- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

D.C. Council members, long at odds with the Metropolitan Police Department over officer deployments and diverted personnel appropriations, yesterday slashed more than $3 million from the department's proposed budget and cut staffing levels.
Even with the recommended cuts, which would reduce the total proposed department budget from $379 million to $376 million for fiscal year 2004, the budget still represents an increase over the total fiscal 2003 budget of $321.5 million.
Reducing the department's sworn strength from 3,800 officers to 3,700 officers was a clear signal to Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey that council members have grown impatient with management of the police department.
The council has approved funding for a 3,800-officer force since 1998, but Judiciary Committee members, who met yesterday, said while the money has been spent consistently, the actual number of officers hasn't even reached 3,700 in the past five years, and often hovers closer to 3,600.
Residents have complained loudly and frequently to council members that there are not enough police in city neighborhoods.
"I'm weary of all the reasons we can't have police in the neighborhoods," said council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat. "I think we've been unwitting fools in all this."
Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and Judiciary Committee chairman, originally proposed capping the department's authorized strength at 3,650 officers, but compromised when Mr. Chavous suggested 3,700.
Mrs. Patterson said with just 3,600 officers, the District already has a higher number of policemen per capita than any other large city in the nation. Yet she raised concerns that too many officers are unavailable for duty, performance measures remain inadequate, and that Chief Ramsey has failed to address the chronic complaints about a lack of police presence in neighborhoods.
"The committee recommends better managing the force we have as the most sensible and cost-effective way to increase police visibility," Mrs. Patterson wrote in the budget analysis and markup report.
She said the department has been unable to reach its goal of 3,800 officers because of overspending in other areas, hiring freezes, and a high rate of attrition.
"I'm not going to put money into an area when I am just not satisfied we can get there," said council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat.
"I have constantly pointed out that no matter how we rearrange the chairs on the proverbial deck, we need more police officers. But one of the problems has been that the council has continued to fund the levels at 3,800 and we never get there. I have no reason to believe we can get there now."
Money from the budget cuts would be used to add $1 million to the budget of the D.C. public library system and to help reverse a plan proposed by Mr. Williams to freeze raises for city employees.
"The most important thing about increasing the quantity and quality of policing in the District is rejecting the step-increase freeze," Mrs. Patterson said.
Mr. Evans and Mr. Chavous joined Mrs. Patterson in voting for the cuts, which passed the five-member committee 3-2. And while she does not sit on the committee, council President Linda Cropp was present to lend her support. Mrs. Cropp, at-large Democrat, called the mayor's proposal to continue to fund 3,800 officers a "feel-good approach that means absolutely nothing."
Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, and Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, voted against the cuts.
"The question is whether we can hire up to 3,800," Mr. Brazil said. "There's no question that if we cut the money, we won't."
The staffing cuts, which have been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police Metropolitan Police Labor Committee as a way to restore pay raises, will be forwarded to the full council for approval.

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