- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Far fewer D.C. police officers sent racist, sexist and other offensive computer messages than originally believed, and most of those who did simply used profanity, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said yesterday.
That information, culled from an ongoing internal investigation, could cast doubt on critics claims that the Metropolitan Police Department is racist and officers routinely engage in racial profiling.
"The MPD is not a racist department. We are not a sexist department. We are not a homophobic department. We are not a department that engages in widespread biased policing of any type," Chief Ramsey told D.C. Council members at a hearing last night.
Nevertheless, the scandal "has brought shame and dishonor on all members of the department," he said.
Police officials originally said about 10 percent of the department or 350 officers were involved with the offensive messages, which came to light after an audit last month.
"Were nowhere near that," Chief Ramsey said, adding that investigators wont have a solid number for about two weeks.
Black, white and Hispanic officers used inappropriate comments toward minorities, women and homosexuals, police officials said.
Of the 4 million messages checked in the audit, 27,000 were flagged for containing "key word hits," or for containing at least one of 157 words deemed inappropriate.
That does not mean, the chief said, that 27,000 messages contained inappropriate content. As investigators sort through the context of those messages, some will be downgraded or even deemed appropriate.
For example, one message containing racial slurs was actually just the lyrics of a rap song, not an insult directed toward anyone, Chief Ramsey said.
But the leader of the Hispanic Police Association which represents officers and civilians said hes been complaining about racism for years, so the messages are no surprise to him.
"Its not shocking, its embarrassing," said Hiram Rosario, a master patrol officer. "Favoritism and discrimination is part of this department."
Officer Rosario said discrimination problems "come all the way from the top down," and those who complain are retaliated against.
"Management has failed to recognize the discrimination problems in the department," said Officer Rosario, who is also a shop steward in the police union.
He also criticized the chief for holding meetings only with certain racial or gender groups.
The meetings were an affront to many in the department and "should have been inclusive, not exclusive," Officer Rosario said. "We in the police department are a blue family. As a police department, we should be inclusive. We should not leave anyone else."
The head of the D.C. police union said Chief Ramsey overreacted when the scandal first erupted, and told The Times earlier yesterday he suspects the chief himself leaked the messages to divert attention from other problems.
"Chief Ramseys promises to fire them all is prejudicial," said Sgt. Gerald G. Neill, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Department/Fraternal Order of Police Labor Committee.
"Clearly, we believe the chief may have had a hand in releasing it. We cant prove it, but we suspect it," he said.
Sgt. Neill said the messages "represent an isolated incident" and "do not reflect the views of the overwhelming majority of the officers."
"I believe when the investigation is over that few of the officers who made these comments will be proved to be racists, and even fewer will have used their badge to commit violations," he said.
D.C. Council members asked the chief about minutiae of the probe. They also said their primary concern was whether discriminatory comments translated into illegal actions by the officers.
Council member Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, declared: "This is reprehensible. My first reaction was, `How stupid. How really stupid. I really dont think we need people that stupid walking around with guns, and I hope were going to take some action about that, chief."
Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, expressed concern about comments that disparaged homosexuals.
"As a gay man, Im especially sensitive to the fact of how police have treated gay people," he said.
Chief Ramseys testimony before the Committee on the Judiciary which oversees police and the Subcommittee on Human Rights, Latino Affairs and Property Management contained little new information about the probe.
He said he may order an audit of e-mails made by supervisors, but a recent computer virus caused many messages to be deleted.
The chief assured council members that the civil rights divisions of the FBI and Justice Department also are investigating the matter for potential hate crimes or civil rights violations. The Justice Department incorporated the probe of the messages into an ongoing investigation of use-of-force policies.
He also repeated that the department will eventually collect data on officers interactions with the public to ensure police are not engaging in "biased policing," which is commonly referred to as racial profiling.
Investigators classify messages into three categories. Level one messages are the worst, "indicating possible criminal civil rights violations." Level two messages represent inappropriate comments about others in the department. Level three messages are the least serious and include profane or inappropriate messages sent on "company time."
Chief Ramsey has said the punishment must match the offense, and those who used profanity would likely receive a reprimand. Those who sent messages filled with slurs could receive harsher penalties, and if those comments match behavior, officers are vulnerable to federal civil rights and hate crimes charges.

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