern burglar or an enforcer, without a skilled investigator that person can stay out on the street for two to three months at a time and be a one-man crime spree," Mr. Hewick said. "And that's what was going on, and it's still going on now.

"For the hardened criminals … if they stay out on the street for months at a time, there are going to be a lot of victims," he said.

According to documents filed with the D.C. Office of Employee Appeals, the police chief and head of the police union in 1994 agreed the department would hold detective tests every other year beginning in 1995.

In 1996, those tests stopped, documents say, and investigators have been trying to get them restarted ever since.

Top police officials do not oppose creating a testing and promotion process for Grade 2 detectives, but the process is difficult, said the department's No. 2 official, Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer.

"I don't dispute there ought to be an opportunity to advance. We just haven't completed that yet," he said last week.

Eighteen months ago, D.C. police Chief Charles H. Ramsey ordered a committee to create a testing and selection process, and as recently as last month told them to at least form an interim system.

Chief Ramsey is considering a few recommendations from the group right now, Chief Gainer said.

"He's frustrated by the fact there is no process," Chief Gainer said. "We are very empathetic it's taken that long."

One problem, though, is that the tests are not simple to design and must be done carefully or risk legal challenges on grounds that they are unfair to racial groups and women, Chief Gainer said.

Chief Gainer agrees that the department's investigative efforts could be improved, but he doesn't buy the argument that not holding promotion tests for years is the reason.

"Over the last couple years, our [crime-solving] rates have been rather rotten," he said.

Detectives need to be better trained "instead of kind of stumbling through each case at the expense of the victim," Chief Gainer said.

The problem lies in the way detective promotions took place during the troubled early and mid-1990s, Chief Gainer said.

If there was an investigative vacancy, each unit or police district filled it according to its own rules and practices, he said.

"There were not standards and accountability measures," Chief Gainer said.

In the two years since chiefs Ramsey and Gainer have been running the department, they have focused on improving training and sometimes retraining the current detectives, Chief Gainer said.

A three- to five-month detective school with instructors from Scotland Yard is scheduled for the spring, Chief Gainer said.

Giving investigators a shot at the rank of detective is still on the agenda, but nothing can happen until a fair and comprehensive test is ready, he said.

"We need more detectives, but we're not going to go do it willy-nilly," he said. "You have to prove your ability."

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