High road for Ramsey on police discipline

Ex-chief: ‘Not my place’ to second-guess Lanier

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey was taken aback last week by news reports and radio interviews in which Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy L. Lanier claimed he had been too severe in his punishment of officers during his time as Metropolitan Police chief from 1998 through 2006.

Chief Lanier publicly criticized Commissioner Ramsey, her former mentor and a nationally recognized law enforcer, in response to a complaint recently filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) accusing her of discriminating against men and in favor of women in police disciplinary cases.

In a June 3 interview with The Washington Times, Commissioner Ramsey used measured language to express displeasure with his former protege.

“You do your best and you turn it over to the next chief,” said Commissioner Ramsey, who is credited with a significant reduction in crime during his time in the District. “There’s always going to be second-guessing, but I’m not about to criticize other chiefs who came before me or after me. It’s not my place to do so.”

Chief Lanier fired back at her own critics June 3 and suggested that there are consequences for the officials who exercised their legal rights before the EEOC.

“I take the allegations and litigation seriously,” she wrote in an email to The Times. “But no one likes being demoted, or subject to discipline, which is why some members, after already having lost one lawsuit, are trying another strategy.

“It seems they are trying to make their case by tarnishing the reputations of their colleagues, and I think they’ll be hearing more from them.”

Commissioner Ramsey told The Times that when he took the helm of Metropolitan Police, the department had serious integrity issues and questions about basic competence. “If you look at what I inherited, it is vastly different from the department I left behind,” he said.

He rejected the notion that he was too severe in his efforts to reform the department. “I wasn’t too lenient,” he said. “And I did my best to turn the department around. But I’ve been gone five years and, frankly, I don’t know why I’m being dragged into this.”

Among the complaints that have surfaced against Chief Lanier in recent weeks is that she has been too zealous in exploiting a statute that gives her the right to demote commanders to the lower rank of inspector or captain without cause or a hearing.

Critics say she has used the threat of no-cause demotions to influence the rulings of officials who serve on police disciplinary panels, known as trial boards.

In a July 2010 notice of a potential whistleblower claim, Capt. Victor V. Brito stated that, in 2009, Chief Lanier called him after he and his colleagues rejected officer discipline that the department recommended and instructed him to “look at these matters differently in the future.” He was later demoted.

Asked to comment on the independence of police trial boards, Commissioner Ramsey, a veteran of more than 40 years, said, “I can say that I never called an official to attempt to influence a trial board. It’s a process that results from collective bargaining. There are rules and procedures. And the outcomes affect the lives and careers of officers. You never take that lightly.”

Of the recent complaints leveled at Chief Lanier, and her response to them, Commissioner Ramsey said, “If her philosophy is different than mine, then fine. When you’re the chief, you accept all the responsibility that goes with it. Whatever is going on right now, I’ve always held [Chief Lanier] in high regard.”

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