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Committee on the Judiciary, DC City Council
Oversight Report on the Metropolitan Police Department's Homicide Investigative Practices and Case Closure Rate
February 27, 2001




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Council of the District of Columbia
Oversight Report

441 4th St., N.W. Washington, D.C. 20001

To: All Councilmembers
From: Kathy Patterson, Chairperson, Committee on the Judiciary
Date: February 27, 2001
Subject: Oversight Report on the Metropolitan Police Department's Homicide Investigative Practices and Case Closure Rate



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The Committee on the Judiciary has made the Metropolitan Police Department performance in homicide investigations a priority for its oversight work during Council Period 14, which began on January 2, 2001, and ends in December 2002. There are few responsibilities more important for a government than homicide investigation, because there is no greater affront to a community or its residents than the taking of a human life. The only affront that compares to the taking of a life is the failure of government to assure a commensurate response to murder, with thorough and timely and caring investigation.

The District government's response to homicide today is clearly deficient. Homicide case closure rates in the District are low -- 57 percent last year, according to a measure used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- and have been declining. Moreover, the basic elements of high-quality homicide investigations have been lacking at the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). These fundamentals include rigorous standards for detective selection, retention, and promotion; extensive and continuous training; detailed standard operating procedures that outline the essential steps in an investigation; regular and thorough case review by supervisors experienced in investigations; and an objective performance evaluation system that identifies and removes poor performers and identifies and rewards strong performers.

The purpose of this report is to establish a baseline of MPD's performance in investigating homicides and to outline the issues that need to be addressed and monitored in order for MPD to solve more cases. It is intended to hold the Committee, as well as the MPD, accountable, by identifying problems to be solved and the tasks that must be accomplished for the MPD to improve its homicide investigations. The main findings of this report, drawing on a January 25, 2001, public roundtable held by the Committee and additional research conducted by the Committee, are summarized below.

1. Despite a sharp reduction in homicides since the early 1990s, MPD's performance in investigating homicides has deteriorated from levels that were already inadequate.

Between 1991 and 2000, the number of homicides in the District dropped by more than 50 percent, from 479 to 237. In fact, the number of homicides in 2000 represent a 13-year low. Despite this welcome news, homicide case closure rates in the District have fallen simultaneously.

There are two main measures for homicide case closure rates. MPD management believes that the FBI's Uniform Case Reporting (UCR) definition, which reflects the number of homicides solved in a year divided by the number of homicides that occurred that same year, is preferable. MPD's UCR case closure rate has fluctuated since 1993, but dropped from 70 percent in 1997 to 57 percent in 2000. The drop in the UCR case closure rate between 1997 and 2000 is particularly troubling because the number of homicides fell by 40 percent -- from 301 in 1997 to 237 in 2000 -- during that same period.

The second leading measure of homicide case closures -- the "in-year" or "same-year" rate -- presents an even more distressing pattern. The in-year rate is calculated by dividing the number of homicides solved in the same year that they occurred by the total number of homicides that occurred during the same year. Since 1990, the in-year case closure rate has dropped steadily, from 57 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2000. The in-year case closure rate may more accurately reflect trends in performance than the UCR rate, because the UCR rate is more likely to reflect administrative closures -- those that occur when a suspect dies, is jailed on other charges, or for other exceptional reasons -- that occur some time after a case is opened. Administrative closures, which are subject to less scrutiny than cases that are resolved through an arrest, increased from 10 percent in the late 1980s to 19 percent in 1998. MPD's increasing reliance on administrative closures may have inflated the UCR case closure rate and concealed a more serious decline in MPD's performance of homicide investigations.

Empirical evidence supports the common-sense conclusion that declining homicide rates should lead to increased case closure rates. An eight-city study of homicide patterns by the National Institute of Justice, published in 1997, found statistically significant links between a declining homicide rate and an increased case closure rate. Conversely, this study found that declining case closure rates may lead to increased numbers of homicides, as murderers go unpunished and the threat of punishment declines in the eyes of potential criminals. This finding is particularly worrisome.

2. Comparative data reinforce the conclusion that MPD's homicide investigations are falling short of reasonable standards.

Comparative data on UCR case closure rates reinforce the conclusion that the District's homicide case closure rate is inadequate. In his January 25, 2001, testimony to the Committee, Chief Ramsey pointed out that the District's 61 percent case closure rate for 1999 was identical to the national average for cities with population between 500,000 to 999,999 (final figures for 2000 are not yet available). Nevertheless, the District's case closure rate fell to 57 percent in 2000, and the District's growing reliance on administrative closures could mean that the 57 percent rate is overstated relative to jurisidictions that close more of their cases through arrests.

A study conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum, using UCR case closure data from the early to mid-1990s, suggests that the District should be able to attain a UCR case closure rate of at least 70 percent. This study reported that in 1993, Baltimore attained a 69 percent closure rate; Chicago achieved a 70 percent closure rate; and Cincinnati reached 90 percent. Broward County, Florida (which includes Fort Lauderdale), reported a 97 percent case closure rate for 1995. In 1996, Dallas achieved a 71 percent case closure rate, and Minneapolis recorded a 66 percent rate. Other information gathered by the Committee shows that Milwaukee closed 85 percent of its homicide cases in 1991 and exceeded 90 percent in 1993. Because homicide rates have dropped nationwide since the early to mid-1990s, it is likely that other cities have increased their case closure rates since that period.

University of Maryland researchers who studied the factors affecting homicide case closures in four cities, using data from 1991 to 1994, reached the encouraging conclusion that sound police practices lead to high homicide case closure rates. One critical finding was that 37 of the 51 factors that affect homicide closures are within the control of police. The researchers also found that effective police investigations can usually overcome the difficulties presented by drug-related violence, gang-related violence, and other challenges that are more common in big cities.

3. MPD's homicide data appear to reflect a number of anomalies or unexplained patterns. Issues of data collection, recording, and review require much greater attention.

The disparity between MPD's UCR case closure rate, which has fluctuated between 1993 and 2000 but has declined since 1997, and the in-year case closure rate, which has trended steadily downward, is troubling and requires further attention. Nevertheless, this is not the only puzzling pattern in the data.

The Committee is also concerned about a steady increase in the proportion of cases closed for homicides that occurred in prior years. In 1993, only 6 percent of cases solved represented homicides that occurred in prior years. In 2000, 37 percent of the cases solved were those of homicides that occurred in prior years. Certainly, 1993 could have been an unusual year; the overall case closure rate for that year (48 percent) was particularly low, perhaps reflecting a failure to investigate cases from prior years. Nevertheless, the magnitude of the increase in prior- year closures is large and the overall pattern is puzzling.

The University of Maryland research confirmed that the likelihood of solving a case declines rapidly as time goes on. Of the homicide cases that were solved in the four cities included in that study, 88 percent were closed within six months after the case was assigned to a detective. This data suggests that MPD could achieve better results by improving investigative practices and solving more cases in the early stages of an investigation, when witnesses are more readily identifiable and evidence can be secured. Second, the data reinforces the need to ensure that case closures are not recorded improperly -- whether through administrative closures that are not justified, or through arrests that do not result in prosecution or conviction.

Finally, the Committee asked Chief Ramsey to respond to several potential errors in its homicide data. First, the Committee noticed that a highly publicized case -- the murder of Gallaudet University freshman Eric Plunkett -- was recorded as closed by arrest in a January 17, 2001, listing of homicides for the years 1998 through 2000 provided by MPD. The individual who was first arrested on October 4, 2000, was released almost immediately thereafter, and the investigation continued until another individual was arrested for the murder on February 13, 2001. Second, the Fraternal Order of Police contends that cases counted as homicides during 1999 were not, in fact, so counted, and that other cases represented double-counts. The integrity of homicide data is obviously critical and the Committee will consider the merits of creating an independent auditing function for homicide data.

4. MPD's homicide investigations are marred by widespread, systemic failures in basic aspects of management and implementation.

Data alone gives us only a general sense about how an agency, program, or function is performing. As described earlier, data can be incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading. Several witnesses who testified at the Committee's public roundtable stressed that the quality of homicide investigations is the most important measure for a homicide unit, and Chief Ramsey stated that he would be satisified with a low case closure rate if investigations were timely, aggressive, and thorough (although the Chief acknowledged that this is not presently the case).

The Committee's public roundtable, its discussions with MPD detectives and other outside experts, and its review of MPD program materials strongly suggests that some of the most basic and essential elements are sorely lacking in MPD homicide investigations. In many respects, the homicide investigative program has fallen into a state of collapse. Some of the most elementary management tools needed to effectively operate any program or initiative -- such as staff training, position qualifications, performance appraisals, and standard operating procedures -- appear to have been absent or sorely deficient. These conclusions are reinforced not only by the statements of outside experts and public witnesses, but by Chief Ramsey himself. The following are some of the most salient examples of these widespread, systemic breakdowns in the homicide investigative program:

  • Chief Ramsey stated that "MPD has no detective selection process." MPD does not impose minimum experience requirements for detectives, nor does it require a written exam or writing sample, an oral examination or interview, or a performance review as part of its efforts to select detectives. In addition, MPD lacks a probationary period for new detectives.
  • MPD lacks up-to-date standard operating procedures that outline what all participants in a homicide investigation -- call-takers, dispatchers, responding patrol officers, detectives, crime scene technicians, supervisors, and others -- should do at each stage of a homicide investigation.
  • MPD lacks a formal, comprehensive training program for new detectives.
  • MPD lacks a performance appraisal system for detectives; consequently, the department also lacks objective standards for retaining, promoting, disciplining, or removing detectives.
  • Management today adheres to a policy of selecting supervisors without investigative experience, contrary to views from the best practices forum and views of other experts.
  • MPD has failed to insitute regular reviews of homicide cases, even though periodic reviews in which detectives and supervisors are questioned about their investigative approaches and their progress on a case are common in other jurisdictions.
  • MPD has increased its reliance on administrative case closures, which comprised 19 percent of total homicide case closures, in 1998, without instituting adequate review procedures for such closures.
  • MPD detectives and their supervisors have lacked access to some of the modern tools of homicide investigations, including crime mapping data and crime data bases that are easy to use and contain complete, up-to-date information.
  • MPD case files have been in disarray, despite the issuance of numerous directives about the proper ways to maintain and preserve files, and the threat of disciplinary action against those who fail to follow the directives. In fact, Chief Ramsey advised the Committee that no disciplinary actions were taken after the Washington Post reported that 377 homicide case files could not be located and that 136 case files were missing important documentation.
  • MPD detectives and other staff have failed to maintain contact with the family members and other loved ones of homicide victims, reflecting a lack of sensitivity to family members by the department and the absence of clear standards for family notification. Numerous family members advised the Committee that they heard nothing from MPD about the status of the investigation unless they initiated the contact. Those who have suffered a tragic loss deserve the utmost consideration from MPD. Furthermore, the MPD is unlikely to achieve accountability for homicide cases if it is not accountable to the families and loved ones of homicide victims.

5. MPD has developed a comprehensive reform strategy for homicide investigations, drawing on a review of best practices in other jurisdictions.

The MPD has developed a comprehensive reform strategy for homicide investigations that, on paper, addresses many of the deficiencies described above. The reform strategy draws on the best practices of other jurisdictions and is informed by two forums that MPD convened last year to explore the leading approaches to homicide investigations.

First, MPD has drafted new standard operating procedures (SOPs) to guide homicide investigations. In his January 25, 2001, testimony, Chief Ramsey stated that implementation of the SOPs would begin in February 2001. The SOPs cover the actions of different types of personnel, including call takers, dispatchers, responding officers, detectives, and supervisors, at each stage of the investigative process and in different settings. For example, the SOPs describe the tasks that detectives should accomplish at the crime scene, at the hospital, and at the office. The guidelines address different aspects of an investigation, including forensic evidence; the handling, shipping, and storing of evidence; morgue procedures; and the contents and safe- keeping of reports and case jackets. The SOPs also set requirements for regular case review -- an integral component of performance review. The SOPs create milestones for lead detectives, investigative sergeants, investigative lieutenants, and patrol service area lieutenants at periodic intervals: one day; seven days; 15 days, 30 days, 60 days, and every 30 days thereafter for the first year after a case is opened. In the second year after a case has been opened, the case file would be updated quarterly, and in the third year, annually.

The draft SOPs also address the important issue of keeping families and other loved ones informed about the status of a homicide case. The SOP states the standard that detectives should contact an individual designated by the family every two weeks for the first two months after a case is opened, and once each month after the first two months, with the frequency of contact gradually declining over time.

