Contact: Rick Rosendall or Craig Howell
The sordid circumstances that finally forced Larry Soulsby to resign as Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department last week reflect the rapid deterioration in the confidence that lesbians and gay men can place in the top leadership of our police force.
Our complaints that some police have been singling out gay-oriented businesses for unwarranted harassment were routinely brushed aside with assurances that homophobia had long since been banished from top to bottom within the Department.
Now the best friend of the Chief himself stands accused of running an extortion racket out of the 1950s aimed squarely at gay men.
Is it conceivable that Lt. Stowe never uttered an anti-gay slur within hearing of Chief Soulsby and other top police officials? Or is it just that homophobic expressions, from Lt. Stowe and others, are so common within the police force that nobody paid them the slightest attention? The problem on the force is not only the criminal few, but their many colleagues whose silence or sympathy enables those criminals to go unreported and unpunished.
Homophobia is indeed alive and thriving within the Metropolitan Police Department, and it will take a major commitment to uproot such bigotry and to change the police culture that tolerates it. The first step is to issue a new contract post-haste for the community relations sensitivity training which is overdue for approximately two thousand officers. But this is only a first step. Leadership begins at the top, and the top officials at MPD must make it clear that they will not tolerate officers who take advantage of their positions to abuse the very citizens they are sworn to protect.
We are gratified that Sonya Proctor has been named Acting Chief. She has proven her own professionalism and sensitivity on a number of occasions in recent years. Accordingly, we are asking her to meet with our community's leaders in the near future to assess the damage that has been done and to initiate steps to improve relations between police and our community.
Concerning the nationwide search to be conducted for a permanent police chief, we are appalled by the lead role that Stephen Harlan of the Control Board apparently expects to play.
More than any other person except for Mayor Barry, Stephen Harlan deserves to be held accountable for the virtual collapse of the police department's credibility over the past year. No one was more blindly protective of Chief Soulsby than Stephen Harlan. No one was more openly contemptuous of anyone who questioned the directions that Chief Soulsby was taking. No one was more convinced of the righteousness of his own judgments. While the Control Board was dismissing or rearranging Barry's other appointees, Mr. Harlan convinced Chief Soulsby to transfer his loyalty from the Mayor to himself, which the Chief accomplished without missing a beat. "Let Soulsby Be Soulsby!" became the Battle Cry of the Control Board.
To everyone's horror, that is exactly what happened.
And now the man who unleashed Larry Soulsby is to be in charge of finding someone to clean up the mess? We don't think so!
Stephen Harlan hitched his wagon, and our city's, to the wrong star or, should we say, badge.
The voters of the District of Columbia will have their chance to hold Mayor Barry and the Council members accountable for their myriad failings in next year's elections. We are not currently empowered to hold Stephen Harlan accountable, no matter how inept he has proven; but we will not on that account remain silent.
Benjamin Franklin said that people who are willing to trade a little liberty for a little security deserve neither. Indeed, the anti-democratic imposition of a paternalistic Control Board over the District, while infringing on our liberty, has not only brought us no security it has actually brought us unprecedented corruption and criminality. This looks more like police anarchy than police reform.
Given this disastrous record and other recent events that smack of the same cronyism that the Control Board was meant to stop the Control Board's credibility and usefulness are in grave doubt. At the very least, Stephen Harlan should step down immediately as a Control Board member. If he refuses, he should be barred from having anything more to do with overseeing public safety in our city; and President Clinton should not reappoint him next year upon the expiration of his three-year term.
Finally, it seems reasonable to expect that a resignation means a resignation. Why is former Chief Soulsby still on the MPD payroll?