- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Chief Charles H. Ramsey says that he will leave the Metropolitan Police Department next week after eight years and eight months on the job confident that he has done what he was hired to do.

“When other agencies look at the Metropolitan Police Department, it’s a respected organization,” he said. “That’s what I’m most proud of.”

Chief Ramsey, 56, will step down Tuesday, the day Adrian M. Fenty is sworn in as mayor.

The District’s only police chief to be hired from outside the city, Chief Ramsey reflected on his accomplishments during an interview last week in his office, which by then had been stripped of the mementos accumulated during a 38-year career in law enforcement.

“Quite frankly, I think patriotism drew me to this job more than anything,” said Chief Ramsey, who came from the Chicago Police Department. “A police department in the nation’s capital shouldn’t have been going through what this department was going through.”

Upon his arrival in 1998, the Metropolitan Police Department was mired in mismanagement and scandal. Top officials were under criminal investigation, poor recruiting and standards gave rise to second-rate officers, technology and information systems were substandard, facilities were crumbling, and officers were driving around in 10-year-old squad cars with used tires bought from the U.S. Park Police.

“I didn’t realize we had as many issues as we had,” he said.

Chief Ramsey helped secure $100 million in federal funding to rebuild the department’s infrastructure. He upgraded radios, started a mounted unit, equipped a bicycle unit, instituted uniform training standards, and restarted an aviation unit that had been shut down in 1996 and had its helicopters sold because of a budget shortfall.

On September 11, 2001, the department opened its $7 million Joint Operations Command Center a week early to coordinate operations among local and federal agencies. The command center is where Chief Ramsey meets daily with his senior staff to review crime trends and plot enforcement strategies.

The department’s budget has also swelled from $272 million in fiscal 1998 to $377 million this year.

He said it took two years on the job before he began to think that the department was turning the corner.

“The first time I really felt positive about the department and where we were going was April 2000 when we handled the [International Monetary Fund/World Bank] protests,” he said. “When all was said and done, all the meetings went off as scheduled, we got the delegates to and from the meetings safely, and protesters were able to come and have their voices heard.”

The meetings drew 10,000 protesters to the District. Similar protests in Seattle had turned violent in 1999, resulting in more than 580 arrests and about $10 million worth of property damage.

The national reputation the police department earned during that event was tarnished in March 2002 after Chief Ramsey ordered the arrest of several hundred protesters in Pershing Park in Northwest. The anti-IMF protesters, who said they were given no verbal warning to disperse, were demonstrating without a permit, and several journalists and passers-by were swept up in the arrests.

“We should have done a better job following our procedures,” Chief Ramsey said.

Critics, including Mr. Fenty, complained that police were not visible and said that the chief had not put enough officers on the streets. But every category of crime dropped during Chief Ramsey’s tenure. Most notably, the number of homicides tumbled from 301 in 1997, the last full year before Chief Ramsey took over, to 165 so far this year.

Many officers within the department complain that Chief Ramsey limited their effectiveness when he invited the Department of Justice to investigate the department’s use-of-force policies in 1999 and entered into a memorandum of understanding governing the use and display of force in 2001.

Chief Ramsey said he knows those decisions were “not popular” but he said the department had lost the public trust and only an outside investigation could restore it.

He said that he understands the adrenaline that drives an officer whose life is on the line, but he questioned the usefulness of tactics such as shooting at oncoming vehicles.

“They want to get the bad guys so badly they don’t always react in a way that keeps them safe,” he said.

During his tenure, Chief Ramsey implemented training exercises that emphasize good judgment. In addition to passing twice-yearly firearms-proficiency tests, officers also must train in simulated situations in which firing a weapon is frequently not the correct option.

Asked about his regrets, he goes back to the unsolved March 2005 daylight shooting of a 9-year old boy playing in front of his home in Columbia Heights.

“My biggest regret is the Donte Manning case. For some reason, that case haunts me.”

The chief said that he hopes to stay in the District and that he could work as a consultant or in homeland security, but he doesn’t think he will be a police chief again any time soon.

“I’m not interested in running another department right now,” he said. “I had my shot at running a department. Now it’s time to start a new chapter.”

He said a political run is unlikely, but he wouldn’t rule out the possibility five or 10 years down the road.

As for his successor, Cmdr. Cathy L. Lanier, a 16-year veteran of the department, Chief Ramsey advises her to “stay focused on crime fighting.”

“Don’t let a lot of other things distract you, because when all is said and done, you’re going to be judged on how well you control crime,” he said. “For every dot on a crime map, that’s a person whose life has been forever changed. Stay focused on that.”

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