To improve detective selection, Chief Ramsey plans to unveil a new application procedure for detectives, including minimum experience and performance standards, as well as a probationary period to make sure that newly selected detectives are capable of doing their jobs. Detective candidates would have to submit a writing sample, and undergo an oral interview and a review of their past performance. The performance standards will provide an objective basis for MPD to remove poorly performing detectives. To upgrade training, Chief Ramsey plans to open a new criminal investigators academy that will cover the fundamentals of investigation, the SOPs for homicide and other investigations, and how to use technology to help solve cases.

MPD has also updated its criminal intelligence data base, the Washington Criminal Intelligence Information System (WACIIS). MPD official state that the upgraded system is easier to use and allows detectives to store and retrieve photographs of crime scenes, view offenders' mugshots online, and prepare and post reports online. By mid-2001, WACIIS should also be able to transmit arrest reports electronically to the U.S. Attorney's office. MPD is also using a review of homicide cases from the past decade to ensure the accuracy of its files and thereby qualify to join the FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program network, which includes information on violent crimes nationwide.

Overall, the MPD's reform plans appear to be well-reasoned and comprehensive. The challenge for MPD will be to refine and implement the plans and demonstrate results. The challenge for the Committee will be to monitor MPD's progress, provide a public forum for sharing that progress with the public, and support any legislative or budgetary initiatives necessary to achieve results.

6. Two challenges to reform arise from existing MPD management policies: decentralized deployment of detectives and selection of supervisors who lack investigative experience.

As MPD begins implementing its reform program for homicide investigations, the dispersal of MPD detectives from a headquarters unit to the seven police districts presents certain challenges. Chief Ramsey said he implemented this decentralization strategy due to his belief that changing patterns in homicides -- including an increase in stranger-on-stranger and drug- related crimes -- require a different approach in which detectives become more familiar with particular neighorhoods and develop trust with those who live in those neighborhoods. In expressing his continued commitment to decentralization, Chief Ramsey said the debate over decentralization diverts attention from more important topics, including training, selection of detectives, investigative practices, and supervision -- the "blocking and tackling" of homicide investigations. This point is well-taken, and the Committee offers these comments in the spirit of making a decentralized system as effective as possible.

Deployment, specialization, and supervision remain important issues in a decentralized pattern of assigning detectives. First, crime spurts or crime waves are common, and in a decentralized system where detectives are assigned to particular police districts, it is more difficult to redeploy detectives to respond to sudden rises or falls in homicide. Therefore, the Committee believes that crime-mapping and regular deployment studies are important.

Second, numerous detectives and outside experts expressed concern that an experienced homicide detective assigned to a police district may be assigned to a burglary or a sex crime. As the most serious crime, involving investigations of considerable complexity and sensitivity, homicide warrants the most experienced and best-trained investigators, in the Committee's view, and specialization should be encouraged to apply the maximum amount of expertise to every type of criminal investigation.

Finally, Chief Ramsey has emphasized case management skills in selecting investigative supervisors. The Committee notes that U.S. Attorney Wilma Lewis, former assistant U.S. Attorney and homicide section chief David Schertler, and FOP Chairman Gerald Neill are among those who have spoken persuasively about the importance of investigative experience, and homicide experience in particular, for investigative supervisors (see Section 2 of this report). Moreover, the findings reported from two best-practices forums convened by MPD likewise stressed the importance of investigative experience for supervisors, as does research in Great Britain described in a recent paper, The Effective Detective: Identifying the Skills of an Effective SIO." Given this broad range of expert opinion, the Committee recommends that MPD review policy on qualifications necessary to supervise detectives as part of a comprehensive review of promotion standards in order to place more emphasis on experience in recruiting investigative supervisors.

7. Challenges in recruitment, deployment, and promotion related to homicide investigations demonstrate the Department's overall need for effective and transparent personnel policies that highlight performance and accountability.

During the January 25, 2001, public roundtable, Chairperson Patterson referred to the 1998 recommendation on employee evaluation by the Council Special Committee on Police Misconduct and Personnel Management and the enactment of the Omnibus Personnel Reform Act of 1998, which requires each District agency to have a comprehensive employee evaluation system in place. The Special Committee recommended that, "The Department should move quickly to develop and implement a performance appraisal system for all Command Staff, police officers and civilian employees as called for and consistent with the recently passed Omnibus Personnel Reform Act of 1998. The system should provide objective criteria for evaluation of an individual's performance and should allow for his views and opinions to be considered."

One year after the Special Committee's report Chief Ramsey attended a press conference held by the Council to provide an update on the Committee's recommendations. At that time -- October 5, 1999 -- the chief described the employee evaluation recommendation as having been achieved. The Department's "Status Report on Recommendations Made by the Special Committee on Police Misconduct and Personnel Management" released at that time noted: "there is a performance evaluation system in place for sworn and civilian members."

The Department's record on homicide investigations and statements during the hearing alleging that removing poor performers is made difficult by union contracts are indications that the Department has not fully implemented the 1998 personnel reform law and has not adopted the Special Committee's recommendation. The MPD record on performance management stands as an issue for further monitoring by the Committee.

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Between December 3 and December 6, 2000, the Washington Post ran a four-part series, "Fatal Flaws: the District's Homicide Crisis," that documented serious, systemic problems in the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)'s investigation and resolution of homicide cases. The series highlighted a low homicide case closure rate, poor supervision of detectives in police districts scattered across the city, hundreds of missing or incomplete case files, and dozens of cases closed without arrest under unclear circumstances. Moreover, the series gave voice to the anguish felt by victims' family members who said they received little or no information from police on the status of cases, and often were not notified that a case had been closed. The articles comprising the Post's series are included as Attachment A to this report.

Some of the critical data cited in the Post series follow:

  • Almost two-thirds of homicides that occurred in 1999 remained unsolved at year's end, the poorest performance in the past decade.
  • Police could not locate 377 closed cases, and important documents were not available for 136 cases that had been located.
  • An examination of 100 cases that were closed administratively -- for exceptional reasons such as the death of a suspect or the arrest of a suspect in another case -- showed that 29 did not contain documents explaining why the cases were closed, in violation of police policy.

Although "Fatal Flaws" outlined the problems in homicide investigations in compelling and extensive detail, the deficiencies cited were in most cases longstanding and had been identified before. Between 1987 and 1996, MPD amassed a total of almost 1,700 unsolved murders. In 1996, the National Drug Intelligence Center concluded a review of homicides that occurred between 1991 and 1994 by presenting plans about how to investigate and quickly close 136 cases. This report, apparently, was ignored until consultants hired by the Financial Authority drew attention to it in 1997. The "in-year" case closure rate -- the percentages of homicides that were solved in the same year that they occurred -- dropped from 55 percent in 1994 to 42 percent in 1996. Other studies and media reports over the years have pointed to high rates of administrative case closures by MPD's homicide investigators.

District policymakers cannot ignore the longstanding and continuing evidence of systemic failures in MPD homicide investigations and a low case closure rate. Accordingly, Councilmember Patterson scheduled a public roundtable on MPD homicide investigations and the homicide case closure rate as one of her first actions after assuming the chairmanship of the Committee on the Judiciary on January 2, 2001.

The January 25, 2001, oversight roundtable included testimony on the MPD's performance in investigating homicides as well as its plans to reform and improve its investigations. The Committee heard testimony from Chief of Police Charles Ramsey, representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who was in charge of homicide prosecutions, two former MPD homicide detectives, and a criminal justice professor from the University of Maryland who studied the factors associated with homicide case closures. In addition, the Committee heard from 18 public witnesses, most of whom had lost loved ones to homicide and testified about their experiences with the police department.

Homicide investigation is a priority for the Committee and for policymakers, first and foremost, as a moral imperative. There are few responsibilities more important for a government than homicide investigation, because there is no greater affront to a community or its residents than the taking of a human life.

The Committee will also seek to apply the lessons learned from reviewing MPD's homicide investigations to other areas. If homicide investigations are flawed, then the same problems may afflict the investigations of assaults, rapes, burglaries, arsons, and other crimes. As Chief Ramsey has said, "Homicide is the barometer by which we as a police department are judged." MPD's performance in investigating the most serious of crimes reveals much about the department's performance as a whole, and it is important to view homicide investigations in the context of the entire range of MPD's crime-fighting efforts.

This report summarizes the Committee's January 25, 2001, public roundtable, as well as other background information about the performance of MPD's homicide investigations and the Chief of Police's reform plans. First, the report is intended to set a baseline and to hold the Committee and other public officials accountable by describing the current state of MPD's homicide investigations and the outcomes achieved. Second, the report identifies the issues that the Committee will monitor throughout Council Period 14 as part of its effort to help the MPD develop a first-rate homicide unit. The Committee pledges to hold oversight hearings on homicide investigations and case closure rates during the next two years, and to regularly review the issues raised in the report so that persistent problems and failures are addressed, rather than ignored as they have been in the past. The Committee believes that the MPD's homicide investigation program must attain the highest professional standards and achieve a much higher case closure rate, and will work in partnership with the MPD toward that end.

Part 2 of this report, which begins on p. 12, summarizes the testimony and discussion at the Committee's January 25, 2001, public oversight roundtable. Part 3 of this report, which begins on p. 36, provides additional background on MPD's homicide investigative practices and case closure rates. Part 4 of this report, which begins on p. 50, sets out future directions for Committee research and oversight. Part 5 of this report, which begins on p. 58, contains a summary of the Committee action on this report.

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The January 25, 2001, public roundtable included a morning segment in which the Committee heard testimony from public officials responsible for homicide investigations and from individuals with expertise in homicide investigations. The hearing also included an evening segment for members of the public to express their views. Copies of the written statements presented by witnesses in the morning segment are included as Attachment B to this report. Copies of the written statments presented by public witnesses in the evening segment are included as Attachment C to this report.

Morning Segment of the Public Roundtable

Councilmember Patterson opened the hearing by acknowledging the December, 2000, Washington Post series and said the hearing provides the Department with "an opportunity to respond in public and on the record." She said the hearing would "explore the full range of issues including training, supervision, deployment, investigative protocols, case tracking and information systems." Finally, she said, "this is the opening of a discussion, not the end point....Questions raised will be questions we return to in subsequent hearings in March and later this year."

Chief of Police Charles Ramsey was the first witness in the morning segment of the public roundtable. Chief Ramsey began his testimony by trying to place the issue of homicide investigations and case closures in a broader context. First, the Chief pointed out that there has been a dramatic reduction in homicides in the District over the past decade. In the year 2000, the District recorded 237 homicides, the lowest total since 1987 and the fourth consecutive year in which homicides declined. In fact, homicides have dropped by more than 50 percent since the peak of 482 murders in 1991. (note: homicide statistics provided by MPD that are cited in Section 3 of this report indicate that there were 479 murders in 1991. There may be other slight discrepancies in MPD data that are cited in this report). Chief Ramsey stated that the possible causes of the decline in homicide include a better economy, lower unemployment, fewer people in the "crime-prone" age groups, changes in drug abuse and trafficking patterns, and more effective policing. He added that "The bottom line is that we have made significant progress in bringing down the District's homicide rate from the intolerably high levels of a decade ago."

Chief Ramsey acknowledged that the lower homicide rate is nevertheless unacceptable, stating that "Compared with a decade ago, we are saving nearly 250 lives a year in the District. But I will not rest until that number is much, much higher." He acknowledged that "All the statistics in the world are meaningless when a loved one has been killed."

The second trend cited by Chief Ramsey is what he termed "the changing nature of homicide." The Chief stated that when he first became a police officer 33 years ago, "The vast majority of homicides involved victims and offenders who knew one another -- domestic violence, arguments between acquaintances and the like. Homicide investigations back then were usually less a case of 'Who done it?' as much as 'Where can I find the offender'?" As homicide cases became more complex, Chief Ramsey stated, homicide case closure rates nationwide dropped from 86 percent in 1968 to 64 percent in 1994, and the nationwide rate has remained below 70 percent ever since.

Chief Ramsey stated that like other major cities, the District's homicide case closure rate (also called the "clearance" rate) has traditionally been below the national average. The Chief stated that the MPD's closure rate had dipped as low as 48 percent in 1993. More recently, MPD achieved a 61 percent clearance rate in 1999 and preliminary figures for 2000 show a 57 percent clearance rate. Chief Ramsey stated that the nationwide average clearance rate for similarly sized cities was 61 percent in 1999 -- identical to the MPD's closure rate in that year.

