When a person turns up missing in the nation’s capital, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) generally begins exploring four theories: suicide, foul play and the possibility of that person voluntarily walking away from his life, which an untold number of people do every day. The fourth theory centers around the possibility that that person is wandering around lost because he doesn’t know who he is, where he supposed to be and what he should be doing sort of like the city’s police chief (but more on him later).
Of course, police proceed on missing-persons cases depending on whether that person was an adult or a child. Of the District’s estimated 1,880 missing-children cases, all but about 80 have been located. Many are adolescents and teens who called themselves running away from home, only to turn up a few days later after hanging out with friends or neighbors unknown. Still some children actually do run away and are never seen again by family or friends. The children we miss the most, though, are the ones who disappear for no apparent rhyme or reason. These are the cases in which D.C. police must act quickly and thoroughly, but, to the frustration of us all, often do not.
In fact, D.C. police do not keep comprehensive missing-persons data, and they have not since the 1990s. Consequently, they cannot compare information on one missing-person cases to that on another, or discover, heaven forbid, whether there is a serial killer in our midst or a child-abductor.
D.C. police cannot even tell us who is missing and who is returned, who has been abducted vs. who has runaway from home statistics other lesser-funded police departments maintain and rely on all the time. It’s called basic police work.
Oh, D.C. police can tell us some helpful information. For example, they know about 560 missing-persons cases reported this year remain open. They also now know — thanks to the high-profile case surrounding the disappearance of Chandra Levy, a missing person who, it so happens, wasn’t even a D.C. resident — the gender, age and race of missing adults, as well as the date of their disappearance. They take this info, for the most part, and hand it out to the media.
Of course, this is little consolation to hundreds of D.C. families with missing loved ones. What’s more, the fact that the department keeps such scant data should leave city leaders and families blowing a few gaskets, considering this is going on in a well-funded police department that is supposed to have turned itself around after being shaken every which way but loose since, let’s see, the early 1990s.
This is where the police chief comes in. Charles “You-can-call-me-Chuck” Ramsey, a native Chicagoan and jazzy operator, has been running the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) since D.C. officials brought him to town in 1998 because the gatekeepers of law and order had opened the floodgates. Gangland killings, dirty cops, homosexual and racist innuendo among the ranks, high murder rates and low closure rates, obsolete investigative tools and ridiculous overtime costs were the most obvious scandals. Audits, meanwhile, found that 10 percent of MPD’s force conducted the vast majority of arrests, and that most officers preferred to either hide from the nefarious goings-ons behind desks in the stationhouse or simply turn a blind eye to the crime occurring right in front of their faces. In other words, the department was wholly dysfunctional and residents were paying the ultimate price in return.
It was in the mid-1990s that the city’s top cops decided to stop keeping comprehensive missing-persons files on adults. A stupid call discovered because an out-of-towner, that’d be Miss Levy, turned up missing. So, instead of keeping a centralized database on missing persons, the department began farming such information out to individual police districts of which the city has seven. And that would be fine — notice I said would be. But it is not fine. It is not fine for three reasons.
Foremost is the fact that these police districts do not keep good records. Also, the investigators in the various districts do not communicate with each other. Moreover, D.C. police are not giving the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, which gathers and disseminates such statistics, updated information. And because they do not keep good records, do not communicate and do not update the FBI the FBI D.C. police cannot rule out the possibility that there is, or are, serial killers out there snatching our children and women. (John Walsh of “Most Wanted” fame believes there is indeed a serial killer combing the streets of the nation’s capital.)
To be sure, Chief Ramsey’s fumbling police department remains front and center in the Levy case, which explains why Miss Levy’s whereabouts are unknown, why her deceitful lover has not yet been arrested, and why the chief and his spotlight-grabbers continue to shine on national news shows.
With all the media attention and all the unanswered questions, it’s high time someone started asking Chief Ramsey questions he can answer for the benefit of the folks who pay his salary.