- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday introduced plans to revamp the department's troubled homicide unit during a hearing before the D.C. Council's Judiciary Committee.
Chief Ramsey's plan calls for recentralizing the unit, which he dismantled in 1998, under a newly expanded violent crimes branch. Beginning Jan. 1, the branch would be staffed with 48 homicide detectives from all over the city.
A major crimes division that investigates serial rapes, pattern robberies and unsolved cases would be staffed with 12 detectives. There also are plans to add a 24-member team of sexual-assault detectives.
The rest of the city's 336 detectives would remain in the districts to investigate non-life-threatening shootings, robberies, burglaries, stolen autos and other offenses.
"The [present] environment wasn't right for decentralization here, so I had to make a move," Chief Ramsey said yesterday.
The homicide closure rate for 1998, the year Chief Ramsey took over, was 64.5 percent; the closure rate thus far this year has fallen to 48 percent. The highest rate in the last decade was 70.1 percent in 1997.
As of yesterday there were 172 homicides in the city, down 16 percent from last year. The city finished the year with 242.
An analysis of homicide trends in the District released by the police department yesterday revealed that most of the District's murderers are career criminals. Just 15 of the 367 suspects arrested for murder between 1998 and 2000 had not been arrested previously. More than 90 percent had a prior arrest for a violent crime.
Decentralization was originally billed as a way to enhance communication between detectives and patrol officers and keep detectives close to the streets where they work. Yesterday, the chief said the move did not give him the flexibility to adjust his resources based on changes in homicide patterns.
"In many respects, a decentralized model requires an abundance of highly skilled, experienced detectives to adequately cover all assignments something the department simply does not have at this time," Chief Ramsey said. Many detectives have been lost to attrition, and the department is currently implementing a standardized procedure for improving the selection, training and supervision of its investigative ranks, he said.
"I know this was a difficult decision, but service to our citizens means that we sometimes have to make difficult decisions," said Sgt. Gerald G. Neill, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police Labor Committee.
Sgt. Neill also said the city has to make solving homicides its No. 1 priority, and he criticized Chief Ramsey for failing to provide training and support for the detective ranks.
D.C. Council member Kathleen Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the chief's decision "reflects the compelling evidence" the Judiciary Committee found. She said police departments in cities across the country that have been successful in homicide investigations have given homicide a top priority.
"Changing operations to make this happen in our city is a strong first step, but we need be sure they have the resources to do their work," she said.
A draft Judiciary Committee report on the structure and organization of homicide units in 13 U.S. cities concluded the District was unique in having decentralized homicide investigations.


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