Chief Ramsey expanded on his view that homicide clearance rates have dropped in the District and elsewhere, even as the number of homicides has fallen, because of the changing nature of homicide, including the increased frequency of murders committed by strangers. The Chief described a number of factors that make homicide case closure more difficult. He stated that more homicides involve victims and offenders whose relationship stemmed from drug use or other illegal activity. The Chief further pointed out that, "More murders today are simply cold-blooded executions, often over drugs, carried out at times and locations in which few or no witnesses are around -- or the witnesses themselves are sometimes engaged in criminal activity ... Even in cases where we have witnesses, those witnesses are often too fearful to cooperate, especially in gang- and drug-related killings." The Chief concluded that, "These and other factors have combined to make the solving of homicides today that much more difficult than it was years ago." Chief Ramsey stressed that this situational analysis does not mean that he is satisfied with a 57 percent homicide clearance rate, and that it does not provide an excuse for why the District's clearance rate is not higher. Instead, he said that this context is important to understand the challenges that MPD faces.

Chief Ramsey then turned to some of the changes that MPD has made in homicide investigations and additional changes that are planned. One major change was the Chief's decision two years ago to move homicide detectives out of MPD headquarters and to base them in the seven police districts. The reason for decentralizing was to get detectives "closer to the communities they serve; to increase their day-to-day contact with PSA officers and other field personnel; to help them develop contacts in the community; and to increase the flow of information among detectives about all violent crimes occurring in a police district." Chief Ramsey noted that police chiefs in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other major cities had decentralized their homicide units. He added that he had implemented decentralization by providing detectives with additional resources -- adequate office space, new computers, filing systems, interview and interrogation rooms, videotaping systems, and enhanced security.

The Chief expressed dismay that the decision to decentralize the homicide unit had received an inordinate amount of attention and had obscured other more critical issues that affect homicide investigations and case closures. He also advised the Committee that many of the problems cited in the December 3-6, 2000, Washington Post series had occurred when the homicide unit was centralized. The Chief stated that:

"I believe this whole centralization-versus-decentralization issue has been both oversimplified and blown way out of proportion to its actual impact on criminal investigations. Improving our homicide clearance rate is not a matter of where a detective has his or her desk. If it were as simple as putting our violent crime detectives in one building or another, I would not hesitate for a minute to put them there. But the reality is just not that simple."

Chief Ramsey acknowledged the need for centralized oversight of a decentralized investigations unit and advised the Committee that he is creating a centralized homicide case management review function. The mission of the centralized review unit, Chief Ramsey stated, will be "to ensure that investigations follow established protocols, that the necessary paperwork is completed and filed, that closed cases are ready for prosecution, and that sufficient progress is being made on open cases. This will be an important step forward in ensuring consistency and accountability in our homicide investigations."

Rather than focus on centralization or decentralization, Chief Ramsey urged policymakers and residents to "get to the true crux of the matter: the quality of our investigative process, the quality of our investigators and supervisors, the quality of the tools and training available to them, and the quality of our case management." He added that "Improving our homicide clearance rate is about improving our fundamentals -- basic blocking and tackling, if you will." Chief Ramsey then proceeded to outline his plans to improve the MPD's practices and procedures in investigating and closing homicide cases.

First, Chief Ramsey stated that MPD is "putting the finishing touches" on new standard operating procedures (SOPs) that cover all aspects of homicide investigations. The Chief noted that this document "establishes clear-cut standards for everyone -- from the initial call-taker in the communications center, to the patrol officer and supervisor on the scene, to the detectives, mobile crime technicians and others involved in the investigation." Furthermore, the SOPs set standards for key activities, such as preserving the crime scene, interviewing witnesses and identifying suspects at the scene, and canvassing the area for suspects. Finally, the SOPs define a strict review process for all homicide investigations, including a thorough review of every closed case to ensure that proper procedures were followed, as well as random audits of selected open cases every month to monitor progress. Chief Ramsey stated that the new procedures "eliminate discretion when it comes to the fundamentals, and strengthen accountability for detectives and supervisors in the conduct and management of their investigations." He further advised the Committee that the SOPs were a significant outcome of two best practices forums that MPD convened during the summer of 2000, bringing together homicide experts from across the country to help MPD incorporate the best ideas of the profession.

Another critical area targeted for reform by the Chief is the selection and retention of detectives. "Unlike almost every other major city department in the country," Chief Ramsey stated, "the MPD for years has not used a competitive process for promoting police officers to detectives. That is about to change." The Chief described plans to unveil, "in the very near future," a testing procedure for detectives similar to those already in place for promotions to sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. The procedure will involve minimum experience and performance levels that police officers will have to fulfill to qualify for a detective position. New detectives will also have to complete a probationary period in which they demonstrate their competence for the position "in a real-life setting." Chief Ramsey added that MPD has some excellent detectives, but that there are also "some detectives who do not measure up and need to be removed." The new performance standards, Chief Ramsey stated, would allow the MPD to remove those detectives who are unqualified.

The Chief turned to training as the next topic. Three years ago, the Chief stated, experienced detectives at MPD did not receive any regular training. He advised the Committee that he had already addressed that deficiency by requiring all officers, including detectives, to complete 40 hours of in-service training per year, complying with legislation enacted by the Council in 1998 that requires at least 36 hours of in-service training each year. The Chief also described the specialized courses made available to detectives, including interviews and interrogations, sex offense investigations, child victimization, and others. During calendar years 1999 and 2000, MPD offered 46 specialized training courses, attended by 1,978 staff members, both detectives and officers. To continue improving the training program, MPD is creating a new criminal investigators academy for its detectives that will cover the fundamentals of criminal investigations, standard operating procedures, and technology resources.

Chief Ramsey then described the role that technology would play in upgrading MPD homicide and other investigations. MPD had just implemented the latest version of the Washington Area Criminal Intelligence Information System (WACIIS), according to Chief Ramsey. WACIIS was first installed in 1992 and Chief Ramsey stated that it had been underutilized in the past. The Chief advised the Committee that the upgrades would allow detectives to store and retrieve photographs of crime scenes and view offenders' mugshots directly from computers in their district stations. Detectives will also be able to prepare and post reports online, and to immediately print copies. Information about arrests will be immediately available to all districts through the new system. By mid-2001, detectives should be able to transmit arrest reports electronically to the U.S. Attorney's office through the new system. To make sure that WACIIS' potential is properly exploited, Chief Ramsey stated that he has required all detectives to complete WACIIS training in order to stay in their positions.

Chief Ramsey completed his review of MPD efforts to improve homicide investigations by describing the department's review of all (open and closed) homicide cases betweeen 1990 and 2000. The Chief said that he ordered the study, led by former homicide investigators from MPD and other agencies, because "I knew we had problems with our homicide investigations but ... wanted to be informed by a thorough and independent review." Since September 2000, the review team has looked at 1,825 closed cases and determined that 1,539 were properly closed by arrest and that 252 were properly closed administratively. Only three of the 1,825 cases remain reopened for investigation, according to the Chief.

Chief Ramsey also advised the Committee that the case review team had located 378 master case jackets that were missing from the homicide file room maintained at police headquarters. The Chief stated that he has instituted a new protocol for the homicide case file room so that complete records will be maintained in the future. MPD is using the information compiled in the case review to enter data into WACIIS and an FBI data base called VICAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program). By meeting the FBI's data requirements, the MPD will have access to the VICAP data base. Together, the updated WACIIS data base and the VICAP system will allow MPD to analyze and map cases to detect patterns and identify suspects.

In conclusion, Chief Ramsey noted that the reforms he outlined, "taken as a whole ... represent a major step forward in ensuring quality, enhancing accountability, and improving performance." He called on the Committee and the Council to support MPD in its systemic, long-term reform effort. Chief Ramsey noted that the District is the only major city in the country that does not operate and maintain its own crime laboratory; most of the MPD's forensic evidence is sent to the FBI for processing. The Chief stated that "To guarantee the kind of quality and turnaround needed for criminal investigations today, our city needs a fully functional, state-of-the-art crime laboratory of its own." In addition, the Chief noted that the District lacks an effective DNA law that would support the police in collecting and analyzing DNA evidence as an aid to criminal investigations, including but not limited to homicide. He called on the Council to support the "two common sense measures" that he described. (note: on February 6, 2001, Councilmembers Patterson and Brazil co-introduced Bill 14-63, the "DNA Sample Collection Act of 2001," which would designate felony offenses for which persons convicted shall be subject to mandatory DNA sampling. The Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a public hearing on the legislation on March 8, 2001.)

Chairperson Patterson asked Chief Ramsey how the MPD could lack a performance evaluation system for detectives, noting that the establishment of such an evaluation system was a key recommendation of the Special Committee on Police Misconduct and Personnel Management that she had co-chaired with Councilmember Evans in 1998. Chief Ramsey stated that the collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) limited his ability to establish a performance evaluation system, and that the FOP had filed a grievance when MPD attempted to implement changes to the system. In response, Ms. Patterson expressed the view that performance evaluation is a management prerogative and noted that she had worked with the D.C. Public Schools in 1995 to give DCPS management the exclusive responsibility to design and implement performance evaluation. (note: the collective bargaining agreement between MPD and the FOP does require any changes in the performance rating plan to be negotiated. Nevertheless, the plan that is in place calls for annual ratings of outstanding, above average, average, below average, or unsatisfactory, and provides that employees with unsatisfactory ratings will be denied pay increases and referred for other disciplinary action).

Ms. Patterson also asked Chief Ramsey about the accuracy of a statement in a Washington Post article that only 11 of 33 homicide supervisors have experience in the field. Chief Ramsey could not answer definitively, but he said that what matters most are case management skills and that such skills are lacking. Ms. Patterson also cited a quote from a Washington Post article of a detective who said that it is not unusual to come to work after a weekend and find a homicide case on his desk. Chief Ramsey said that deployment changes need to be made to take shifting crime patterns into account, so that every homicide case is immediately assigned. He added that very few people want to work on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. In response, Ms. Patterson noted that the need to take shifting crime patterns into account sounds like an argument for centralization.

Councilmember Chavous stressed the importance of outreach to families, and expressed the view that it would be beneficial for MPD to create a family outreach unit, and to do so quickly. Mr. Chavous also expressed concern about the decentralized structure for homicide investigations, noting that it can create a "silo" approach in which investigators may be unable to share or take advantage of information. Chief Ramsey stressed what he sees as the changing nature of homicide and the growth in stranger crimes, which require a different approach, adding that he views "solvability" factors as more important than centralization or decentralization. The Chief also stated that gang activity and drug-related crime are very local, and that investigators are more likely to solve cases if they get to know a community and its residents well.

Councilmember Ambrose said that she is very concerned about homicides in the Fifth District. Mrs. Ambrose then cited some of the recommendations from best-practices forums convened by the Chief, noting that they seem to support an argument for centralization of homicide investigators. She noted that the District is a small city, and that crime spills over from one police district to another, using as an example the case of a teenager who was killed and whose body was dumped behind Anacostia High School. This case spanned both the 6th and the 7th Districts. In response, Chief Ramsey said that the best practices study called for more centralized oversight, not deployment. He acknowledged that crime spills over district boundaries, but stressed that a lot of crime is very neighborhood-based. The Chief reiterated his view that there were serious problems in homicide investigations when the unit was centralized, and pledged that if decentralization did not work, he would be willing to change the organizational structure "in a heartbeat."

Mrs. Ambrose expressed the view that there are serious personnel and communications problems in MPD's investigative ranks, adding that when she goes to patrol service area meetings, she finds that officers do not know about burglaries being discussed because "that wasn't on my shift." Accordingly, she expressed skepticism that weekly, one-hour meetings of commanders are sufficient to share information about homicides. Executive Assistant Chief Terry Gainer stated in response that there is much more coordination and discussion than a one- hour meeting held by top officials every week.

Councilmember Fenty described his experiences in going to the scene of a November 6, 2000, homicide on Georgia Avenue, noting that police arrived at the scene very quickly but that there did not seem to be much follow-up investigation. He referred to a Judiciary Committee background memo stating that of homicide cases that are solved, almost 33 percent of homicide are solved almost immediately and stressed the importance of launching investigations quickly and taking the proper investigative steps from the outset. Chief Ramsey agreed with Mr. Fenty's point, noting that MPD's new standard operating procedures will help ensure that detectives follow all of the necessary steps in an investigation from the moment that a homicide is reported. For example, a detective must arrive to interview the responding patrol officers and to canvass the neighborhood to identify witnesses or others who might know something about the crime.

Mr. Fenty also stated that there is a widespread feeling that homicides in one part of the city are not considered as important as in other areas -- a perception that "That's just another homicide at 7th & Emerson." East of Rock Creek Park, or east of the Anacostia River, there is a sense that cases don't get as much attention as the murders that occurred in a Starbucks near Georgetown in 1997. In response, Chief Ramsey stated that there is no "magic pattern" of deployment for homicide investigations. In each case, MPD officers need to protect and record the scene and take other necessary investigative steps. Ultimately, it is the outcomes that are important, Chief Ramsey said.

