- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2001

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday said his department's overtime budget is so high because 75 percent of officers who are subpoenaed to testify in court never do.

"We have people who could be in court every day of the week," Chief Ramsey said. "A soon-to-be-released study shows that of every eight officers [subpoenaed], less than two testify.

"It is a cash cow for folks," he said of some officers who can reap tens of thousands of dollars in overtime pay as they cool their heels in courthouse hallways.

Chief Ramsey was referring to a study conducted by the Council for Court Excellence, which examines court issues. The nonprofit group has found that D.C. police officers are overburdened by prosecutors and judges.

The report, which currently is in draft form, shows that police officers lose valuable time waiting to testify, preparing paperwork for the U.S. attorney or the D.C. corporation counsel, and appearing before grand juries.

"You can divide the responsibility" among different agencies, said Samuel F. Harahan, executive director of the Council for Court Excellence.

The study found that $10 million of the Metropolitan Police Department's $19 million overtime budget is spent on officers testifying in trials or grand juries, preparing paper work or assisting prosecutors.

The D.C. Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which is composed of the city's criminal justice officials, commissioned the study last year. The Washington Times reported in June 1999 that poor trial management by D.C. Superior Court judges and prosecutors keep police officers sitting in the hallways at overtime pay.

"We acknowledge there is a real issue, and we all have to work through this," said Margret Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety and justice. "There are far too many officers spending far too much time off of the street, not just in court but in court-related activities."

Mrs. Kellems said police officials cannot refuse to send officers to court or assist prosecutors, but the courts and prosecutors don't pay the officers' overtime.

"There are plenty of fingers to point. There are certainly those who abuse the system and don't worry about the financial impact," Mrs. Kellems said.

U.S. Attorney Wilma A. Lewis said her office is willing to work to reform any problems that result in excessive overtime for city police officers. She said the major problem is court scheduling.

"There are numerous procedures that need to be fixed, and each of [the various judicial agencies] must accept our own responsibilities," Miss Lewis said.

Superior Court Chief Judge Rufus King III, who took charge of the courts in October, said he has seen the study and intends to examine the court-generated overtime issue.

"The Council on Court Excellence report will be used as a strategic planning tool to try to make things run better," Judge King said. "My goal is definitely to make changes and make a difference, not just shelve the report."

He said he thinks better management by the entire criminal justice system would eliminate some of the waste.

Mr. Harahan said the study shows that 60 percent of felony trials were not begun on the date they were scheduled to begin. Of the trials that were held, only two of eight of the officers called by an assistant U.S. Attorney to testify ever took the stand.

"It is caused specifically by the prosecutor's office that [over-subpoenas] the officers," Mr. Harahan said. "Among our recommendations are the District should adopt a key officer system, where one or two are the lead officers and the others are on various standby systems. It should be formalized."

About 45 percent of officers' court overtime is spent on administrative duties, such as filing charging documents, meeting with prosecutors and testifying before a grand jury, he said, adding that the remaining 55 percent is spent in the courtrooms.

Mr. Harahan said the study found that officers lose time in the paperwork, in which an officer presents charges to a prosecutor, who then decides whether to pursue a case. Officers who make arrests overnight must wait until 8:30 a.m. to bring paperwork to a prosecutor and then wait until a decision is made.

Mr. Harahan said the study recommends that officers be allowed to file paperwork with prosecutors and not wait until a decision is made.

This spring the corporation counsel will begin a program that will allow an officer not to have to personally present paperwork to a prosecutor, Mrs. Kellems said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has rejected a similar plan.

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