Police Chief Gets More Freedom, Sharp Deadline: Desk Officers May Hit Street Soon

Article excerpt

Metropolitan Police Chief Larry D. Soulsby yesterday agreed to transfer 300 desk officers to street patrols as early as this week but was himself warned that he has just nine months to turn the troubled department around.

As early as today, Chief Soulsby is expected to take 300 officers from their desk jobs and assign them to patrol city streets, as part of a larger effort giving him increased power to hire, fire, transfer and demote.

The agreement emerged during a closed-door meeting involving Chief Soulsby, Mayor Marion Barry, the D.C. financial control board, and other law enforcement and political leaders yesterday.

"I expect to take action . . . to reach down to every level to get rid of the people who are not about the business of police work. This is not a game we're playing," a newly emboldened Chief Soulsby said after the meeting.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Eugene N. Hamilton, who attended yesterday's session and who is expected to play a major role in the changes, said he will consider opening a night court to handle a hoped-for increase in arrests.

The chief and other officials declined to comment on the transfers, which are part of a comprehensive package of reforms that were agreed to in principle during the two-hour meeting.

A copy of the eight-page reform plan, obtained by The Washington Times, contains detailed steps that seven key agencies in the District must follow to improve the city's Police Department.

The plan - which is being rushed into print by the consulting firm of Booz, Allen & Hamilton, Inc. - contains several direct challenges to the powerful Fraternal Order of Police, the union which represents the department's 3,600 officers.

The plan cements recent negotiations for Mr. Barry to turn his oversight powers over to Chief Soulsby, who has been criticized as a weak flunky of the mayor.

The chief is expected to be given authority to transfer officers immediately, rather than abiding by the so-called "28-day rule," which requires nearly a month's notice before an officer's shift can be changed.

Ron Robertson, head of the FOP, said last night: "Some of these changes are good, but if they are talking about changing the 28-day rule they need to talk to us."

Sources at the meeting say Chief Soulsby has been given nine months to make good on his own. …