Councilmember Brazil asked Chief Ramsey if his proposed budget for fiscal year 2002 would reflect the need to beef up the homicide investigation function. Chief Ramsey noted that there are a lot of vacant positions, and that many experienced detectives are near the retirement age. Councilmember Brazil also expressed concern about the practice of administratively closing homicide cases. In response, Chief Ramsey assured Mr. Brazil that such "exceptional clearances" follow certain rules and that each case will be reviewed by an oversight panel to make sure that the case closure was justified.

Chairperson Patterson followed up on Mr. Brazil's questions on administrative closures, and asked about MPD's practice of closing a case when the U.S. Attorney declines to prosecute the suspect. Chief Ramsey acknowledged that there is pressure to close cases, but he stated that if the case closure rate was low and homicides were investigated as thoroughly as possible, he would be satisfied. The Chief added that he does not believe that cases are investigated as thoroughly as possible, so he is far from satisfied with current performance. Chief Ramsey also stated that the FBI/UCR standards indicate that a case should be closed even when the U.S. Attorney declines to prosecute. He further advised the Committee that Executive Assistant Chief Gainer will have to approve all administrative closures of homicide cases in the future.

Ms. Patterson then asked about the continuing disarray of homicide case files, noting that a National Drug Intelligence Center report issued in 1996 had cited problems similar to those highlighted more recently by the Washington Post. She cited several memoranda issued by homicide unit commanders in 1997 and 1998 saying that detectives would be disciplined if they failed to maintain complete case files at MPD headquarters, and asked if anyone had been disciplined for missing or incomplete case jackets. Chief Ramsey stated that no one had been disciplined, describing the problem as a supervisory issue related to case management. The Chief added that he was going to centralize responsibility for case management. Chairperson Patterson pressed the Chief about why no one had been disciplined when there had been numerous explicit violations of MPD policy. In response, Chief Ramsey stated that it was often difficult to tell who was at fault and that the problem had been exacerbated by frequent reorganizations of the homicide unit in recent years. Ms. Patterson indicated that she was not satisfied with this explanation, noting that accountability concerns had been raised by the Council's Special Committee on Police Misconduct and Personnel Management in 1998, and that the Council had overhauled the personnel law in 1998 to give managers the tools to hold employees accountable.

Councilmember Fenty pointed out that New York City's homicide rate is much lower than that of the District -- with a rate of 8.6 murders per 100,000 people in New York, compared with 49.7 murders per 100,000 people in the District -- and asked how the District can attain that same low level. Chief Ramsey said that New York had had incredible success, although it paid a price in terms of civil liberties. He expressed the view that the District could lower the annual number of homicides to less than 100, less than half of the current total. Chief Ramsey also stated that MPD is working on a proposal for a citywide forensic lab that would serve the MPD, the Department of Health, and the Medical Examiner's office; presently, the District uses the FBI's lab. In response to a question from Mr. Fenty, Chief Ramsey advised the Committee that MPD will rely not only on exams for choosing detectives; an interview and a review of past performance will also be important factors.

Chairperson Patterson then asked about the WACIIS upgrades and how MPD would avoid repeating the prior problems it had experienced with WACIIS. Chief Ramsey said that there was no mandatory training on WACIIS when it was first installed in 1992; this time, training will be mandatory. If employees do not undergo WACIIS training, they will not be able to stay in their jobs. The Chief also pointed out that more people were "computer-phobic" in 1992; now, there is a widespread understanding of the importance of computer skills. Executive Assistant Chief Gainer added that now that WACIIS is well designed, detectives will want to use the upgraded system.

Ms. Patterson then asked Chief Ramsey about the PD-50 reports that are used to track investigators' work. Chief Ramsey said that the PD-50s are no longer used, because they simply measure activity and not performance. He said that the forms used to include a case closure rate, but that this measure had been removed and needed to be brought back. Ms. Patterson stated that PD-50s were required by MPD policy, and asked the Chief if he was in violation of his own policies. Chief Ramsey acknowledged that MPD probably was in violation of its own policies.

Councilmember Ambrose asked Chief Ramsey where a new crime lab might be located, and also expressed her relief that MPD's new firing range will be located in Cheltenham, Maryland. Chief Ramsey said that he did not know about possible locations for the crime lab, and that the Mayor's office was handling the issue. In response to a question from Mrs. Ambrose, Chief Ramsey also stated that he did not know the status of a proposed public safety campus for MPD, the Fire Department, and other agencies.

Chairperson Patterson concluded the questioning of Chief Ramsey by stating that the Committee would hold regular follow-up hearings on MPD's homicide investigations and case closure rate. She asked the Chief for his view of when it would be appropriate to review MPD's progress, following the implementation of the draft standard operating procedures. Chief Ramsey expressed the view that it would be appropriate to review MPD's performance after the SOPs had been in effect for at least six months.

Gerald G. Neill, Chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police/Metropolitan Police Labor Committee, was the second witness. Sergeant Neill was accompanied by Detective Lorren Leadmon, who chairs the Fraternal Order of Police's Detective Committee. Sergeant Neill stated that he represents more than 3,300 men and women at the rank of sergeant and below on the police department, and added that he had served as a homicide investigator.

Sergeant Neill described the awesome sense of responsibility that homicide detectives feel for each case and the bonds that they form with victims' families and loved ones. "Each passing hour and day that slips by without bringing those responsible to justice, takes a personal toll on the detective and those who survive the victim," Sergeant Neill stated.

Sergeant Neill stated that MPD used to achieve a 90 percent homicide case closure rate, and attributed MPD's current performance to "a lack of proper management and resources." He expressed the view that Chief Ramsey's decision to decentralize homicide investigations was based on his experience in Chicago, which is much larger than the District. To improve MPD's homicide investigations and its case closure rate, Sergeant Neill stated that, "We must bring all of our homicide detectives back under one roof, where they can share experience, facts, techniques, and facilities." Sergeant Neill also called for the creation of a career path for officers who wish to become investigators, noting that "We must find the best investigators and move them to the most serious offenses in units utilizing the most effective models of operation." In calling for investigators to specialize in particular areas, Sergeant Neill asked "Do you want the person who is treating a life-threatening brain injury to be a 'well rounded' general practitioner or a brain surgeon? If you have cancer, do you want the 'well rounded' general practitioner or an oncologist?"

Chairperson Patterson asked Sergeant Neill and Detective Leadmon why the homicide case closure rate hasn't improved during a time when total homicides have dropped sharply. Detective Leadmon stated in response that the FOP's review shows that personnel, scene coverage, and flexibility are the most important elements related to MPD's success in closing homicide cases. He stated that in the 4th District, for example, investigators are spread far too thin. Detective Leadmon added that the size of investigative units needs to be doubled if decentralization is to work. Ms. Patterson also asked if the FOP had been able to review the draft SOPs for homicide investigations; Detective Leadmon said he had seen the draft SOPs and that the new guidelines were very good.

Sergeant Neill and Detective Leadmon stressed that family notification is very important, not only to family members but also to homicide detectives themselves. Detectives need information and support that the family and friends of homicide detectives can provide; they are the only people who care besides the police. Detective Leadmon also stressed that homicide supervisors must have experience as homicide investigators, stating that "You have to know the work to manage the work, and you have to know it well."

Chairperson Patterson then asked for views on performance evaluation, including Chief Ramsey's statement that the FOP contract is an impediment to performance evaluation. Sergeant Neill emphasized that the FOP wants to remove non-performers, because they are a threat to the safety of others. He stressed that the FOP is quite willing to bargain with MPD management on this topic.

Councilmember Ambrose also asked about a pay-for-performance approach. Sergeant Neill stated that there is already a performance component, because someone cannot advance as a detective without a satisfactory evaluation. He added that there are serious resource problems as well. Mrs. Ambrose urged the FOP to help the Council ensure that budget needs are met, and stressed that the Council needs to hear from FOP on questions such as the adequacy of Geographic Information Systems, the adequacy of training for WACIIS, and other topics.

David Schertler, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney (1984 to 1996) and the former chief of the U.S. Attorney's homicide unit (1992 to 1996), advised the Committee that he had worked almost exclusively on the investigation and prosecution of homicide cases during eight of his 12 years in the U.S. Attorney's office. "During that time," Mr. Schertler said, "I can say that I worked with just about every homicide investigator and supervisor in the Metropolitan Police Department." When he served for four years as head of the U.S. Attorney's homicide unit, Mr. Schertler supervised more than 20 prosecutors who handled homicide prosecutions. Mr. Schertler's responsibilities included helping to train and educate homicide detectives, assisting them in conducting their investigations, and reviewing investigations when detectives wanted to make an arrest.

Mr. Schertler stressed that, "Homicide investigations as a group are a unique and specialized type of criminal investigation. There are certain aspects of a homicide investigation that are unique to homicide cases and detectives need training and experience in those aspects of homicide investigations." He added that homicide cases are distinctive because homicide is the most serious type of crime that, accordingly, carries the most serious penalties, including the possibility of life imprisonment without parole in the District. Therefore, Mr. Schertler emphasized that homicide supervisors cannot be generalists; they must have extensive experience in the field. "Because of the nature of the crime of taking someone's life, our society and our community demand that a certain priority be given to solving these cases and making sure that justice is done. They demand that these cases be handled with the highest possible level of competence and professionalism." Mr. Schertler also pointed out that a police department's success in resolving homicide cases "is one of the most significant indicators of the overall performance of that department. The failure to solve homicide cases, leaving killers to go free and grieving families with no sense of justice, undermines the fabric of our society."

Mr. Schertler then outlined five recommendations for improving the performance of homicide investigations at MPD. First, he stressed the importance of centalization, saying that "Homicide investigations must be centralized in one homicide investigative unit, under one command." Decentralization, in Mr. Schertler's view, "splinters homicide investigators among seven police districts and prevents them from sharing intelligence and investigative ideas and experiences." He added that decentralization undermines department-wide consistency in training, investigative protocol, and accountability. Mr. Schertler further suggested that the goals of decentralization -- making investigators more familiar with communities and neighborhoods -- can be realized through a central homicide unit with subdivisions of investigators who are assigned to specific police districts.

Second, Mr. Schertler called for strong and experienced leadership in the homicide unit, with a commander who has the authority to "build a strong, supportive and experienced command structure of lieutenants and sergeants." Third, Mr. Schertler emphasized the importance of selecting quality homicide investigators. "Only the best should be entrusted to investigate homicides," Mr. Schertler stated, adding that there should be written and oral tests for promotion to the homicide unit and that investigators should be selected by a panel that includes the commander of the homicide unit and two senior members of management. Fourth, Mr. Schertler advocated a formal month-long training program, covering all aspects of homicide investigations and prosecutions for new investigators, as well as ongoing training to address new issues and technology, and to reinforce the basics. Finally, Mr. Schertler stressed accountability "for each and every homicide case. There should be weekly reviews by the supervising sergeants and lieutenants of each case under their command and written memoranda memorializing what is said in those meetings about the progress to date and the future steps in the investigation. The Commander should meet weekly with his supervising sergeants and lieutenants to ensure that every case is being worked in a thorough, expedient, and professional manner."

Mr. Schertler concluded his testimony by stating that his ideas were not new; and that then-Commander William Hennessy implemented many of these policies in 1993-94. "The results were immediate," Mr. Schertler said, with the homicide clearance rate rising quickly from 48 percent to 60 percent. "The city's homicide unit received uniform praise and was looked on as a model for the rest of the country." The more recent struggles of the homicide program, Mr. Schertler stated, reflect "a failure of (MPD) leadership, who have denied investigators the organizational structure, guidance, and resources they need to do their jobs well."

Chairperson Patterson asked Mr. Schertler how homicide investigators can get close to communities and build knowledge of neighborhoods, as well as trust, in a centralized deployment system. Mr. Schertler said in response that a central homicide unit could have a 7th District division, and that when a call came in from that district, the appropriate detectives would go to the scene. At the same time, detectives assigned to other districts who were available could also assist with the case by helping to control the crime scene and doing interviews. In that way, Mr. Schertler said, homicide investigators would be knowledgeable about neighborhoods, but resources could still be deployed flexibly to reflect changing crime patterns.

Ms. Patterson also asked Mr. Schertler what was different about the 1993-94 period when Mr. Schertler witnessed the implementation of reforms by Commander Hennessy. Everything was different, Mr. Schertler said in response. The unit was centralized and detectives in the homicide unit worked only on homicides; now, detectives might work on burglaries as well as homicides. Too many supervisors don't have a background in homicide, Mr. Schertler stated. He added that two- to four-week training, covering essential topics such as Miranda rights and forensic and medical evidence, used to be mandatory for new investigators.

