Obstacles Stymie Ramsey Reforms: Lack of Resources, Accountability Hinders Chief's 1st Year

Article excerpt

It was a cold December evening when D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and his second-in-command, Executive Chief Terrance W. Gainer, popped into the 7th Police District in Southeast where they had led a lost driver from Capitol Hill.

It was obvious no one expected their arrival.

Papers were strewn across the roll-call room, the lieutenant in charge was missing in action. When the lieutenant showed up, she wasn't wearing her gun and leaned on the counter picking her teeth as Chief Gainer tried to sort out the shift's schedule with her.

Chief Ramsey and Chief Gainer walked out of the station shaking their heads. It was clear the chief's message of change had fallen on some deaf ears. The lieutenant wasn't chewed out.

The night was a glaring example of the lack of respect, accountability and morale that had reverberated through the Metropolitan Police Department for years.

It had been a long time, if ever, since a police chief had unexpectedly dropped by the station. But it was an indication of what officers could expect under the reign of Chief Ramsey, who on Wednesday marks his first year as head of the department.

"I don't know if it would be a lot different if I walked in today, but I do know this: The message is definitely getting out there that things are changing," said Chief Ramsey, 49.

The chief is sending managers to management school, promoting others he believes should be in charge and requiring that officers go back to class to learn the latest techniques in policing, or even the most basic requirement of a public-safety officer - CPR.

While Chief Ramsey works to build up the department, residents wait, some saying they still don't feel safe walking the streets of the city.

"You can go out into the city and see that the police department is not doing its job," said John Bullox, 72, of the 4300 block of Southern Avenue SE.

"How can he convince me that crime is coming down when we have all these shootings?" asked Mr. Bullox, a retired federal government employee who has lived in the city for 55 years. "I'd love to see Ramsey go back to Chicago."

Chief Ramsey admits there haven't been many visible changes in the past year. He is still short police officers, the murder rate is climbing and people still don't feel safe in their neighborhoods.

The department - authorized to have 3,800 officers - currently employs 3,597 officers. It is losing about six more police officers per month than it is hiring.

The chief said that in order to make changes that will outlast his regime he has first had to rebuild the department's infrastructure - technology, training and management.

"You're always striving to do better because as long as we have the kinds of homicides and violence and youth problems in our city, then none of us can afford to pat ourselves on the back," Chief Ramsey said.

Some D.C. Council members believe the department has improved under Chief Ramsey, but not enough.

"I have an idealistic goal," said council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat and chairman of the group's Judiciary Committee. "It took a long time to get out of whack. It will take a long time to get it back."

"It is a broken, dysfunctional system, but there has been considerable progress on certain fronts," said council member David Catania, at-large Republican.

Chief Ramsey has been trying to put more officers on the streets during times when crimes are highest.

"What I found were the peak days that we have people working are the low days for crime and the high days for crime are the low days we had people working. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that something is out of sync," he said.

But the schedule changes have irked some officers used to working weekdays.

"Now he's working on changing people's schedules and that affects people's personal lives," said Detective Frank Tracy, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Department Fraternal Order of Police Labor Committee. …