- - Tuesday, October 6, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier is often portrayed by an admiring media as an almost uniquely popular and effective law enforcement leader, who has made the District safer than ever by putting together one of the most effective big city police departments in the country.

Sometimes what is reported is the result of spin and public relations rather than fact. District police officers had an opportunity in August to express an opinion of Chief Cathy Lanier. Of those who voted, 97.5 percent cast a “no confidence” vote. The results were released on Aug. 31 by the D.C. Police Union shortly after Chief Lanier had told a WAMU radio questioner that she “was taking the vote seriously.” Her attitude changed significantly once the results were known, however, demonstrating once again to those who look to her for leadership why the vote came out as it did.

After the results were published, The Washington Post weighed in supporting the chief, dismissing the vote as “misguided” and questioning the wisdom of the union in even holding such a vote and three days later, publishing a piece by D.C. Police Commander Ralph Ellis, one of Chief Lanier’s staunchest allies within the department, titled “Why I support Chief Lanier.”

The public had to have been confused by why almost all of those who voted expressed no confidence in such an effective leader, but any attempt to tell “the other side of the story” was ignored by many in the area media.

The Post’s editorial position could have been predicted in advance as the paper’s editors have backed her since she first became chief in 2007. Whenever Chief Lanier’s integrity, judgment or leadership has been questioned, The Post has weighed in on her behalf. There are many reasons for rank-and-file dissatisfaction with Chief Lanier’s leadership, but the controversy surrounding her decision to dismantle the department’s drug and vice squads has been a major factor. The paper’s Sept. 1 editorial dismissed the union’s criticism of the chief’s decision to dismantle the District’s drug squads, arguing that the squads had proven ineffective and claiming that “drugs do not seem to be a driving factor in the increase in homicides.”

The evidence suggests that the chief’s argument on this score was more fantasy than fact. The drug squads had been remarkably effective and anyone familiar with the increase in violent crime in D.C. and elsewhere knows better than to dismiss drugs as a primary cause.

On Oct. 24, 2014, Chief Lanier issued a Teletype message to the force (the teletype is part of an internal communication system used to announce department-wide changes or publications), numbered TT-10-111-14. That message read the following: “All District Vice Lieutenants shall ensure that all current and ongoing vice operations are closed out, or transferred to the Investigative Services Bureau, Narcotics and Special Investigation Division (NSID), by January 4, 2015. On that date, all district drug enforcement operations will be centralized and conducted out of NSID. Additional details are forthcoming.”

And yet, on Aug. 26, the chief provided Mayor Muriel Bowser “facts” on drugs and crime in the District for inclusion in the mayor’s newsletter alleging, among other things, that: “The productivity of the vice units had dropped precipitously. In the first four months of 2015, non-marijuana drug arrests had decreased by 31 percent. Search warrant and gun recoveries by these units were also declining. Those were telling signs that we had to modernize our approach and change our tactics.”

Those of us on the force found this interesting. The squads had been disbanded as of Jan. 4 and were here being blamed for poor performance during the next quarter. One can imagine the internal reaction among officers familiar with what had actually happened.

The facts according to the Department’s own records, are that in 2014, the last year of their existence, District vice units recovered 279 illegal guns, executed 355 search warrants, made 3,960 arrests, and seized $292,289.68 in U.S. currency. Officers who served in these units and our colleagues on the streets were proud of these statistics and were shocked both when the units were disbanded and by the chief’s denigration of those who put so much effort into making them as effective as they were.

It was this performance on her part along with a new deployment strategy that relegated police to simply standing guard at light towers, standing under tents handing out fliers, and being assigned to fixed posts from which they were forbidden to depart without the express permission of the watch commander that led to the vote of no-confidence.

Sadly, this was not the first time Chief Lanier has been caught misleading the public or the D.C. Council. When it was revealed that the department had, provided a police escort for actor Charlie Sheen, Chief Lanier made public and sworn statements that the MPD provides escort to the president, vice president and dignitaries only. After investigating the incident, however, the inspector general for the District of Columbia concluded, contrary to Chief Lanier’s claims, the department was almost routinely providing such escorts to celebrities and sports teams.

It would be absurd to claim that Chief Lanier is without friends or supporters within the department, but those who have given her outspoken support are officers who, like Commander Ennis, have little experience on the streets of the District, but who have been part of her immediate staff. Loyalty is an admirable quality, but not when it requires one to sell a false narrative to the press and the public on behalf of one’s superior.

Delroy A. Burton is chairman of the D.C. Police Union.

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