Chairperson Patterson then asked Mr. Schertler for his perspective on the tension between MPD and the U.S. Attorney in prosecuting cases. "That tension exists, and will always be there," Mr. Schertler said. He noted that the standard for arresting someone -- probable cause -- is different from the need to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" in court. Mr. Schertler also expressed the view that centralization leads to better coordination between the MPD and the U.S. Attorney's office. Ms. Patterson asked Mr. Schertler how homicide investigative performance can best be measured. In response, Mr. Schertler recommended looking at conviction rates.

Councilmember Ambrose asked Mr. Schertler about links between different types of crime, noting that police officers sometimes do not take fingerprints after burglaries and pointing out that leads on other crimes might result if there was better investigative work in a host of areas. Mr. Schertler noted that such links may not be very promising for homicide cases, particularly in investigations of crime that are typically committed by small-time criminals. He added, though, that more stringent drug laws tend to lead to important observations and apprehensions.

Mrs. Ambrose then brought up the subject of centralization, noting that the District is smaller than other cities such as Chicago that have decentralized homicide investigations. She also cited the importance of having detectives together "to kick things around," pointing out that such discussions often lead to important information. Mr. Schertler agreed with Councilmember Ambrose's points, and added that centralization allows for a more consistent application of investigative standards -- which is hard enough to ensure, even under "one roof," in Mr. Schertler's view.

Retired MPD Captain William Corboy drew on his 20 years of experience as a homicide investigator in presenting his testimony to the Committee. Mr. Corboy challenged the idea that the "good old days" were really so good, and stressed that there had been persistent problems in MPD homicide investigations. He recounted his experience upon first starting as a homicide detective in 1981, when he handled 17 cases with little oversight or supervision even though he was the most junior detective and had no training. On the verge of quitting, Mr. Corboy remained a homicide detective after an experienced investigator started to mentor him. It took two or three years, Mr. Corboy said, before he was really capable of doing the work.

Mr. Corboy described two deaths that occurred in 1987 to illustrate his point that "Closure rates mean absolutely nothing to me." In this case, two homeless people occupying an abandoned building at 1461 P Street, N.W., died after a fire that was initially attributed to electrical causes. After investigating, Mr. Corboy found that there was no electricity in the building, and also identified an individual who had seen someone throw a Molotov cocktail into the house. The case was never reopened, according to Mr. Corboy, so it is recorded as a closed case and as an accident, instead of an unsolved homicide. Instead of case closure rates, Mr. Corboy emphasized that the quality of investigations is what matters. He noted that a "same- year" case closure rate of less than 40 percent in the last few years should have triggered a review of investigative practices, but added that MPD managers were at a loss about what to do.

Mr. Corboy stated that in early 2000, when the Washington Post requested homicide case files, he assumed that the Post was going to look at the growing use of administrative case closures. None of the practices exposed in the Post series, including the disarray of case files, was new, Mr. Corboy said. "We could have salvaged homicide cases in the year 2000," Mr. Corboy said, by properly working the cases.

Chairperson Patterson asked Mr. Corboy if he had seen MPD's draft SOPs for homicide investigations; Mr. Corboy said that he had not examined the SOPs. Ms. Patterson asked about in-service training for homicide detectives during Mr. Corboy's 20 years on the force. Mr. Corboy said that there had been little training, and that former assistant U.S. Attorney David Schertler had directly provided much of the training for detectives when he led the U.S. Attorney's homicide unit.

Ms. Patterson asked Mr. Corboy if crime mapping had been used at MPD before he retired last year. "We didn't even use pin maps," Mr. Corboy said. He described a March 1999 meeting detailing plans for the introduction of IRMA, a crime-mapping system, but said that he understands that IRMA is still not used today. Mr. Corboy also stated that he had requested homicide crime maps from the relevant MPD unit shortly before he left the force, and was told that this was not done on a routine basis. Mr. Corboy said that he had tracked homicides personally since 1988, and that his analysis shows that there are very localized crime waves. Therefore, flexibility in the deployment of homicide investigators is extremely important. Mr. Corboy advised the Committee that when there are a lot of homicides in a police district, the detectives become overwhelmed and naturally focus on the easiest cases. The harder cases don't receive the attention that they need, making it unlikely that they will ever be solved.

Chairperson Patterson then asked Mr. Corboy what MPD should be doing to exploit the potential of gun recoveries in solving cases. Mr. Corboy said that MPD has not recognized the importance of using gun recoveries as an investigative tool. Gun information should be part of WACIIS, MPD's criminal intelligence information system. Mr. Corboy expressed concern that an analysis of 1,800 unsolved cases by the National Drug Intelligence Center, completed in 1996, might not have been entered into WACIIS. Part of the problem, Mr. Corboy stated, is that WACIIS is a proprietary system without open architecture.

Mr. Corboy then described some of the problems with WACIIS. From the time WACIIS was first implemented in 1992, he said, the system was "extraordinarily difficult." As an example, Mr. Corboy stated that WACIIS lacked a "cut-and-paste" function allowing investigators to move information from one place to another. Detectives stopped inputting information into WACIIS because it was so cumbersome and time-consuming. Mr. Corboy said that he was not familiar with the recent WACIIS upgrade, so he could not say if the problems had been effectively addressed.

In response to additional questions from Chairperson Patterson, Mr. Corboy said that he did not think MPD could afford a "cold-case" squad when performance on newer cases is so poor. He also stated that he does not accept the argument that the nature of homicide has changed so markedly, making it more difficult to close cases. He expressed the view that MPD has not done the work needed to solve cases, so it is premature to claim that it can't be done. "I've done this work," Mr. Corboy said. "This is not theoretical to me." He stressed that in homicide cases, there is always someone out there who knows what happened.

Charles Wellford, chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of Maryland, described research he had conducted on the factors associated with the closing of homicide cases. He noted that homicide closure rates have declined over time, but added that "Some cities have continued to show relatively high clearance rates for homicide as well as for other crimes. The question that motivated our work on homicide clearances was 'What makes one department's clearance rates better than another'?" To answer this question, Professor Wellford and his colleagues examined 200 homicides in each of four large cities to identify the factors that affect homicide rates. In doing this work, the researchers collected information on 215 characteristics of the case or the investigation, and drew on the advice of experienced homicide investigators in designing the research.

Professor Wellford found that there were 51 elements that were significantly associated with closing a homicide case, and that 37 of these factors described what the police did to investigate and solve the case. Of the 15 characteristics that best predicted case clearance, the vast majority described activities that the police control.

Professor Wellford found that the likelihood of closing a case increased significantly when the following factors were present:

  • the first officer on the scene quickly notifies the homicide unit, the medical examiners, and the crime lab;
  • the first officer on the scene attempts to identify potential witnesses, secures the area, and identifies witnesses in the neighborhood;
  • a minimum of three detectives is assigned to the case; and
  • a detective arrives at the crime scene within 30 minutes.

In addition, Professor Wellford stated that his research also "demonstrates the growing importance of computer checks of various types, particularly computer checks on guns, suspects, and victims. Cases in which computer checks were conducted on the victim, suspect, witness, and guns were more likely to be cleared." He acknowledged that drug-related homicides continue to be the most difficult for police to solve, but cautioned that "The results of our homicide clearance study show that even in drug cases police responses can lead to improved levels of arrest."

Professor Wellford noted that, following the publication of this research, he had been asked by MPD to participate in two best-practices forums last year to review homicide investigations. He commended MPD for developing a research program to analyze past cases to understand the factors that affect the homicide closure rate in the District, and for its development of new standard operating procedures for homicide investigations. Professor Wellford stated that, "In my judgment, based upon reviewing homicide standard operating procedures in a number of large cities, if the operating procedures for homicides that are contained in the document labeled 'final draft December 2000' are carefully followed, the MPD will have one of the most comprehensive, evidence-based approaches to homicide investigations in the country."

Professor Wellford then commented on the measurement of homicide case closure rates. He noted that the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports define the closure rate as the number of closures in one year divided by the number of homicides that occurred that year. The other approach, Professor Wellford stated, is to calculate an "in-year" clearance rate, in which the number of closures for cases that occurred in the current calendar year are divided by the number of homicides that occurred in the calendar year. Professor Wellford described the FBI measure as the "standard definition" of the homicide closure rate, adding that the "in-year" closure rate can be misleading because the mean time for clearing a case is nine months (note: although most homicide cases are closed within the first six months, some cases that take much longer to solve raise the overall average). Therefore, Professor Wellford stated, homicide case closures will often occur in the year after the crime was committed, meaning that the in-year closure rate could be misleadingly low. He further advised the Committee that "From the research perspective, the best way to define clearances is to take all of the homicides in a year and then determine at various intervals whether those cases have been cleared."

Professor Wellford concluded his testimony with a discussion of centralizing or decentralizing the homicide investigative unit. He noted that some homicides -- perhaps 10 percent -- will never be solved, and that a significant proportion will be solved almost immediately at the crime scene. Therefore, a police department's performance will depend on how it handles the approximately 60 percent of cases that are neither simple, nor almost impossible, to solve. Professor Wellford expressed the view that community policing should help police departments solve those cases by building trust and knowledge of local circumstances. He stated that, "The logic of community policing, as it is applied in a homicide investigation situation, suggests to me decentralization can help overcome the reluctance of community members to assist police -- provided that the level of morale and prestige that comes with participation in a central unit can be maintained by the department. That is a big if and one that needs careful consideration."

Chairperson Patterson stressed the importance of Professor Wellford's finding that 37 of 51 factors that significantly affect homicide case closures are under police control. She asked Professor Wellford for his views on which of the 37 practices the MPD is not following. Professor Wellford said that accountability for a case must be established at the outset, and that the solving of homicide cases is largely a process of hypothesis testing that begins when a detective arrives on the scene. The detective has to keep testing his or her hypotheses, and must have someone looking over his or her shoulder as this proceeds.

Ms. Patterson asked Professor Wellford for his views on "cold-case" squads. Professor Wellford responded by saying that cold-case investigations should not be a priority in terms of resources, because of the need to focus on cases that are solvable. He added that there should be a triage process to identify the cases that are most likely to be solved. With regard to training, Professor Wellford stressed in-service training, in particular to help detectives learn about technological developments. He reiterated that computer checks were found to be important in his study, and that technological advances probably mean that such checks have even greater utility now. On the subject of performance evaluation, Professor Wellford cautioned that evaluations need to take into account the difficulty of cases that are assigned. Finally, he stressed the importance of the way in which police policies reinforce each other. As an example, he said that early arrival at the scene is important for detectives, but that this is difficult to achieve if detectives don't have cars that they can take home.

Louis Richardson, retired detective sergeant in the Metropolitan Police Department, advised the Committee about the importance of experience in the selection of homicide detectives and informants, and expressed concern that many people are in their jobs due to cronyism. In recruiting new investigators, he urged the MPD and policymakers to look at those who serve as "Officer Friendly" in junior high and senior high schools. These officers, Mr. Richardson stated, develop a rapport with youth and the knowledge about neighborhoods that will serve them well as investigators.

Chairperson Patterson asked Mr. Richardson what ideas or recommendations had made sense to him in today's hearing, and which ones did not. Mr. Richardson expressed the view that the burglary suspect should be used as a source of information because he might know about something that happened around the corner. He also stated that patrol service area officers should spend more time on liaison with families because the detectives don't always have time. Mr. Richardson also expressed skepticism about a possible District-owned crime lab, stating that it was more important to devote resources to hire more officers and train them properly.

Wilma Lewis, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, provided written comments to the Committee for the hearing. First, Ms. Lewis noted that MPD's homicide investigations "suffer from resource shortages in a number of areas." She stated that MPD lacks a sufficient number of experienced and well-trained detectives to investigate homicides. Ms. Lewis also cited a shortage of important equipment, including radios, cars, and functioning videotape machinery. The Mobile Crime Laboratory Unit, in her view, is not "adequately staffed or equipped to satisfy the forensic needs of the city's homicide cases." She added that "the MPD unit that conducts lineups is inadequately trained and poorly staffed" and that "the Medical Examiner's Office, among other deficiencies, does not have the staff to generate timely autopsy reports."

The U.S. Attorney expressed the view that substantial resources must be invested to correct the shortcomings described above. She wrote that, "Serious consideration should be given to the proposed D.C. forensic laboratory project and to increased funding for the Medical Examiner's Office to rebuild its toxicology laboratory and otherwise improve its services. We also suggest that support be given to MPD's efforts to update or replace WACIIS, its outdated and cumbersome investigative software." Finally, Ms. Lewis urged the Council to enact legislation designating the offenses for which a convicted offender must contribute a sample to a DNA data bank, and stated that other jurisdictions have had considerable success in solving homicide and other violent crime cases using DNA data banks. (as noted earlier in this report, on February 6, 2001, Councilmembers Patterson and Brazil co-introduced Bill 14-63, the "DNA Sample Collection Act of 2001," which would designate felony offenses for which persons convicted shall be subject to mandatory DNA sampling.)

