- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2001

The Metropolitan Police Department will soon begin collecting data on officers' interactions with residents to ensure that officers do not discriminate, Chief Charles H. Ramsey announced yesterday.

The new policy is a significant change for Chief Ramsey, who had said his department did not have widespread racial problems.

But when an audit of 4 million computer messages between officers revealed hundreds with racist, sexist and vulgar language, the chief began a probe to determine which officers were involved and whether their words correspond to any criminal action.

"I always recognized the problem of racism in policing, but I did not believe that the MPD had the severity of problems found in other major city police departments," the chief said in a prepared statement yesterday. "I was wrong."

Black, white and Hispanic officers used inappropriate comments toward minorities, women and homosexuals, police officials said.

The data collection could range from incidents like traffic stops to almost every situation in which officers come into contact with the public. The details have not been worked out.

"We're exploring the length and breadth of it," said Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer, the police department's No. 2 official.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday called for "severe personnel action, including firing" for officers who used the offensive comments.

"I think that there ought to be serious consequences," Mr. Williams said on WTOP Radio's "Ask the Mayor" program.

He also suggested that the messages be made public.

"As a general rule, I think documents should be made public," Mr. Williams said. "This administration stands for full disclosure of information."

"Data collection itself is not a panacea," Chief Ramsey said, adding that "it will provide important insight into the daily activities of officers to ensure they are performing in a totally professional and impartial manner."

The chairman of the Metropolitan Police Department/Fraternal Order of Police Labor Committee, which represents officers and sergeants, yesterday issued a statement saying the union "join[s] all those in this community and beyond and condemn any form of racism at any level."

The chairman, D.C. police Sgt. Gerald G. Neill, said in the statement that if the claims about the messages are true, they do not represent the attitudes of most of the officers in the department.

"Unfortunately, when any new technology is placed into service without across-the-board training, written regulations or guidelines implemented by management, there are bound to be abuses," he added.

He declined to comment about the data collection.

Chief Ramsey and other top officials will meet this morning with the Civil Rights Task Force, a group that meets quarterly to discuss racial profiling and other issues.

Representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, the ACLU of the National Capitol Region and others will attend.

Johnnie Barnes, executive director of the local ACLU, said he and others on the task force have asked the chief to collect data on officer-resident interactions.

"The chief has resisted such data collection in the past, believing it was unnecessary," Mr. Barnes said. "This proves it is important to have it."

Law-enforcement consultant Chuck Waxler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said Chief Ramsey had been discussing data collection with him before the e-mail problem erupted.

Data collection and interpreting the information are full of pitfalls, Chief Gainer said.

Some officers may hesitate to fully enforce the law, he said, noting that some departments that mandated officers record data about a person in a traffic stop had massive drops in citations and increases in accidents.

An officer in the department's 7th District, for example, will interact mostly with black persons, he said, so the statistics have to be adjusted for the demographics of the area.

"Raw numbers alone will tell a misleading story," Chief Gainer said.

Police officials are seeking advice from Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose, whose officers record traffic-stop data.

Mr. Waxler, who has worked on data collection with the Justice Department and local police agencies, agreed that it alone will not fix the department's problems.

Montgomery County, Md., police officers began recording data last summer in accordance with an agreement signed by the Justice Department and NAACP. Critics accused police of targeting minorities with traffic stops.

Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association and a 23-year MPD veteran, said he wasn't surprised by the e-mail scandal. He said it sheds light on a problem of race relations that has long been denied within the police force.

"I think it's a law enforcement culture issue. These guys go about doing these things because of the culture," he said. "There's this environment that they can participate in this behavior with impunity."

• Matthew Cella contributed to this report.

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