A specialized D.C. police unit that investigates officer-involved shootings is being split up, as department leadership says the need for a team focusing exclusively on that issue has diminished in the last decade.
The shake-up of the Force Investigation Team program, created in 1999 and credited with helping reduce the number of police-involved shootings, is part of a departmental reorganization, said Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier.
The team is being integrated into the department's internal affairs branch, but the process for investigating officer-involved shootings will remain the same, she said.
Some members will receive training in other aspects of internal affairs cases and others are getting entirely new assignments.
With a sharp decline in the last decade in police-involved shootings, the need for a unit focused exclusively on such investigations is not as critical now as it was when the team was first assembled, said Assistant Chief Michael Anzallo. There were 32 police-involved shootings in 1998, though most weren't fatal; last year, there were 12, including five fatal shootings, he said. Those officers who remain with internal affairs will be trained to do other types of investigations in what police officials believe is a smarter allocation of resources.
"Everybody's cross-trained to (conduct) internal affairs investigations and use-of-force investigations," said Chief Anzallo, who oversees the department's internal affairs branch.
An internal teletype from last month obtained by the Associated Press identifies seven members who are staying with internal affairs and five who are leaving for new assignments, including patrol and school security bureaus.
Chief Lanier said some of the original members did not reapply or were not selected to remain with internal affairs.
The Force Investigation Team program was created under then-Chief Charles H. Ramsey after a series in The Washington Post revealed that the D.C. police department had fatally shot more people, compared to the city's total population, than any other big-city police force in the 1990s. Its original mandate was to focus on cases in which officers shot suspects, but was expanded to include instances of nonlethal force.
Chief Ramsey and then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams requested an investigation by the Justice Department, which found "a pattern or practice of use of excessive force and avoidable force," that the department was failing to consistently report use of force and that it had an inadequate system for receiving and investigating complaints of misconduct. The Justice Department, which entered into a memorandum of understanding with the police department, made a series of recommendations, including that officers be required to report every use of force.
The team has been recognized for its work, and other law enforcement agencies have reached out to the department for help in improving their investigations, according to the team's 2000 annual report.