- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

The Metropolitan Police Department engaged in a "pattern or practice of use of excessive force" in the 1990s, but its "significant" reforms and request for federal help have warded off a court-ordered mandate, according to an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department announced yesterday.
Instead, the District and the Justice Department entered into a voluntary agreement to reduce, monitor, investigate and publicly report excessive-force incidents for the next five years.
"The Metropolitan Police Department will be a model for the nation on how to uphold the rule of law while using force only when necessary," Attorney General John Ashcroft said during a news conference with D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.
With the approval of Mr. Williams, Chief Ramsey in 1999 asked the Justice Department to investigate the police departments use-of-force incidents and policies.
The probe found major problems, but Mr. Ashcroft, Chief Ramsey and Mr. Williams yesterday focused on the improvements and cooperation between local police and federal officials.
Fatal shootings involving police officers dropped to four or fewer this year, last year and in 1999, compared with about 16 a year in the mid-1990s. Bites by police dogs fell by 70 percent in the same period.
Mr. Ashcroft said police, with the help of federal officials, already have implemented many of the reforms outlined in the agreement.
Those efforts already under way include mandatory firearms certification twice a year for every member of the department and training officers in "shoot-dont shoot" computer-simulation scenarios that emphasize de-escalation tactics and verbal persuasion.
A Force Investigation Team and the Office of Professional Responsibility, commonly known as Internal Affairs, now probe all officer-involved shootings, rather than detectives in the departments seven police districts. Chief Ramsey said he will add more personnel to the Internal Affairs and detective ranks.
The agreement outlines 100 tasks the department must achieve by various deadlines.
They focus on training officers, taking complaints of excessive force from citizens, implementing new procedures for investigating such complaints and punishing violators, and tracking and publicizing use-of-force data.
The department also must use new "citizen-friendly" procedures and must better coordinate with the Office of Citizen Complaint Review. Police also will create a computer database — the Personnel Performance Management System — to track officers, their characteristics and complaints against them.
The agreement calls for an independent monitor, yet to be named, to judge the police departments compliance with the agreement over the next five years.
The head of the D.C. police union, Sgt. Gerald G. Neill, objected to the agreement, saying its worst effect is the endangerment of officers.
"Youre telling an officer he cant draw a gun until someone puts one on you. At that point, its way too late," said Sgt. Neill, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police Metropolitan Police Labor Committee.
"You cant react with a weapon as fast as they can act with a weapon," Sgt. Neill said, citing the shooting of a Metro Transit Police officer on Sunday by an armed fare evader. "We object to anything that endangers our officers, and parts of this policy endanger our officers."

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