Friday, September 11, 2009

A labor arbitrator has ordered Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier to halt her signature All Hands on Deck policing initiative.

The initiative, which puts the department’s roughly 4,000 officers on the streets for three-day periods to deter crime and execute arrests, violates labor practices and D.C. law, arbitrator John Truesdale said in a ruling issued Thursday.

Mr. Truesdale wrote in his 27-page ruling that the department violated officers’ rights by improperly changing days off and tours of duty, failed to bargain with the Fraternal Order of Police Metropolitan Police Labor Committee and failed to follow D.C. law.

He directed police officials to rescind orders enabling the program for 2009 and to provide back overtime pay for officers who worked the extra shifts. Under the initiative, officers who had worked the extra shifts had their days off rescheduled.

Chief Lanier issued a statement Thursday evening saying she disagreed with the ruling.

“As our reduction in violent crimes and homicides this year demonstrates, the initiative is in the best interest of our city and the safety of our residents,” she said. “I do intend to appeal today’s decision and look forward to a ruling on the legal conclusions reached by the arbitrator in this action.”

The chief said she scheduled the phases of the program - the number of which increased from five last year to eight this year - in January in order not to inconvenience the families of her officers.

She pledged that the initiative would continue.

“Notwithstanding todays ruling, the All Hands on Deck initiatives will continue pursuant to my authority under both the labor agreement and District personnel law,” she said.

The department has 20 days to appeal the decision the arbitrator’s decision.

Chief Lanier could force the officers to work the extra shifts by declaring a crime emergency and suspending the collective bargaining agreement with the union. Several times in his tenure, former police Chief Charles H. Ramsey mandated that officers work extra shifts and longer hours after crime spikes.

Chief Lanier has resisted and opted for All Hands on Deck instead.

“The crime emergencies of the past were reactionary, costly and extremely hard on the officers and their families,” she said.

Chief Lanier has often credited the program with a reduction in crime, and particularly homicides, that has the District on pace to finish the year with the fewest killings recorded in the city in decades. But skeptics said the program provided only photo opportunities and was ineffective.

“The consequences are that a lot of time, money and taxpayer dollars are going to have to be spent because the department will not or cannot follow the law,” said Kristopher Baumann, who heads the labor union that represents the District’s police officers.

During the first three phases of the program this year, which took place in April, June and July, the department arrested 1,378 people and seized thousands of dollars in drugs.

“If they honestly believe that All Hands On Deck is reducing crime, they should have done this every day so people in Ward 8 don’t have 50 homicides in a year. If the department truly believes that massive deployment of officers is the answer to crime, it has done nothing to afford that cost,” Mr. Baumann said.

The defeat marks the third time the chief has been forced to back away from one of her high-profile programs.

A federal appeals court in July declared unconstitutional a controversial checkpoint program used to cordon off a crime-ridden D.C. neighborhood last year.

In April 2008, a public backlash and criticism from the ACLU against the controversial Safe Homes initiative led Chief Lanier to abandon a plan for officers to ask residents to allow police to search their homes for illegal guns.

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