- The Washington Times - Monday, November 12, 2001

John L. Barrett Jr. thought when he came out of semiretirement in April that he had only to straighten out the abysmal closure rate of D.C. police detectives.
He had no idea he would be in the middle of a high-profile sex scandal or that terrorists would be lurking on his home turf.
Cmdr. Barrett, 55, was named the Metropolitan Police Department's first superintendent of detectives on April 9 and within a month was deluged with media calls about Chandra Levy, a former intern at the Bureau of Prisons who had gone missing May 1. The Levy case became a national sex scandal when it was learned that Rep. Gary A. Condit, California Democrat, was having an affair with Miss Levy but denied knowing her whereabouts.
"The distraction was the media, not conducting the investigation. We spent so much time trying to dispel the inaccuracies," Cmdr. Barrett said.
At the time of Miss Levy's disappearance, Cmdr. Barrett had no office, phone or staff. He could only be reached by a cellular telephone.
He had been an FBI agent at the Washington Field Office where he was in charge of criminal investigations until his retirement in December 1999. He then worked as a consultant and for American Airlines before deciding to return to law enforcement.
Over the past five months, he has built a staff and acquired a newly renovated office in what used to the department's homicide division. Cmdr. Barrett said he finds that most of the department's problems can be fixed by improving systems and management and holding detectives accountable for their work.
"I don't like to make prejudgments," Cmdr. Barrett said. "I told the detectives there would be no wholesale movement or transfers [but] we would do an evaluation of their caseloads and look at the closure rates."
The closure rates for violent crimes still hovers around 30 percent. Cmdr. Barrett said he was aware the rate was not acceptable before he took the job.
The low closure rate has haunted the department before Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey became its top official in April 1998 and has remained stagnant throughout his tenure.
Besides hiring Cmdr. Barrett, Chief Ramsey plans to centralize the violent crimes detectives into one unit. The detectives previously worked in the seven police districts and had no centralized command structure until June 10 when they were all placed under Cmdr. Barrett.
When Chief Ramsey took over the department, the detectives had been working in the districts, but he found they did not have the equipment they needed to do their jobs. He provided detectives with additional training and equipment, and he centralized them while their offices were remodeled and new computers installed. Then the detectives were decentralized again.
Two weeks ago, Chief Ramsey decided the violent crime units should be under one roof and ordered the detectives centralized again. Detectives in other units will remain in the districts but will be working for Cmdr. Barrett.
"My goal is to fix this," Chief Ramsey said. "I haven't done it yet."
The chief said he believes he needed to bring in someone like Cmdr. Barrett with extensive investigative experience and knowledge of the city, but from outside the department.
"We needed someone with a fresh perspective, who has had long history of dealing with the criminal investigations," Chief Ramsey said.
"He's a very good guy. He is steady."
Cmdr. Barrett said among the major flaws he found in the department's criminal investigation units were that the case files were inadequate and most were incomplete. He ordered his supervisors to include everything in the case files so anyone could work an investigation based on the file.
"I've told the lieutenants, if it's not on paper, it is not done," Cmdr. Barrett said.
Their bible will be the Standard Operations Procedures, which outlines everything from the first steps of an investigation to the case closures. The SOPs were completed on Aug. 21.
Except for the command structure already established by Cmdr. Barrett, the entire violent crimes unit will be starting from scratch.
"We're going to select the best for violent crime," Cmdr. Barrett said, adding: "I've told everybody that their previous assignments did not give them a guarantee."
He said 48 detectives will be assigned to the violent crimes unit and an additional eight to 10 to investigate older cases.
The detectives will be evaluated on the their past work and their closure rates, he said, and the U.S. Attorney's Office will evaluate them based on their past preparation for court cases.
There will still be detectives working in the districts investigating other crimes.
Cmdr. Barrett found that the major problem with detectives in the districts was a lack of supervision. He hopes to solve that problem by adding lieutenants in the districts.
He is also working to establish career paths for detectives, with new tests and interviews for detectives and investigators, by providing additional training and testing for promotions.
The commander said there are 31 vacancies for detective first grade. Officers holding ranks of detective second grade can apply for the D-1 posts.
In the past, D-1 detectives were used for major investigations, but now they will also be used in training and supervising less-experienced detectives.
Cmdr. Barrett said that the detectives are taking positive steps to improve investigations of crimes, and he hopes to improve the number of perpetrators brought to justice.
"I don't know if everything will be fixed. You are dependent on your people," Cmdr. Barrett said.
He noted that even if the closure rates improve and more criminals are taken off the streets, it's hard to claim success when there are still victims in the city.
"It is hard to beat your chest when people are being killed and women are getting raped," he said.


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