GLAA demands accountability from police
TESTIMONY ON RECENT "REFORMS"
in the
METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT

Committee on the Judiciary

OCTOBER 10, 1997

Chairman Evans, Members of the Committee, and Fellow Citizens:

Good afternoon. My name is Rick Rosendall. I am President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA), the nation's oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization. Thank you for allowing us to present our perspectives on some of the so-called "reforms" that have recently been implemented in our Metropolitan Police Department, particularly since the de facto takeover of the Department by the "Memorandum of Understanding Partners."

Our testimony will of necessity be more far-reaching than what this committee might have had in mind when this hearing was first planned. [For the record, we did not see any formal announcement of this hearing published in the D.C. Register and only learned of it because of a story in The Washington Post on October 1; yet we were the first public witness to sign up.] Events of the last few weeks on matters affecting the MPD have attracted considerable public attention — and outright dismay — and we believe that this hearing should be transformed into a broad oversight hearing covering a variety of public safety issues.

News of the incredible bumbling within the MPD's homicide unit comes as a heavy blow to members of the District's gay and lesbian community because of the continuing rash of unsolved "pickup" murders of gay men found murdered in their own homes without any evidence of a forced entry. As Police Chief Soulsby told The Washington Blade last week, it is "very likely" that some of these cases were among the 136 cases where the MPD homicide squad failed to follow up on specific suggestions offered by the U.S. Justice Department.

Regrettably, the MPD has had a history of mishandling gay-related murders. As last week's Blade summarized the recent past: "In 1994, a Washington Blade investigation into the unsolved murders of Gay men in D.C. and the surrounding suburbs found that detectives often were not aware that other Gay 'pickup' murders had occurred in their own jurisdictions as well as in surrounding jurisdictions, such as Arlington, Alexandria, or Prince George's County. The Blade investigation also found that up until late 1994, D.C. homicide detectives had not been sending information about the unsolved Gay cases to the FBI's crime-fighting unit in Quantico, Virginia."

It was rather disconcerting when Chief Soulsby tried to deflect any criticism away from himself for the homicide unit's problems by claiming that he was far, far removed from any day-to-day supervision of its operations. What has he been spending his time on instead? He seems willing to accept ultimate responsibility for whatever happens in MPD in general as long as he can avoid blame for anything in particular. This is a long way from "The Buck Stops Here." Chief Soulsby's transfer of the homicide unit's commander and all 17 of its supervisory detectives looks suspiciously like a dramatic public relations gesture rather than a first step towards coming to grips with the unit's very real problems. It is the Chief's duty to separate the wheat from the chaff, a duty he seems to have shirked in this instance.

Not surprisingly, Chief Soulsby has similarly tried to escape the fallout from The Washington Post's article two days ago based on the secret Booz-Allen & Hamilton report detailing massive, deep-rooted problems throughout the Metropolitan Police Department. The Chief's reaction could be summed up: "Don't ask me, I just work here." He has been chief for nearly two years and has been in the Department for decades, but he's shocked, shocked by all the problems that have suddenly surfaced.

We find several other aspects of this story worth commenting on.

First, we believe that the MOU Partners should accept considerable criticism for its announced policy from the beginning of backing up Chief Soulsby come hell or high water. Before the MOU Partners seized control, it was said that Chief Soulsby was too chummy with and too loyal to Mayor Barry and that he needed to be liberated from the Mayor's corrupting clutches. Well, it looks like Chief Soulsby merely shifted allegiance from the Mayor to the MOU Partners without missing a beat — and without doing much in the way of real "reform," either.

Second, we are outraged that the Booz-Allen & Hamilton report was kept hidden from the public. That report was paid for with public money and dealt with a public government agency; what possible legitimate justification was there for keeping it secret? The MOU Partners and the Control Board have a decidedly unhealthy addiction to secrecy for secrecy's sake, compounded in this instance by an obvious desire to spare their man Chief Soulsby from public embarrassment. Secret meetings, secret reports, secret understandings — haven't they heard of this newfangled thing called democracy? How can all these secret meetings not violate our Government in the Sunshine laws and principles? How can all these secret reports not violate District and Federal Freedom of Information Act laws? Who will save us from our so-called saviors?

Third, we are fed up with the Council's complicity in covering up the MPD's problems. Mr. Chairman, you were quoted in yesterday's Post as saying: "I had no idea that the police department was as bad as it was. It's astounding in the depth of chaos and disorganization that we found." Mr. Chairman, if you didn't know that things were so bad, why didn't you know? It is your job — it is the Council's job — to exercise aggressive oversight over our District government agencies; but this is one job where the Council has repeatedly failed over the years. The entire corporate culture of the Council has been: "Don't rock the boat! Don't blame us!" Why do we have to rely on exposés in the media and on reports by consulting firms to uncover problems that the Council itself is fully empowered to root out? And — to make matters worse — why should you go along with the MOU Partners' decision to keep the Booz-Allen report secret?

We are concerned by the Department's recent decision to suspend its community relations training program so that the whole program can be "reëvaluated." This kind of program, which some of us still like to call "sensitivity training," has been going on for years and has been one of the foundation stones for improving relations between the police and the gay and lesbian community. Coöperation from gay and lesbian residents in murder and other crime investigations requires that the police in turn be properly trained to understand and coöperate with us. A new contract should be put into place without further delay.

We are also disturbed by the pattern of abuses associated with the so-called "zero tolerance" campaign launched several months ago. Chief Soulsby got off to a bad start by announcing at the campaign's inception that he was going to close down three bars with a gay or predominantly gay clientele solely because the police had received a number of complaints from areas surrounding those bars — regardless of whether the bars themselves were at all to blame for the problems reported nearby. Since then, as we have previously testified before this committee, the MPD, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the ABC Board, and the Fire Department have targeted a number of gay businesses for undue harassment.

Although the total number of new anti-gay business actions has tapered off recently, a recent raid by the notorious DCRA Inspector James Delgado on S Street NW involved several police officers, in direct violation of pledges by the Department that no more than two officers should accompany a building inspector on such visits. We understand from Third District Commander Stanley that the police lieutenant involved in this and other incidents of overzealousness faced disciplinary action; but further measures should be taken to address the culture that encourages such behavior. This kind of systematic harassment indicates a police force that has lost sight of its proper mission. Another indicator of the same situation, this one affecting the broader public, is the ludicrous arrests of ordinary citizens for the alleged "crime" of drinking on their own front porches, as reported extensively in recent issues of The InTowner. The harassment of gay businesses, like the arrest of the "chardonnay lady" and her dastardly compatriots, seems motivated primarily by a desire by officers to pad their arrest and citation numbers artificially in the name of "zero tolerance." "Zero intelligence" is a bit closer to the mark.

To conclude, the imposition of outside control on the Metropolitan Police Department, rather than solving old problems, is creating new ones.

Thank you for your attention. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.


See testimony on civilian complaint review board

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