Ms. Lewis also pointed to deficiencies in training, noting that "the quality of MPD's detective work reflects a lack of consistency that, in our view, is largely attributable to the absence of comprehensive training in the fundamentals of criminal investigation. Over the years, it has not been unusual for MPD officers to graduate to the detective rank without having a firm grasp of important investigative matters such as evidence handling, interviewing techniques and crime scene analysis, with the result that critical steps in homicide investigations are sometimes overlooked or unwittingly mishandled."

On the topic of decentralization of homicide investigators, Ms. Lewis stated that this approach can succeed "only if MPD has sufficient resources and manpower in each of the seven districts. To date, such has not been the case." She expressed the view that there are often too few detectives to respond to a homicide scene, canvass for witnesses, and take witness statements, and that the assignment of investigators to the police districts often leaves some district squads without experienced detectives or supervisors whose guidance is essential to the successful conclusion of an investigation. Ms. Lewis also advised the Committee that "Many of those benefits (of centralization) could still be achieved ... by assigning detectives by district within the centralized pool. MPD successfully employed such a model in the mid-1990s -- a period during which MPD achieved a higher homicide closure rate than is now the case."

Finally, the U.S. Attorney noted that the recent redeployment to street patrol of personnel from specialized units "has interfered with and adversely impacted the speed with which critical investigative tasks are impacted. Any delay in performing such tasks, like the processing of forensic evidence from a crime scene in a particular case, could easily jeopardize the detective's ability to close that case." Therefore, she called for careful consideration of whether an appropriate balance has been struck been police presence on the street "and the cost of diverting precious manpower and resources from the investigation of homicides and violent crime cases."

Evening Segment of the Roundtable

The Committee heard testimony from 18 public witnesses during the evening segment of the roundtable. Chief Ramsey along with at least a dozen MPD employees listened to all of the testimony, and were available to meet with witnesses to follow up on the issues and problems that they raised.

Leslie Dow testified about the death of his sister Jeannette Marie Dow, who was found murdered in the 3rd Street tunnel on September 29, 1999. Ms. Dow's murder remains unsolved. A ward of the state, Ms. Dow had been stabbed 16 times. Mr. Dow said that his sister, who was 46 years old at the time of her death, suffered from schizophrenia and had struggled with drug addiction. Ms. Dow had been in and out of St. Elizabeth's Hospital since she was 17 years old.

Mr. Dow stated that "Jeanette died -- not just by the hand of an assassin, she died also because the system failed her. Instead of being cared for and watched over properly, she was left to deal by herself. She was a sitting duck for the sick person who took her life." Mr. Dow concluded his testimony by saying "I feel tremendous hurt and betrayal -- I lost my only sister and it seems no one cares. There is a murderer on the loose and no one cares."

Chairperson Patterson asked Mr. Dow about the police investigation and whether he was kept informed as an investigation proceeded. Mr. Dow reiterated that he read about his sister's case closure in the newspaper, and that no one from MPD had contacted him (note: an MPD list of homicides between 1998 and 2000 lists Ms. Dow's case as open). He asked how there could be no active investigation of so many murders, and also appealed for more support for the mentally ill. Unsolved murders, Mr. Dow stated, tell people "that they can kill again." Mrs. Ambrose expressed her sorrow to Mr. Dow, noting that "There was a lot of pain on that list" of 1,500 unsolved murders.

Keith Jarrell, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for single-member district 6A03, opened his testimony by stating that "Washington, D.C., is truly a great place to live and a great place to commit murder ... Clearly, if you murder a citizen or a visitor in the District of Columbia, you stand an alarmingly high chance of getting by with it."

Mr. Jarrell then proceeded to describe the murder of Susan, a young neighbor of his, in early 2000, as well as the subsequent investigation of the murder. He noted that:

"Five and a half months later, that collection of evidence was sitting in a closet ... Through our intense questioning, we discovered that if there was a cataloging or organizational method in place, the Lieutenant in charge of the investigation could not tell us what it was. He did not know! The system failed! Our neighbor was dead, the murderer was still in the community and there were no answers or valid excuses."

After the police department scrambled to submit the forensics evidence to the FBI five months after the murder, Mr. Jarrell said, the U.S. Attorney's office "offered no follow up on the murder," adding that, "One phone call to check the status from a tickler system would have thrown up a red flag of concern." Nevertheless, this did not happen. Mr. Jarrell expressed the view that, "This frightfully high unsolved murder rate will never be brought under control until stricter standards, modern training, and proper oversight are instilled as the basis of how every case is handled."

Mr. Jarrell stated that "It is my greatest desire that if nothing else comes from this committee hearing you will move to immediately set standards of calling for a complete revision in the system, and every component of the investigation process," including "forensics, oversight, training and management of personnel and evidence, involvement of the prosecutor's office." He concluded by saying "Now nearly two years later through your efforts today Susan once again has a voice. Don't let the system continue to fail!"

Chairperson Patterson stated in response that the Committee will give voice to Susan, Jeanette, and other murder victims in the District. She cited the University of Maryland research that found that 37 of the 51 characteristics associated with the closing of homicide cases are under the control of police, adding that if MPD had good standard operating procedures in place covering all aspects of a homicide investigation, the community would not be witnessing so much suffering.

Councilmember Ambrose said that she had few questions in response to Mr. Jarrell's testimony, because she had lived through this particular case which occurred in her ward. She noted that the fault was not with the 1st District officers who rushed to the scene, but rather with the handling of the evidence and the subsequent investigation. She asked Mr. Jarrell if he knew what had happened to the individual who failed to process the evidence; Mr. Jarrell did not know because he was told by the police department that it was a private personnel matter. Mr. Jarrell reiterated his shock that the supervising lieutenant knew little about the case or about procedures for handling evidence. He asked the Committee why it was not possible for someone to put a notation in a book and say "Check on evidence by a certain date." Councilmember Ambrose pointed out that residents in patrol service area 106 had stayed on this case, and wondered how many other cases there were in which no one took action and processed the evidence. "We have too many throwaway lives in the District of Columbia," Mrs. Ambrose said.

Leroy Thorpe, Advisory Neighorhood Commissioner for single-member district 2C02, expressed the view that less attention is paid to the deaths of African Americans. He called on MPD to work better with individual communities, and also expressed the view that MPD's witness protection program is very ineffective.

Reverend Judy Talbert, Executive Director of the Reintegrating Alternatives Personal Program, described her experiences as the pastor of Faith Tabernacle of Prayer and as a member of the Clergy, Police, and Community Partnership formed by Chief Ramsey and the Reverend Anthony Motley in August 1999. Dr. Talbert stated that this partnership was formed to "reach and assist young people whose lives have been affected by drugs, violence, and crime." As executive director of the Reintegrating Alternatives Personal Program, Dr. Talbert helps provide mentoring, parole and probation monitoring, counseling, victim support, therapy, academic enrichment, job training, and other services to young people.

Dr. Talbert commended Chief Ramsey and the MPD for working collaboratively with the community and for achieving reductions in the homicide rate. She noted that the number of homicides had dropped from 454 in 1993 to 237 in 2000, and called upon all concerned invididuals to "work together as opposed to finger pointing, browbeating, and bashing."

Ms. Darnell Roseboro spoke about the loss of her son, James Lewis Bullock, Jr., who died after being shot four times on August 9, 1999, in the 1600 block of Olive Street, N.E. Ms. Roseboro outlined three main concerns.

First, she told the Committee that three detectives have handled her son's case and that the case remains unsolved. "If I had not stayed in contact with the police department on a regular basis," Ms. Roseboro said, "I would not have been aware of my son's case being transferred to three different detectives." Ms. Roseboro also stated that the detective currently assigned to the case has never initiated contact with her, although she follows up with him every two weeks. She expressed the view that leads in her son's case had not been properly pursued.

Second, Ms. Roseboro noted that her son had been murdered 17 months ago, and that she had been told that homicides that occurred this year were the priority. "Where does that make my son's case fall within the priority?" she asked.

Third, Ms. Roseboro said that she received a call on January 22, 2001, from Sergeant Hoop in the Fifth District. Sergeant Hoop was following up on a town meeting that Ms. Roseboro had attended on January 9, 2001. Ms. Roseboro said that the sergeant had incorrect information about her son's case and that she is no longer clear about who is working on the case or if there is a full investigation proceeding. She advised the Committee that "It once was suggested that my son's case be turned over to the Cold Case Team," and asked "How can that be suggested if a full investigation has not been completed?"

Ms. Roseboro concluded her testimony by stating that "I believe the attitude of the department is my son's case is just another homicide file number, because there are so many cases similar to his." She added that, "No person deserves to be murdered the way my son was. He was 25, born Christmas day, a godfather of seven, and had a heart of gold. He could walk in a room and make everyone smile. He would give his last to help his friends and family."

Dick Clark delivered the prepared testimony of Reverend Anthony J. Motley, who was unable to attend the roundtable. Mr. Motley's written statement described several barriers to effective homicide investigations, including "a climate of non-involvement" within the community as well as individuals' fear of being identified as a police witness. Mr. Motley also noted in his statement that some people "have family members who are either the victim or perpetrator of a homicide, and the family either wants to respond on their own terms or they don't want their friend or family member taken away from them."

To support effective homicide investigations, Mr. Motley emphasized the need for more trained and experienced detectives, "more up to date technology and resources allocated to the homicide detectives," and ways to protect witnesses and encourage them to come forward. Mr. Motley concluded his statement by saying "that the issue of unsolved homicides needs to not just be a police issue but a community issue ... We need to rally around our police department with resources and a promise to commit to a long-term sustained effort."

Cardell Shelton emphasized the need for vocational training, life skills training, and counselors in schools to help youth. He stated that the District needs more recreation centers and community centers, and called on the community to reach out and show its interest in children.

Ms. Hannah Cherry testified that her brother was killed on December 16, 1998, near Howard University. Her brother had worked in a supermarket in Chevy Chase, and according to Ms. Cherry, was left in an alley "worse than a dog or a cat." She called for community involvement and outrage, and asked, "Why are all these seats not filled tonight?" In response to Chairperson Patterson's questions about her brother's death, Ms. Cherry said that a Detective Wheeler was assigned to the case, adding that she had not heard anything from the police and that her brother's case was still open.

Rahim Jenkins, the director and president of the Righteous Men's Commission, described the work his organization had done with youth, including rites of passages programs and violence prevention efforts. In 1997, his group discovered that 150 women had been killed, 70 of whom were killed east of the Anacostia River. Mr. Jenkins expressed dismay that little had changed in four years. Mr. Jenkins noted the attention that the arrival of two pandas at the National Zoo had received and stated that if one of the pandas died, the panda would be the subject of news reports and a thorough investigation of his or her death.

Mr. Jenkins spoke about an attitude in the city that retaliation is an acceptable response to violence, almost as though people are willing to sit back and wait for retaliation to take place. He also pointed out that four years ago, bodies were piled up unexamined in the city morgue as an example of the lack of concern for people who died. Mr. Jenkins expressed the view that if a lot of murders occurred near Georgetown, there would be an enormous public outcry.

Mr. Jenkins stressed that there is no excuse for a detective not to call back a family member or friend of a murder victim, even if the detective cannot report any new information or progress on the case. He also emphasized the importance of employment and training for children, noting that the Mayor had just held a $550,000 youth summit but that more direct results are needed. Finally, Mr. Jenkins called on policymakers to hold police accountable. If Trinidad and Langston Terrace are having a beef, Mr. Jenkins said, police should know about it and be able to intervene before the cycle of violence continues. In conclusion, Mr. Jenkins stated that he had been giving the same presentation since 1997.

Councilmember Chavous stressed the importance of police responsiveness to the family and friends of murder victims, and suggested that within the next 30 days police should contact the family members of each homicide victim whose case is unsolved. He emphasized that every homicide case deserves and requires the same amount of care and attention.

Milton Brown testified about the death of his son, Milton Brown, Jr., on March 31, 1996. Almost five years after his son's death, Mr. Brown said that he would not go away and let his son's death become a statistic. Mr. Brown added that he had told police who the likely suspect was and that the suspect was in jail already when Mr. Brown had told them about the suspect. He disagreed with Councilmember Chavous' statement about the importance of each case, saying that black lives do not matter to the police.

