- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 21, 2003

Concerns about budget deficits, public safety and skyrocketing salaries are weighing on D.C. Council members as they decide whether to extend Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey’s contract by about five years and give him a $25,000-a-year pay raise.

The council, which faces projected budget shortfalls in coming years, has debated the merits of a pay raise for Chief Ramsey amid reports by The Washington Times that the District has more city workers earning $100,000 salaries than does Chicago, which has six times as many residents.

Chief Ramsey, already one of the D.C. government’s highest-paid workers, earns $150,000 a year and has not had a pay increase in his five years as the leader of the Metropolitan Police Department. A $175,000 salary would make him the city’s third-highest-paid worker and place him among the highest-paid police chiefs of the country’s largest cities and police departments.

For example, New York City’s police commissioner receives about $162,000 a year, Chicago’s police chief makes $160,000, Philadelphia’s takes in $180,000 and Los Angeles’ chief earns $239,000, according to published reports.

The District typically ranks as a moderate-size city but has the largest per-capita police force in the nation — 3,600 officers for its 575,000 residents.

The D.C. Council, which is scheduled to vote on the chief’s raise July 8, has focused on varying measures of his performance and that of his officers since 1998.

Among the council’s considerations are statistics showing a recent rise in some violent crimes, departmental manpower concerns, high-profile cases and counterprotest actions that have won Chief Ramsey praise and criticism in the region, across the nation and around the world.

“Sure, it’s not a lot of money, but it’s a signal to the citizens of the District of Columbia that we are tacitly complicit with this performance,” council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said during a hearing on the chief’s proposed pay raise last week.

When Chief Ramsey came to the District in April 1998 after a 30-year career with the Chicago Police Department, the Metropolitan Police Department was mired in mismanagement and scandal. Top officials were under criminal investigation, the department lacked basic crime-fighting tools, and poor recruiting and standards gave rise to second-rate officers.

In 1997, the last full year before Chief Ramsey’s tenure, there were 301 homicides, 4,499 robberies, 5,688 aggravated assaults and 218 rapes, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) on four categories of violent crime.

Last year, there were 264 homicides, 3,731 robberies and 5,262 aggravated assaults. Only the number of rapes had increased, to 272. In addition, the increase in homicides last year bucked a decade-long trend of steadily fewer killings in the city.

Though the UCR showed a 1 percent decrease in violent crime in the District last year, the national average for similar-size cities fell by 4.1 percent.

“I wish [the citys crime rate] was lower, but the bottom line is that crime [fighting] in the District is better now than it was five years ago,” Chief Ramsey said in a recent interview with The Washington Times.

Last year’s spike in homicides earned the District the dubious title of “murder capital of the United States” among cities with a population of 500,000 or more. And the trend is continuing. As of Friday, there were 115 homicides in the District, up from 103 this time last year, which saw more killings than any other year during Chief Ramsey’s tenure.

One chronic problem is that the department, which has a sworn strength of 3,800 officers, has failed to meet that number in actual officers.

The lack of officers in neighborhoods was apparent to Chief Ramsey upon his arrival to the District.

“One of the first things I’ve noticed is the lack of visibility,” he told The Times in May 1998. “When I look at the numbers, they indicate one thing, but when you hear and see the numbers on the street, it’s something else.”

Things haven’t changed much. About 3,600 officers serve the force now, and in March the chief told a D.C. Council Judiciary Committee hearing that only 3,258 of those officers were available for duty because of sick or administrative leave.

“We’ve funded 3,800 officers since I’ve been on the council,” said council member David A. Catania, at-large Republican. “What a joke. We can’t even get to 3,600 let alone 3,800.”

Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said one of the chief’s priorities is to move off the payroll those who have been on extended leave, open slots for new officers and put more officers in the neighborhoods or Police Service Areas (PSAs).

Implemented in 1997 under Chief Larry Soulsby, the PSA became the mechanism for delivering Chief Ramsey’s vision of community policing, called “policing for prevention.” The strategy calls for partnerships between local and federal agencies and communities to target high-risk offenders and crime hot spots to attack the root causes of crime.

Policing for prevention has had mixed results.

As part of the strategy, Chief Ramsey created outreach programs for segments of the community that had been underserved by police — the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Liaison Unit in April 2002, and the Latino Liaison Unit and the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit soon after that.

To increase patrols, especially at night in high-crime areas, Chief Ramsey in August 2000 redeployed officers from administrative positions and specialized units for one week a month. The plan was supposed to put about 800 extra officers on patrol on weekends.

Rank-and-file officers criticized the redeployment for leaving specialized units undermanned. After officers began seeking exemptions, the numbers on redeployment dwindled so low that the plan was rewritten in March 2001 to deny exemptions.

In another community-policing move, Chief Ramsey decentralized the homicide unit in November 1999, sending detectives into neighborhoods where they could develop relationships with residents. It scattered resources and intelligence. Closure rates for homicides plummeted from 70 percent in 1997 to 43 percent in 2001.

“By decentralizing, I thinned out the talent pool too much,” Chief Ramsey said, adding that too many good detectives have retired in recent years. “It can work in some departments, but not in this one.”

