- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2001

The Metropolitan Police Department's plan to fight crime by putting more officers on the street at night has eroded to practically nil in some shifts over the past several months, The Washington Times has learned.

Almost every officer and specialized unit designated for overnight patrols one week a month have been exempted because of backlogs in their regular case work, police sources told The Times.

Chief Charles H. Ramsey began the program Aug. 22 after a string of homicides around National Night Out, a day residents were supposed to celebrate victory over crime.

The plan called for about 200 extra officers each week to hit the streets between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. About 800 officers, mostly from specialized units, were directed to participate in the nightly street patrols.

As a result of exemptions, only two or three extra officers have been showing up at roll call in some police districts, instead of the dozen or more who reinforced patrols last year, the sources said.

"One night, it was me and another officer," said one officer who asked not to be identified. "They just put us in a car together."

"Nobody shows up, nobody's there," said one sergeant, who also said he never was exempted. "There's never any more than a couple of us."

Top police officials issued a plan last week to fix the problem.

The deployment schedule essentially is suspended for this month and will resume next month with a modification officers will be deployed once every eight weeks, rather than once every four, according to a March 29 memo obtained by The Times.

The memo, written by Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer, said exemptions for officers have ended because they reduced the deployment force too much.

"This is no sleight-of-hand because the number of personnel exempt from redeployment, either for days or weeks, has slowly but steadily risen. No more!" Chief Gainer wrote in the memo.

"Assignments to one of eight groups, with no exceptions, provide the help districts need, visibility the public loves and criminals hate, while minimizing disruptions to your full-time duties."

Top police officials yesterday confirmed that deployment numbers have "slipped" because of exemptions but denied it had worsened to the level described by the police sources.

Chief Gainer said an average of nine redeployed officers supported each police district on a nightly basis.

"It slipped because of other necessities, and I'm building them back up," Chief Gainer said. "I was hard-pressed not to be sympathetic and empathetic to their current work situation, but it was decreasing the amount of people.

"There's only so many ways you can divide up 3,550 officers," he said. "I wish I had a couple hundred more."

The new program is aimed at lessening the effect on officers' regular duty by pulling them off case work and investigations less often. But it also seeks to get extra officers back on patrol during high-crime periods the original intent of the plan.

"It's a balancing act," Chief Gainer said.

Under the new program, 752 officers will fall under redeployment, and an average of 94 redeployed officers will be on the street at night, Chief Gainer said.

Chief Gainer said redeployment "is clearly disruptive in the normal police life [but] I think it's working. It's had a very positive impact on our crime rates."

He cited statistics showing lower crime rates in most categories this year compared with the like period last year. The exceptions are robbery, which is up 31 percent, and stolen autos, which has not changed.

After this latest change, Chief Gainer is confident redeployment will work for the force.

"We can increase our visibility on the street and be less disruptive on the specialty units because we're impacting them less often," he said. But, he added, "it's not going to be painless."

The head of the D.C. police union, Sgt. Gerald G. Neill, said he has observed fewer officers at roll calls recently.

He also said the redeployment puts officers in a quandary.

It hinders their regular duties, but they know regular patrol officers need the help, said Sgt. Neill, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police/Metropolitan Police Department Labor Committee.

"We don't like deployment because it hurts officers doing their jobs," he said. "But some guys like it, and the officers on the beat need the assistance. We're kind of caught in the middle."

Sgt. Neill said the solution is to boost the force by 200 officers to 3,800.

"The citizens [are asking] for a level of performance we can't give with the current level of staffing," he said.

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