Chairperson Patterson asked Mr. Brown for some of the details about the police investigation of his son's homicide. Mr. Brown said that he begged the police for follow-up, but that the case was eventually sent to the "cold case" squad. He said that his last contact with 3rd District investigators assigned to the case was two months ago, adding that the police treat family members "like they don't have any damn feelings."

Vernon Gudger, a police sergeant from MPD's 7th district described two highly publicized homicide investigations that were improperly handled, and compared these flawed investigations to internal MPD investigations of his own conduct that resulted in several suspensions. Sergeant Gudger expressed the view that he had been treated unfairly in these investigations. Chairperson Patterson advised Sergeant Gudger that the Committee would review the materials he had presented, but reminded him that the purpose of the roundtable was to discuss homicide investigations and that he should confine his remarks to that subject.

Loreitha Gray spoke about the death of her brother, Jerome Purcell Gray, Jr., on December 20, 1998. Ms. Gray described her brother as a hard-working individual who was not involved with drugs. She told the Committee that her brother's case was put aside for six months during the decentralization of the homicide squad; the case was reassigned to another detective during this organizational change. Ms. Gray said that her brother had died after being hit over the head with the top of a toilet tank, but that her family found more evidence at her brother's apartment -- clothing that did not belong to her brother, as well as a cigarette and cigarette lighter -- that the police had not secured. Ms. Gray said that she had called detectives numerous times since January 1999, but that no progress had been reported; in fact, there were no results from fingerprint or DNA testing.

Chairperson Patterson asked Ms. Gray about the current status of the case. Ms. Gray stated in response that another detective in the 6th District had been assigned to the case, and that this detective had given her some confidence that the investigation would move forward. Ms. Gray also described how lost she felt when she did not hear anything, saying that, "You lose hope; you lose faith."

Wilma Harper told the Committee that her niece was one of seven young girls or women who were killed by the "freeway phantom" between 1971 and 1972. Her niece was killed on September 5, 1972, just before she was to enter high school. The undertaker had found hair in her niece's mouth, but that now that there is technology to analyze the hair, the evidence is missing. Ms. Harper concluded her testimony by expressing her desire to teach young people basic life skills so that they can live within their means, and to work to console people who have lost family members or friends to homicide.

Sonise Muldrow spoke about the death of her brother, Kenneth Muldrow, Jr., who was beaten and found dead on December 8, 2000, at the age of 19. Ms. Muldrow told the Committee that she did not want to be here two years from now, and that she did not want her brother's case to end up with a cold case squad. She stated that the detectives assigned to her brother's case had been helpful, but that she had to go to them first.

Ms. Anderson spoke about the murder of her two sons, who were shot in front of her house in September 1986. The detective assigned to the case said that he did not have time to call her, Ms. Anderson said. The shooting started after an altercation, according to Ms. Anderson, who also asserted that the police know who was responsible. The case is still unsolved. Ms. Anderson said that she received a call recently from the police for the first time in 11 years. She concluded her statement by stating that the lives of children have been devalued.

Mary Junior told the Committee that her son, David Junior, was slain on July 20, 1993. Detectives came to her house but only talked to her brother. After calling the detectives, she was told that they had no leads. Former Police Chief Fred Thomas assigned another detective to the case, but it was never solved. Ms. Junior said that she received a phone call from the police the prior week, following her attendance at a January 9, 2001, town hall meeting on homicides sponsored by WOL.

Elsie Miles testified that issues such as robbery and racial profiling need to be addressed. She said that her mother disappeared in 1975 and her body was not found for three days. "I will never give up," on her case, Ms. Miles said.

Richard Bartel, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for single-member district 3C04, suggested that the MPD consider receiving pro bono assistance from licensed private investigators.

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The Committee examined a range of other information about MPD's homicide investigations and the case closure rate to inform its oversight work and provide additional perspective on the topics discussed at the January 25, 2001, public roundtable. The Committee examined available data about homicides in the District, as well as some comparable data for other jurisdictions; surveyed external research on homicide investigative practices; and reviewed supplemental information provided by MPD. This section summarizes some of the key facts and findings.

Background on Homicide Statistics

The FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system defines homicide as the willful, non- negligent, killing of one human being by another. The classification of this offense is based solely on police investigation, as opposed to the determination of a court, medical examiner, coroner, jury, or other judicial body. Justifiable homicides are not included in the homicide count.

If a homicide occurs in one year, but is not ruled to be a homicide until a subsequent year, the homicide is counted in the year when it was determined to be a homicide, according to the UCR program definitions. The reason for this policy is that the homicide is not known to the police until it is ruled to be a homicide. Therefore, no reporting of the homicide can take place before that point.

In defining case closure, often referred to as case "clearance," the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics has stated that "Law enforcement agencies clear or solve an offense when at least one person is arrested, charged with the commission of the offense, and turned over to the court for prosecution." In addition, cases can be closed through "exceptional" means -- which are often referred to as "administrative" case closures.

Department of Justice guidelines state that "A law enforcement agency clears a crime by exceptional means when elements beyond its control prevent the placing of formal charges against the offender. In such circumstances, law enforcement must have identified the offender, possess enough evidence to support arrest, and identify the offender's location." Some of the circumstances that may permit exceptional clearances include the death of the offender; the victim's refusal to cooperate with the prosecution after the offender has been identified; the arrest or imprisonment of the offender due to another crime or crimes; or the offender's flight to another jurisdiction where extradition is not possible.

The FBI's data show that the national homicide clearance percentage was 69 percent in 1999. Through most of the past four decades, the national clearance rate fell steadily, dropping from 94 percent in 1961 to a low point of 64 percent in 1994, before inching back up to 69 percent in 1999.

There are a number of theories about why homicide clearance rates have gradually declined over time, although none has been definitively proven or widely accepted. One leading explanation is an increase in stranger-on-stranger homicides, partly due to illegal drug activity; such crimes are said to be tougher to solve. Some researchers cite a reduced willingness by the public to cooperate with police, particularly in urban areas where police are less trusted, and others point to reduced resources for police investigations.

Homicides in the District of Columbia: Sharp Reductions Still Leave the District With One of the Highest Homicide Rates in the Nation

Homicides have dropped by more than 50 percent in the District, from a peak of 479 in 1991 to 237 in 2000. An examination of homicide data for the District's seven police districts, covering 1993 to 1999 (final data for 2000 have not been released) suggests that most of the city has shared in the sharp reduction in homicides. The table below compares the 1993 and 1999 homicide totals for the seven districts, and shows the percentage change between those years.

Homicides in MPD's Seven Police Districts, 1993 and 1999

Police District

Homicides, 1993

Homicides, 1999

% Change, 1993 to 1999





























Total, Citywide




Source: Metropolitan Police Department

In fact, only the 2nd and 3rd Districts have failed to see considerable progress in reducing homicides, though the overall number of homicides in the 2nd District is so low that it is hard to detect any pattern. In the 3rd District, there were 34 homicides in 1993 and 31 in 1999.

The 7th District, which suffered by far the most homicides in 1993, had achieved the sharpest reduction in homicides -- 62 percent -- by 1999. The total number of homicides in the 7th District fell from 133 in 1993 to 51 in 1999. The 5th District also achieved a very sharp reduction in homicides (57 percent), from 85 in 1993 to 36 in 1999.

Despite these major and welcome gains, the District's homicide rate remains extremely high, compared with other cities. As a result, MPD homicide investigators face some of the most difficult and daunting challenges in the nation.

U.S. Department of Justice statistics from 1998 suggest that the District was the murder capital for cities with populations greater than 250,000, with a murder rate of 49.7 per 100,000 population. This rate slightly exceeded that of New Orleans (48.8) and Baltimore (47.1). In New York, by contrast, the homicide rate was 8.6 per 100,000 -- one-sixth that of the District. (note: the U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that the District's population was almost 50,000 more than the 1998 estimate, meaning that the District's actual homicide rate may have been lower than that of Baltimore and New Orleans -- assuming that population had not been underestimated in those cities as well).

The following table showing 1998 homicides in cities with similar populations to the District reflects the magnitude of the challenge facing MPD. The District had more than twice the number of homicides as Memphis or Milwaukee, and eight times the number of homicides as Boston.

Homicides in Washington, D.C., and Similarly Sized Cities, 1998


Homicides, 1998

Population (est., 1998)

Washington, D.C.



Boston, MA



Cleveland, OH



Denver, CO



Memphis, TN



Milwaukee, WI



Nashville, TN



Seattle, WA



Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, pp. 281 to 290.

At the same time, it is important to note that police departments affect the homicide rate. High homicide rates can reflect a police department's failure to deter homicides or to identify and apprehend violent criminals. MPD also has greater resources to fight crime than police departments in similarly sized cities. For example, Boston's Police Department has an FY 2001 budget of $213 million and 3,010 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), whereas MPD has an FY 2001 budget of $305 million and 4,580 FTEs, even though both Boston and the District are very similar in population.

The District's Homicide Case Closure Rate Falls Even as the Number of Homicides Drops

It is surprising -- and distressing -- that MPD's homicide case closure rate dropped from 70 percent in 1997 to 57 percent in 2000, even as the number of homicides continued to fall. The case closure rates shown in the table are those used by the FBI in its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system. This measure reflects the number of homicides solved in a calendar year, divided by the number of homicides that occurred during the same year.

Homicides and Case Closure Rates in the District of Columbia, 1993 to 2000


# of Homicides

Homicide Cases Closed

Percentage of Cases Closed

































Source: Metropolitan Police Department. This table uses the FBI's Uniform Case Reporting measure for homicide case closures.

The table shows that MPD recorded a 57 percent case closure rate both in 1996, when there were 397 homicides, and in 2000, when there were 237 homicides. In other words, there was no increase in the homicide case closure rate even though the number of homicides fell by 40 percent. The sharp decline in homicides, which has been accompanied by reductions in sexual assaults, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts, and arsons, should give detectives more time to focus on and resolve particular cases, and the District should be witnessing significant increases in the homicide case closure rate.

A 1997 study by the National Institute of Justice of homicides in eight cities ("A Study of Homicides in Eight U.S. Cities: Trends, Context, and Policy Implications") provided empirical support for the idea that declining homicide rates should lead to increased case closure rates, as researchers reported a statistically significant link between the two. The same study also found that decreased case closure rates were linked to increased homicide rates in the following year. Quite logically, if offenders are not identified and punished, they may strike again. In addition, the perception that punishment is neither sure nor swift may embolden others to commit crimes. Therefore, MPD's failure to increase the homicide case closure rate may make it more difficult to continue the sharp reductions in homicide that the District has experienced in recent years. This is a result that the District cannot afford to tolerate.

The In-Year Case Closure Rate Shows Steady Erosion in MPD Homicide Investigative Performance

Another measure of homicide investigative performance -- the "in-year" case closure rate -- demonstrates that MPD's performance in solving homicides has steadily deteriorated. The "in- year" case closure rate is the number of cases that were solved in the same calendar year that the homicide occurred, divided by the total number of homicides that occurred during the year.

The in-year closure rate presents a more immediate, or short-term, measure of performance and is important because cases that are not solved in the first few weeks or months are much less likely ever to be solved. The University of Maryland study described earlier in this report showed that, on average, almost 30 percent of cases were closed within one day of assignment to a detective, that 50 percent were solved within a week, and that 88 percent were solved within six months in the four cities that were part of the study.

In addition, administrative closures, which often result from the death of a suspect or the jailing of a suspect on another charge, are less likely to occur during the same year that a homicide occurred. Therefore, the "in-year" closure rate may be a better measure of current investigative performance. The table on the next page shows that the "in-year" case closure rate has plunged by more than 20 percentage points even as the number of homicides has fallen by more than half.

Moreover, the table raises some serious questions about the overall output of the MPD's homicide investigations. In the early 1990s, when the murder rate was much higher, the MPD was closing more than 200 cases during the same year. As of 2000, MPD only closed 86 cases that occurred during that same year. Some cases will never be solved, and the welcome reduction in the number of homicides means that the number of cases solved would inevitably decline. Still, it seems clear that the reduction in workload should have enabled MPD homicide investigators to devote more attention to individual cases and keep the overall case closure rate above 100.

Homicides and "In-Year" Case Closure Rates in the District of Columbia
1990 to 2000


# of Homicides

In-Year Closures

In-Year Case Closure Rate













































Source: Metropolitan Police Department.

