- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2000

The problems in the Metropolitan Police Department are legion. A police chief resigned amid allegations of fraud. Officers on the mayor's security detail were suspected of turning a blind eye toward drug usage by Marion Barry. Dozens of officers handed over their badges for a variety of violent crimes and misdemeanors. More than a dozen others were jailed for their roles in notorious drug gangs. Low-tech operations, poorly trained officers and inept management left the force demoralized and battle-weary. And that was just during the 1990s. Many of those troubles and troublemakers are gone, although the reforms and house cleaning must continue.

Police Chief Charles Ramsey knew when he took over MPD in the spring of 1998 that the department was a "tough nut." Holding officers accountable for their wrongdoing or even poor judgment was hardly the norm during the troubled '90s because the upper ranks of city government weren't paying attention and scores of untested officers hit the streets. The actions of dirty cops overshadowed the good ones. This is unfortunate because the majority of the District's men and women in blue are good officers. The perception was that MPD was awash in corruption and mismanagement. Yet, while reality has set in, while we know there is no widespread corruption, management problems remain a very real problem.

Even now, with more patrols on the streets, with homicides down three years in a row and overall serious crime down 29 percent, the perception of overwhelming violence in the streets remains. In 1991, at the peak of the virulent crack epidemic, the District recorded a record 489 homicides. In 1999, Washington saw less that half that number, 228, but the violent realities of life inevitably overwhelm. A recent poll said 63 percent of respondents rated the police department either good or excellent, compared to 49 percent in 1997. Yet, had that poll been taken the week the two Wilson High seniors were hunted and gunned down, the responses, to be sure, would have been quite the opposite. The sentiments are understandable because many troubles have been plaguing the department for many years.

So how deep are the problems? What precisely does the chief view as the No. 1 enemy? In a lengthy discussion last week with The Washington Times' Editorial Board, Chief Ramsey said the Metropolitan Police Department pretty much used to do "what (it) wanted and downtown didn't care." Those few words much sum up the real state of affairs.

Reversing that has not been, nor will it be, easy. MPD officials are in the midst of a much needed spending spree, which includes purchasing new uniforms, new patrol cars, capital improvements, new lockers, high-tech computers and other technologies. Other costly improvements include promotions and raises, tougher training programs and recruiting a more educated pool of applicants. The entire department is getting an upgrade.

Now compare these promising developments to the reality Chief Ramsey also has to deal with. He was quite pleased recently when he learned that hundreds of new police radios had been delivered. Now imagine the look on his face when he learned they were inoperable. Why, might you ask? No batteries and no software. No one had been told to order those.

Residents knew when Chief Ramsey came on board that his job would be a daunting one. Sorry to say, that remains the case. It would be nice if this page could report that the city now has an improved Metropolitan Police Department. Suffice it to say "improving" is more accurate so far.

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