- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2000

About five times as many city police officers are called to trials in Washington, D.C. Superior Court than are needed because of the court's continued failure to schedule trials properly.
Documents obtained by The Washington Times show that an average of 5,000 police officers are subpoenaed for more than 500 felony and misdemeanor cases scheduled each month by the Superior Court. But most months, only 90 to 110 of those scheduled cases ever make it to trial.
Superior Court judges overload their dockets, sometimes scheduling as many as five trials per day, because they are not sure which case is ready.
That means a lot of officers standing around at the courthouse instead of policing D.C. streets.
Documents also show court time cost the Metropolitan Police Department $10.2 million in the one-year period between May 8, 1999, and May 20, 2000. That cost could be cut by at least a third, or $3.4 million a year, according to a new study done by a committee working on the problem.
And those costs don't even reflect the compensatory time an officer receives for making the initial appearance in court or the cost to the department in lost manpower when an officer makes an appearance while on duty.
Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said $35.1 million in overtime costs for court time and other events such as the World Bank protests are wreaking havoc with his budget. He's put off filling almost 200 vacancies because the department can't afford the new manpower even though the existing 3,614-person force is authorized to have 3,800 sworn officers.
"For the first time, I have 200 qualified people waiting in the wings," Chief Ramsey said. "I can't hire them."
With a rash of recent slayings, the department is under pressure to put more officers on the streets. Chief Ramsey was forced to place 1,000 officers in administrative duties on the streets beginning Aug. 22. The administrative personnel will work the streets one week per month as uniformed officers.
The lack of proper court scheduling has been studied for more than a year by the city's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which is made up of local politicians and criminal justice officials.
The council, however, has made no headway with the courts, according to law-enforcement officials, because Chief Judge Eugene Hamilton, who is retiring next month, has yet to take a leadership role and find a way to manage his court system properly. The courts are federally funded and are controlled only by Congress through the budget process.
"We won't get anywhere until we get a new chief judge," said a criminal justice official.
The D.C. courts' management has been under fire from Congress because of overspending and lack of management controls. The long-standing problems led to the resignation of former Executive Officer Ulysses Hammond in February.
Judge Hamilton has said in previous reports that the court's scheduling problems are caused by police and prosecutors. He refused to comment for this article.
But with homicides on the rise, Mayor Anthony A. Williams said he is trying to find a way to force the court to start doing a better job of scheduling.
Mr. Williams told editors and reporters of The Washington Times last week that he has no control over federal agencies, such as the courts, the U.S. Attorney's Office and probation and parole officers.
But he thinks the agencies and the courts need more accountability.
He said he is planning this fall to ask Congress to have the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) placed under the control of either Congress or the Justice Department.
"All these things are related, and we are in a unique environment. We have the federal government and we have the local government. We need to find a better way for all of us to cooperate on ground level," Mr. Williams said.
He said the CJCC, an ad hoc committee that includes the mayor, Judge Hamilton, Chief Ramsey, U.S. Attorney Wilma Lewis and D.C. Council member Harold Brazil, has no power to force the courts or the prosecutors to change inefficient methods.
"It is a good place to start, but we need some traction," Mr. Williams said. "Using the bully pulpit as mayor is not working."
Miss Lewis said she believes the court scheduling needs to be reformed, but she thinks it would be difficult for the CJCC to mandate what other officials do. She noted that she reports to the Justice Department already, and that she has been cooperating with the police and court to streamline the process anywhere she can.
Mr. Williams said he also believes the U.S. Attorney's Office could improve the number of arrests that are prosecuted. The U.S. Attorney's Office prosecutes about 70 percent of all the city's arrests.
Chief Ramsey said he agrees with Mr. Williams that the CJCC could be a good place to establish better coordination within the criminal justice system, and that there needs to be better accountability
"What would help is it would give the mayor or someone the line of authority to get some things done so we're not at the mercy of other agencies where you have no authority," Chief Ramsey said.
The Metropolitan Police Department has been able to work with the Corporation Counsel, which prosecutes minor misdemeanors, and the D.C. Bureau of Traffic Adjudication to streamline the amount of time officers spend presenting charges and in traffic court.
Both agencies report to Mr. Williams.
Inspector Ira Grossman, commander of court liaison, said the police department has been able to coordinate a program where 15 misdemeanor charges can be processed without an officer present.
Mr. Grossman said they are also working with the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication on a computerized scheduling program for officers to come to traffic adjudication only once a month to testify about multiple traffic tickets instead of appearing on a different day for each ticket. Mr. Grossman said that Superior Court could implement a similar program in its traffic court, which would cut costs further.

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