- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2012

An email sent by a deputy director from the D.C. police department’s recruiting division to other department officials alerted them that a “file burn” was scheduled for the same day that trash bins of personnel files were found ablaze.

The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and the Metropolitan Police Department are reviewing the incident after union heads for the agencies expressed concern this week that employees’ personal information, which was contained in the files, could have been compromised.

The email, which was obtained by The Washington Times, was sent May 17 by Marvin Haiman, the police department’s deputy director of the recruiting division. The message instructs 33 people among the department’s recruiting staff, including Assistant Chief Patrick Burke, that a “file burn” will be held the next day and to “leave any items you need destroyed in the hallway.”

The following day, D.C. firefighters were called to the District’s fire training academy to extinguish a trash bin fire. As they were putting out the fire, they discovered personal information, including medical records and Social Security numbers, of firefighters and police officers among the paperwork being burned. Several hours later, they were called back to put out an abandoned car fire and were told the rest of the files had been completely burned in that blaze, according to union officials.

Regardless of what the files contained, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson said the way the files were being disposed of raises questions about who signed off on their destruction and why.

“I can’t see under any circumstance how this would have been permissible,” said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat. “The fact that they were put in Dumpsters that were set on fire and an abandoned car and set on fire says to me that this was completely outside any authorized channel.”

The Fraternal Order of Police and the D.C. Firefighters Association on Tuesday asked the District’s inspector general to investigate the file burning as an improper destruction of personnel records.

“We have record retention policies,” Mr. Mendelson said. “Records are shredded or archived, not burned.”

Some records were retrieved from the scene by firefighters and have been secured by D.C. police, he added.

In an email Wednesday, Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Kristopher Baumann alleged that the file burning was an attempt by the department to avoid providing responses to a Freedom of Information Act request. The order filed a lawsuit against the police department May 14 seeking the release of information about recruiting matters.

“We are looking into whether any records retention protocols have been violated,” department spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said.

Fire department spokesman Lon Walls on Wednesday said, “The whole matter is under investigation,” and declined to comment further.

In March, Chief Burke was one of those chastised by a D.C. Superior Court judge for making “transparently false” statements in an effort to prevent the release of police documents and policies.