The unit was recentralized in October 2001. The closure rate rebounded last year to 55 percent, but the unit’s reputation has suffered in the aftermath of several high-profile cases.

Most notably, detectives have failed to solve the 2-year-old slaying of former federal intern Chandra Levy, who disappeared May 1, 2001. The case drew national and international attention when rumors surfaced that Miss Levy had had an affair with U.S. Rep. Gary A. Condit, California Democrat.

Chief Ramsey became a fixture on TV talks shows updating the status of the case. He also was criticized for giving Mr. Condit preferential treatment during the investigation.

After Miss Levy’s remains were found in Rock Creek Park in May 2002 near the scenes of two previous attacks on female joggers, Chief Ramsey was again criticized, this time for focusing too narrowly on Mr. Condit. Police now say they have a number of suspects, some of whom are in prison for other crimes.

Chief Ramsey also drew criticism for charging an innocent man in another high-profile killing — the fatal stabbing of Eric Plunkett, 19, at Gallaudet University in September 2000. Five days after Mr. Plunkett’s death, police charged an 18-year-old freshman with second-degree murder but released him the next day because the U.S. Attorney’s Office would not prosecute, citing lack of evidence.

The case was closed only after Gallaudet student Benjamin Varner, 19, was beaten to death in his room in February 2001. Ten days after the second killing, Joseph Mesa Jr., 20, of Guam, confessed to the murders. He was sentenced in July to life in prison with no parole.

Mrs. Kellems said the homicide-clearance rate is “still not where we want it to be [but it is] getting better.” Chief Ramsey is pushing legislation that would authorize retired homicide detectives to return to work to consult on cases without jeopardizing their benefits.

Meanwhile, the police department’s budget has grown from $272 million in fiscal 1998 to a proposed $379 million in fiscal 2004.

In that time, Chief Ramsey said he has replaced police cruisers, reducing the average age of the department’s fleet from 10 years to 3 years. He said he has upgraded radios, repaired dilapidated facilities, started a mounted unit, equipped a bicycle unit, and restarted an aviation unit that had been shut down in 1996 because of a budget shortfall.

In September 2001, a $7 million, state-of-the-art Joint Operations Command Center opened. The JOCC is shared by the police department, the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service for coordinated operations.

The room has 20 rear-projection TV screens arranged in three sections to monitor feeds from 14 surveillance cameras downtown. The cameras are activated during major events such as holiday celebrations, demonstrations and heightened security alerts.

But several technological advances have ended up costing the chief public confidence or officer morale.

The chief oversaw the installation of 39 red-light cameras and six speeding cameras. The automated enforcement cameras, which have generated more than $50 million in revenue since they were installed in August 1999, have issued hundreds of erroneous tickets due to programming errors.

The cameras have been criticized as an invasion of privacy, a violation of due process and a way to generate revenue for the city.

In March 2001, an internal police probe found 350 officers abused mobile computers in their squad cars, exchanging hundreds of e-mail messages full of sexist and racist language.

Police officials flagged 27,000 of 4 million e-mails that had “key word hits.” The civil rights divisions of the Justice Department and FBI’s Washington Field Office assisted in the probe. About 50 officers were suspended or reprimanded.

A June 1998 inspector general’s report identified shortcomings in the city’s 911 system technology, procedures, personnel policies and facilities. In July 2001, the city opened its Public Safety Communications Center, promising it would improve 911 service.

The center has become an additional subject of scrutiny. Following a fatal fire in Northwest in January, an investigation revealed that several of the police operators who were supposed to field 911 calls were “unplugged” from the system. Almost two months after the fire, Chief Ramsey announced plans to fire two call-takers and two supervisors who were on duty at the time the call came in.

In April 2000, Metropolitan Police earned an international reputation for handling “direct-action” protests after officers thwarted 10,000 protesters determined to disrupt the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings. Similar protests in Seattle turned violent in 1999, resulting in more than 580 arrests and about $10 million worth of property damage.

That reputation was all but eclipsed last March after Chief Ramsey ordered the arrest of several hundred protesters in Pershing Park in Northwest. The protesters, who said they were given no verbal warning to disperse, were demonstrating without a permit and several journalists and passers-by were swept up during the arrests.

A survey of the 13-member council by The Times shows that the up-coming July 8 vote on Chief Ramsey’s raise could go either way.

Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, and Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, support the raise, while Mrs. Patterson, Mr. Fenty and Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, oppose it.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat; Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat; and Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, said they will support it only if strict performance measures for Chief Ramsey are added.

Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, said she is prepared to reject it because of its term, which would keep the chief on the job a year longer than the mayor.

Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat; Vincent Orange, Ward 5 Democrat; and Mr. Catania would not say how they would vote, while Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said he has not yet decided.

If the raise doesn’t pass, Chief Ramsey said will discuss with Mayor Anthony A. Williams what to do next. He has said he believes he deserves the raise and would consider leaving the District if he doesn’t get it.

“In the five years I have been here, I have put everything into making this a better department,” he said. “All I can do is the best I can do.”

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