- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2011

An internal Metropolitan Police Department document shows that 20 officers left the force in a recent four-week period, a statistic that speaks to recent debate about the rate of police attrition in the District and how to keep staffing at safe levels.

The officers retired, resigned or were terminated between April 22 and May 21, according to the document obtained by The Washington Times. The figure is 24 if three civilians and an intern are included in the count.

The attrition rates has been the subject of disagreement among D.C. Council members, especially during budget talks.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, has said the departure rate is roughly 15 officers per month.

Another council member, David A. Catania, at-large independent, has maintained that even at that rate, the force will dip to dangerously low levels by the end of the summer because recruitment is dormant. Last month, he unsuccessfully asked the council to establish a special commission that would study the attrition issue and try to come up with recruitment and retention initiatives.

Mr. Mendelson said his overall thinking on the matter is based on the past four years, not just recent data from April into May.

“One has to look at the long-term trends,” he said. “There’s no reason to abandon that analysis, which is not to say we should ignore recent analyses.”

Kristopher Baumann, president of the Fraternal Order of Police unit that represents MPD officers, has been critical of the city’s efforts to spur retention and recruitment. He contends the figures in the internal document show that city officials have “historically underestimated” the rate of attrition and are heading for a dangerous uptick in departing officers.

“They sat around and underestimated and misinformed the public, and they were wrong,” Mr. Baumann said. “They buried their heads in the sand once again.”

He said he accurately predicted that attrition would slow during the recession before an uptick this year in the economic recovery, as competing agencies lure officers out of the District.

“I didn’t think the numbers were going to get this bad until into the summer,” he said.

MPD spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump noted that attrition has varied greatly from month to month in recent years based on a number of factors, such as a retirement incentive that created an uptick in March and April 2010. The numbers then dipped to eight in May and 15 in June last year.

“Given the significant variance, for planning purposes we rely on longer-term estimates while keeping an eye on anticipated changes,” she said.

Anticipating a “retirement bubble,” Ms. Crump noted that the fiscal 2012 budget proposal provides funding to hire 120 officers, and the council has showed support for a proposal that releases funds for even more officers if the District exceeds projected revenues.

The police department provided a chart, stretching back to fiscal 2000, that shows average monthly rates of attrition of 18.7 in fiscal 2006, 15.9 in fiscal 2007, 12.7 in fiscal 2008, 15.8 in fiscal 2009, 14.2 in fiscal 2010 and 13.5 so far in fiscal 2011.