What Folks Have Been Telling Me
submitted by Rick Rosendall
(About the MPD and criteria for a new Chief)
D.C. Citizens Advisory Committee
on the Selection of the Chief of Police
1. The police chief must lead by example in demonstrating respect for the community and the law -- including the DC Human Rights Law. Neither the police nor the government that employs them can hold themselves above the law; on the contrary, those charged with protecting the community must themselves reflect the highest standards of conduct. Police must be taught from their first day at the Academy that they are sworn servants of the community, not its overlords. It must be made clear by Department practice that there is no room on the force for officers who casually violate laws (including traffic and parking laws) for which they routinely cite ordinary citizens. Similarly, the MPD itself is covered by the DC Human Rights Law and must be scrupulous in avoiding any discrimination in internal matters of hiring, promotion, assignments, and discipline.
2. 1950s-style extortion scheme. Acting Chief Proctor has indicated that to her knowledge the outrageous extortion scheme allegedly conducted by Lt. Stowe was an isolated case. While we in GLAA have no evidence to the contrary, this incident has done great damage to relations between the gay community and police. The problem is not only with the few on the force who would commit such criminal behavior, but with any of their colleagues who may have known about it and remained silent out of respect for the "Blue Code." The Stowe case underscores the need not only for sensitivity training, but for strong leadership by top MPD officials to make clear that such behavior will not be tolerated and that offenders will be fired and prosecuted.
3. Community policing, to be more than a mere slogan or design motif, must represent a comprehensive approach to the Department's work -- in contrast to the top-down, paramilitary model that it has followed in the past. Everyone at MPD must be seen as a community relations officer, and must demonstrate respect toward the citizens they encounter.
4. Respect. Too often the ordinary citizens who must deal with crime in their neighborhoods on a regular basis are treated by police as if they are not competent to make judgments or contributions in such matters. Too often citizens who try to make a difference in their neighborhoods complain that they cannot get cooperation from the local police. This is one way in which police display, not just an adversarial mentality, but an overlord mentality. This is a police culture problem that the chief must systematically address. To begin with, the new chief must get out into the community and deal with the citizenry, and model the appropriate attitude of cooperation and respect.
5. Crime prevention must stress de-escalation of difficult situations. Too often, officers have appeared to be looking for an excuse to escalate a situation so that they could rough up, handcuff and arrest people who showed no sign of being a threat to anyone. Incidents like the arrest of a woman for drinking a glass of wine on her own front porch indicate a reckless determination to drive up arrest statistics without regard for the safety or quality of the community, and serve only to undermine the trust of that community. The police chief must ensure that officers are given proper guidance and supervision, and that any get-tough measures are well informed and well controlled to ensure that the law-abiding public is truly being protected and not harassed. The community is not rendered more safe when arrogant (often young and unseasoned) officers decide to indulge an adrenaline rush at the expense of whoever happens to have looked at them the wrong way. The more our police behave like an occupying force rather than as public servants sworn to protect us, the less safe we will all be in the long run.
6. Sensitivity training. Comprehensive initial and follow-up training must be provided for all officers to enable them to deal with the actual diversity that they will encounter on the District's streets. This is an international city, and our police force must reflect and respond to that fact. In addition to different racial and ethnic groups, our diversity includes the city's gay, lesbian, and transgendered citizens and the city's deaf population. Lack of preparation in dealing with deaf citizens may have contributed to the unnecessary escalation of an encounter by officers with well-known community activist Eduardo Burkhart (who is deaf) at a January 15 demonstration outside the Control Board. Approximately half the current police force, or 2,000 officers, are now overdue for their community relations and sensitivity training.
7. Bilingual officers. Inability to communicate, coupled with cultural differences, prepares a fertile ground for unnecessary and potentially fatal escalations of minor incidents. Training and recruitment of bilingual officers -- including ASL as one of the languages -- must be strengthened.
8. No discriminatory profiling. Citizens should not be presumed to be criminals and subjected to harassment or worse simply because of their age, race, gender, or because they dress in hip-hop gear or in clothing that the officer considers inappropriate for the person's apparent gender. Any officer who cannot deal with this diversity needs to be told to get over it and sent to new training -- training which should include not only sensitivity training but a refresher course in the forms of discrimination that are prohibited under District law.
9. Regulatory harassment. One area in which police must routinely cooperate with other District agencies is that of regulatory enforcement. Early last year, after the Ibex incident, Chief Soulsby was quoted in the press as stating that he had targeted a number of establishments -- including gay-oriented establishments -- for closing because they had allegedly been associated with violations. This looked very much like a case of the verdict coming before the evidence; it also appeared, as reported in the City Paper, that gay establishments were deliberately and disproportionately targeted. DCRA building inspector James Delgado, working with MPD officers, has been involved in a number of questionable incidents, including one in the fall of 1996 involving Cusano's Meet Market on 17th Street NW where no violations were found but where the joint raids had a decidedly chilling effect. One can only question the priorities of officials who seek to impose their notion of morality on adult citizens, which is an inappropriate function of government and wastes scarce government resources.
After a detailed NAACP-DC Task Force letter concerning this regulatory harassment was received by the Mayor's office last summer, we obtained meetings between gay leaders (including members of the Gay Business Guild) and then-Chief Soulsby and then-DCRA-head Hampton Cross. The harassment appears to have abated in recent months. The gay community is better off now that both GLOV (Gay Men and Lesbians Opposing Violence) and the Gay Business Guild are represented on the Police Chief's Citizens Advisory Council; the new Chief should commit to working with that body, taking its counsel, and making productive use of it and the individual District CACs. One recent sign of disconnect was when CAC leaders last year actually opposed Soulsby's (and Booz-Allen's) CCRB proposal.
10. Accountability. Misconduct must have measurable consequences. There must be a restoration of strong, independent "civilian" review of complaints of police misconduct. To make the new review board more effective than the old, it must have effective subpoena power, and an effective mechanism needs to be put into place to require cooperation from police officers (who reportedly were previously encouraged by the FOP not to cooperate). The new chief should firmly commit to supporting this key piece of the public safety puzzle. By the same token, exemplary conduct should be suitably recognized.
11. Authority and resources. The new chief must have the authority to do what he or she decides is necessary -- including firings among the management ranks -- in order to get the MPD back on track. The MPD must also be given the equipment, materials, and maintenance services necessary to do their jobs safely and effectively.
Respectfully submitted by
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington
January 21, 1998