Ramsey Seen Selling Crime Investigations Short
Keary, Jim, Drake, John, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
D.C. police and prosecutors have expressed concern about potential delays and mistakes in major criminal investigations because the ranks of the city's police evidence technicians are stretched too thin.
Understaffed and underfunded, the Mobile Crime Lab has about 44 technicians who, in addition to gathering and analyzing evidence and testifying in court, are required to patrol the streets one week each month under the Metropolitan Police Department's new deployment plan.
Wilma A. Lewis, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, has worried that evidence will not be ready for prosecutors, who must persuade a grand jury to return an indictment against a suspect within 100 days or the suspect must be released.
"We have serious concerns over the potential and real impact redeployment has on our ability to have cases investigated and evidence analyzed in time for trial, especially in the 100-day cases," Miss Lewis said.
"The ultimate goal must be to find solutions that not only serve the public safety interest of the community, but that do not adversely affect our ability to prosecute a case."
Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said that if Miss Lewis is concerned about police officers' workloads, she should have her office process charges at night.
"Let the U.S. attorney give me night papering. Let the U.S. attorney run the U.S. Attorney's Office and let the police chief run the police department," said the chief, citing a long-standing irritation between the two agencies. "When there is a job opening, let her apply."
Since the new deployment began Aug. 22, a few cases have come close to missing the 100-day deadline because of late evidence, said an assistant U.S. attorney who asked not to be identified.
The deployment's 100th day is Nov. 29, and prosecutors are checking to see if any cases are in jeopardy of missing the deadline.
Chief Ramsey began the new deployment to address concerns that not enough officers were on city streets when most crimes occur. The deployment requires about 800 desk officers to patrol streets from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. one week each month.
The deployment has received criticism from rank-and-file officers who have complained about how the shift change has hurt their performance in their regular duties.
"It is disgusting. I have to stand there and direct traffic at a shooting rather than doing my job collecting," said a crime lab officer. "I have to look over there and yell [to another technician], `You missed something.' "
Some officers said the deployment not only is increasing delays for the crime lab that could let criminals walk the streets but also creating a potential for tainted evidence, allowing defense lawyers sway with a jury.
In addition, top police officials have substituted novice crime-scene search officers based in district substations for the experienced lab technicians on deployment, officers said.
"Now we've brought back guys with two years or less experience handling murders, while the experienced guys walk the beat," one crime lab official said. …