- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 28, 2016

How D.C. police investigate officers in use-of-force cases remains problematic eight years since federal oversight of police force ended, even though excessive use of force and police shootings have not re-emerged as issues, a new independent report says.

An audit commissioned by the D.C. Auditor’s Office finds that the Metropolitan Police Department’s investigations of the most serious use-of-force cases — including officer-involved fatal shootings — have been plagued by significant delays.

“MPD needs to conduct its administrative investigations more expeditiously, and complete them promptly once the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s criminal investigation is complete,” said the report’s co-author Michael R. Bromwich of The Bromwich Group, which conducted the audit.

The Metropolitan Police Department in 1999 agreed to be monitored by the Justice Department for use of force after its officers were found to have the highest rate of fatal shootings among any major city police force in the United States. That oversight ended in 2008.

MPD made significant changes during the Justice Department’s oversight and has continued to implement changes in the years since, according to the audit.

“MPD is plainly a very different, and much better, law enforcement agency than it was when DOJ began its investigation in 1999,” Mr. Bromwich said. “Chief [Cathy L.] Lanier and her command staff have confronted the important issue of how best to identify officers whose behavior creates risk for themselves, MPD, and the public and have launched an innovative program to address those risks.”

The audit finds that police shootings between 2008 and 2015 were consistently in the range of three to eight per year, a significant drop from 2007 when officers drew and fired their weapons 31 times.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser did not return emails seeking comment. D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, declined to comment.

Chief Lanier said she’s pleased that the audit confirmed what she already knew — that excessive use of force has not re-emerged among her officers.

She pointed out that D.C. officers have reduced their use of the most serious types of force even during periods of increased crime, saying “MPD leadership remains committed to limiting and managing use of force.”

However, Chief Lanier did not address lingering problems described in the audit.

The report notes several “significant shortcomings” in how police deal with internal investigations once a use-of-force case is initiated. It found “significant changes in the requirements for reporting and investigating use of force by MPD officers that we think have gone too far.”

The department no longer requires the reporting and investigation of certain less serious uses of force, up to and including individual and team takedowns, except where there is an injury or complaint of pain, the report says.

“The changes result in a large number of less serious uses of force going unreported and uninvestigated, and thus deprive MPD of valuable data that can help it to manage at-risk officers,” Mr. Bromwich said.

The report also finds substantial evidence that the quality of serious use-of-force investigations has declined.

Previously, the department employed an “elite use of force investigations unit” called FIT to investigate the most serious cases of police violence, MPD disbanded that unit and merged those investigators into the Internal Affairs Division. Because of that, those probing use-of-force cases have not received the highly specialized training they should have.

“The result is insufficiently trained use-of-force investigators who perform inadequate use-of-force investigations and produce unsatisfactory use-of-force investigative reports,” Mr. Bromwich said.

On the department’s delays in conducting investigations, the audit says MPD and the U.S. Attorney’s Office share responsibility in the most serious cases involving fatalities, and that much of the responsibility lies with the U.S. attorney.

Still, the report says all of the problems the department faces are remediable.

“We believe that our recommendations, if accepted and fully implemented, will help address the weaknesses we have found to exist in MPD’s system of self-governance regarding use of force,” Mr. Bromwich said.

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