- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2011

D.C. Council members batted away a proposal Tuesday that would pair the Metropolitan Police Department and its labor union to study retention and recruitment of D.C. officers, but they agreed that staffing is a key priority ahead of a potentially violent summer.

The council voted to table a bill introduced by David A. Catania, at-large independent, that calls for the creation of a six-member advisory commission, but only after extensive talks revealed diverging views about what is causing ranks to dwindle — and what can be done about it.

Mr. Catania said there is no harm in simple talks about police staffing, especially in light of Chief Cathy L. Lanier’s warning that “we’re going to have trouble” if the number of officers dips below 3,800.

Mr. Catania said the current force, at 3,869, will dip below 3,800 within a few months at its rate of attrition of 15 to 20 officers per month.

Academy recruitment is not expected to resume until Oct. 1, and it takes 12 months more to train the officers, putting the District in a situation that “seems to me somewhat reckless,” Mr. Catania said.

“I don’t understand why there would be an opposition to dialogue,” he said.

Several council members said the proposed commission is unnecessary or diverts attention from the real source of the problem, namely funding.

Chief Lanier sent a letter opposing the proposal, citing a lack of funding and a retirement bubble that arrives 25 years after a hiring surge in the late 1980s as clear reasons why the force is at its lowest levels since June 2007.

“Staffing has been declining since June 2009 because there has been no new funding to adequately offset expected attrition,” the chief’s letter said.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, said a board already exists “to study this exact issue” but that Mayor Vincent C. Gray and his predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty, did not appoint members.

Mr. Catania said the issue may extend beyond funding. Incentives such as alternate work schedules, education reimbursements or take-home vehicles could improve retention and recruitment, he said.

Although he said he did not expect to prevail on the issue, Mr. Catania called the opposition to dialogue “almost comical.”

Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, said she feared the proposal would create more bureaucracy. Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, said the bill amounts to “micromanaging” of the chief’s personnel.

“We should let her manage and run her department,” he said.

Kristopher Baumann, president of the labor unit that represents Metropolitan Police officers, supports the proposal and hit back at the council members, saying they “effectively killed legislation that would have helped the District’s short- and long-term ability to recruit and retain police officers.”

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