Comparing the FBI and In-Year Case Closure Rates

A comparison of the the percentage of cases solved during the same year to the percentage of cases solved from prior years reveals an unusual trend: namely, that the ratio of in- year closures to prior-year closures has shifted dramatically. Consider the following:

  • In 1993, according to MPD data, the 48 percent case closure rate reflected a 45 percent in-year case closure rate, plus a 3 percent addition reflecting homicides that had occurred in prior years. This means that six percent of the cases closed during 1993 were from prior years.
  • In 2000, according to MPD data, the 57 percent case closure rate reflected a 36 percent in-year case closure rate, plus a 21 percent addition reflecting homicides that had occurred in prior years. This means that 37 percent of the cases closed during 2000 were from prior years.

This marked disparity could reflect a number of factors. First, in the 1993 base year, MPD homicide investigators may have been doing a particularly poor job of investigating prior- year homicides, or investigators' focus might have been on very recent crimes. As MPD improved its performance, the number of prior-year homicides that were solved increased, increasing the percentage of prior-year cases solved. Cold-case or other specialized squads could also be responsible for a large increase in prior-year closures.

At the same time, there are less benign explanations for the sharp increase in the percentage of prior-year case closures, from 6 percent in 1993 to 37 percent in 2000. One obvious explanation is an increase in administrative closures in prior-year cases that conceals a steeper drop in homicide investigative performance. The Washington Post's "Fatal Flaws" series supports such a conclusion, at least in part. The Post reported that approximately 10 percent of homicide cases were closed administratively between 1988 and 1990, with that figure almost doubling to 18 percent by 1997. Data provided by MPD for 1998 show that the administrative closure rate increased to 19 percent, with 32 out of 169 cases closed administratively. Even worse, there could be an increase in poorly documented and justified case closings of all types -- cases closed by arrest and cases closed by administrative means.

Ultimately, the overall pattern is still problematic. As stated earlier, of homicides cases that are solved, the vast majority are solved within the first six months. The steady decline in MPD's in-year case closure rate suggests an overall decline in investigative performance that makes a corresponding increase in prior-year closures even more puzzling. If there are, in fact, vast improvements in prior-year case closures, then those techniques need to be more widely shared so that cases can be solved more quickly on the front end, when witnesses can be more readily identified and evidence can be secured.

Other Caveats About the Data

Homicide statistics, like any other kind of statistic, can be manipulated. Policymakers and the general public should interpret the homicide data provided by any police department with care, because there are a number of uncertainties about the data and there are some things that the data cannot tell us.

First, the standards that jurisdictions use to close a case may differ, and the standards may change over time. As noted earlier, if the MPD is relying excessively or inappropriately on administrative closures, then its overall case closure rate is inflated.

Second, case closure rates do not provide information about the ultimate disposition of a case, because some arrests do not result in indictments or convictions. When the U.S. Attorney declines to prosecute a homicide case presented by the MPD, the case is not reopened. Therefore, homicide case closures are an important indicator, but they are not the only measure that matters.

Finally, there is no guarantee about the integrity of the data or the systems that are used to compile, summarize, and report the data. The Committee has several concerns in this regard. First, a list of homicides for 1998, 1999, and 2000, generated by MPD on January 17, 2001, showed one obvious error -- the murder of Eric Plunkett, a Gallaudet University student who was killed in September 2000, was listed as closed due to arrest on October 4, 2000. As a result of the considerable publicity this case received, it is well known that a first suspect was released almost immediately following his arrest, and that the investigation of Mr. Plunkett's death continued until the arrest of another individual on February 13, 2001. In a conversation the following day with Councilmember Patterson, Chief Ramsey acknowledged that the case should have been carried as "open" but department staff failed to correct the computerized database between October 4, 2000, and January 17, 2001.

Second, the Committee received information from the Fraternal Order of Police suggesting that (1) six cases ruled as homicides during 1999 were not in fact counted as homicides during that year, and that (2) seven cases counted as closed in 1999 were in fact closed, and counted as closed, in prior years. The Committee Chairperson has requested that Chief Ramsey review these allegations and report his findings to the Committee. The Department responded February 16, 2001, that the first six cases represented instances where deaths in prior years were ruled homicides in 1999 and that, therefore, they were correctly counted in 1999 statistics. MPD reported that the seven cases were appropriately counted as homicide cases in 1999, but included arrests made in other years. The arrests, and not case closure, were reflected in UCR data for other years, according to the MPD correspondence (see Attachment D to this report).

Comparative Data Suggest that the District Can Significantly Increase its Homicide Case Closure Rate

Comparative data indicate that the District has considerable room for improvement in the performance of its homicide investigations, as measured by the case closure rate and keeping in mind the limitations associated with this measure. Unfortunately, comparative data is not widely available and is therefore more suggestive than definitive. The FBI collects homicide clearance data from cities throughout the nation but does not publish the data, partly due to concerns about differing ways of collecting and reporting data among jurisdictions.

In his testimony during the Committee's public roundtable, Chief Ramsey pointed out that MPD's 61 percent homicide case closure rate for 1999 is identical to the national average during that year for cities with populations ranging from 500,000 to 999,999 (the 2000 Census resulted in a population count of 572,000 for the District). Nevertheless, the District's homicide closure rate fell during 2000, with the preliminary rate calculated at 56.5 percent (the national average for 2000 is not yet available).

It is also worth noting that during 1999, the average homicide case closure rate for cities with population between 250,000 and 499,999 was 70 percent. With a population of 572,000, the District is as close in population to many of the cities in the 250,000 to 499,999 category as it is to cities in the 500,000 to 999,999 group.

The Police Executive Research Forum published a report in 1999 that included UCR homicide clearance rates from a number of cities at various points in the 1990s, with much of the data from 1993. Although some of the information is not current, it nevertheless suggests that the MPD should be achieving much higher case closure rates than it is now. For example, Baltimore had a 69 percent clearance rate (1993); Chicago had a 70 percent rate (1993); Cincinnati, 90 percent (1993); Dallas, 71 percent (1996); and Minneapolis, 66 percent (1996). Broward County, Florida (which includes Fort Lauderdale) reported a 97 percent case closure rate for 1995. Because big cities have seen sharp reductions in homicide since the early to mid- 1990s, it is likely that their clearance rates have increased since that time.

Additional data on homicide clearance rates in large cities comes from "An Analysis of Variables Affecting the Clearance of Homicides: A Multistate Study," the research led by University of Maryland researchers described in Section 3 of this report. Researchers Charles Wellford and James Cronin examined homicide clearance rates and overall crime clearance rates in the 20 largest cities in the U.S., using data from 1994. The FBI provided the researchers with access to unpublished data as part of this study. In dividing the 20 cities into "high," "medium," and "low" clearance categories, Wellford and Cronin labeled Washington, D.C., as having a "medium" overall clearance rate and a "low" homicide clearance rate. The data presented earlier in this section show that there is little reason to believe that the District has improved its performance in closing homicide cases, compared with other cities. By contrast, Milwaukee's homicide case closure rate stood at 85 percent in 1991 and exceeded 90 percent in 1993.

In the same study, Wellford and Cronin also reported the startling conclusion that 96 percent of homicide cases can be solved if the following four conditions are met: (1) three or more detectives are assigned to the case, (2) the detective arrives at the scene within 30 minutes of being notified, (3) the detective documents the crime scene in notes, and (4) the detective follows up on all information provided by witnesses. Even if one of the conditions listed above was not met, the homicide case closure rate never fell below 92 percent in the four cities that Wellford and Cronin studied.

The following quote from Wellford and Cronin's paper is particularly instructive:

"We think that homicide cases, and most other crimes, begin with different levels of 'solvability.' Our research suggests that homicides do differ in regard to the probability of an arrest, but even more importantly, we think there are few homicide cases that given the right initial response, the right timing, and the right dedication of resources cannot be solved."

Chief Ramsey advised the Committee in response to written questions that he seeks to achieve a 65 percent homicide case closure rate during 2001. The available data for urban areas suggests that this is a useful short-term goal, and that the District should increase the closure rate to at least 70 to 80 percent in the longer term.

Background and Recommendations from MPD's Best Practices Forums

Chief Ramsey provided the Committee with additional information about some of MPD's plans to improve its homicide investigations and raise the homicide case closure rate, while ensuring that closures truly reflect the solving of a case.

A summary of best-practices forums (see Attachment E to this report) convened last year by MPD provided considerable information about the policies and procedures used in other jurisdictions, as well as reform plans that MPD could adopt. This information, covering detective selection, standard operating procedures, training, supervision, and removal -- supplemented the reform plans that Chief Ramsey outlined in his testimony at the Committee's public roundtable in January.

A review of detective selection procedures in Chicago, Boston, New York City, Houston, and Atlantic County, New Jersey, shows that detectives are typically selected from officers who have some experience, often two to four years, on the police force. Officers usually undergo a written exam, an oral interview, and a performance review before they are selected as detectives. Many new detectives start in property crimes, or sex crimes and family violence, before they can become homicide investigators. These policies stand in marked contrast to the District. In Chief Ramsey's words, "MPD has no detective selection process."

The consensus from the best-practices forums was that MPD should develop a formal detective selection process and require a minimum length of time, such as two to three years on the police force before officers can apply to become detectives. The screening process for detective candidates would include an oral interview, a writing sample, and a review of the candidate's work history at MPD. Newly selected detectives would begin by working on property crime investigations and would have to undergo a probationary period of 12 to 18 months.

Standard investigative protocols or case manuals, not surprisingly, were a feature of homicide investigations in Chicago, San Diego, Boston, New York, Houston, and Atlantic County. The consensus from the best-practices forums was that detectives and supervisors need a "moderately detailed standard operating procedure, so long as it allows some flexibility in investigative approach." The SOPs would "provide detectives with actual checklists that would guide them in investigations."

Chief Ramsey provided the Committee with a copy of the draft SOPs for homicide investigations, which he planned to implement in February 2001. The SOPs covers the actions of different types of personnel, including call takers, dispatchers, responding officers, detectives, and supervisors, at each stage of the investigative process and in different settings. For example, the SOPs describe the tasks that detectives should accomplish at the crime scene, at the hospital, and at the office. The guidelines address different aspects of an investigation, including forensic evidence; the handling, shipping, and storing of evidence; morgue procedures; and the contents and safe-keeping of reports and case jackets. Particularly important is the creation of milestones for lead detectives, investigative sergeants, investigative lieutenants, and patrol service area lieutenants at periodic intervals, including one day; seven days; 15 days, 30 days, 60 days, and every 30 days thereafter for the first year after a case is opened. In the second year after a case had been opened, the case file would be updated quarterly, and in the third year, annually.

The draft SOPs for homicide investigations also address the important issue of keeping families and other loved ones informed about the status of a homicide case. The SOPs establish the standard that detectives should contact an individual designated by the family every two weeks for the first two months after a case is opened, and once each month after the first two months. One year after the case had been opened, MPD would reevaluate the case to determine if regular family notification is still needed to advance the investigation and meet the family's needs; if not, MPD would then provide annual updates on the status of the case. The Committee has provided comments to MPD on the draft procedures including recommendations on aspects that merit review, and that correspondence is included as Attachment F to this report.

The review of training in the comparison jurisdictions (Boston, Chicago, Houston, New York, San Diego, and Atlantic County, New Jersey) revealed that it is a common practice to require a training period of approximately four weeks to new detectives and to provide specialized training to newly assigned homicide investigators. The consensus reached at the best-practices forums was that MPD should institute a three- to four-week curriculum for new homicide investigators, and provide new detectives and investigative supervisors with experienced mentors. Other recommendations were that MPD should provide newly assigned homicide investigators with specialized training in crime scene management, general homicide investigation, and specific types of homicide, such as homicide related to domestic violence. In addition, patrol officers responding to the homicide report should be trained in how to secure the crime scene, provide emergency care, and cooperate with detectives at the scene. Chief Ramsey advised the Committee that after the implementation of the homicide investigation SOPs, his next priority would be to implement a new training program for investigators at MPD's Institute for Police Science and to begin certifying the skills of experienced detectives.

The study of supervision and management procedures in other jurisdictions highlighted an emphasis on regular and thorough case review, as well as the importance of having detectives work as teams on particular cases. The consensus that emerged from the best-practices forums emphasized the importance of selecting experienced investigators to become investigative supervisors, as well as the importance of regular meetings between supervisors and investigators to review witness statements, track the analysis of evidence by the crime lab, and other investigative steps. The recommendations also stressed the importance of having detectives record their work in WACIIS so that supervisors can review their work, and the need for supervisors to use a performance evaluation tool. Another suggestion was that MPD should assess the need to deliver crime scene evidence technician services to homicide crime scenes, so that technicians can assist homicide investigators by taking photos and videos of the crime scene, dusting and extracting fingerprint evidence, collecting trace evidence, and collecting biological fluids for DNA analysis.

Some of the recommendations concerning supervision and management seemed to indicate concerns about the District's decentralization of its detectives, or at the least a need to strengthen the oversight of detectives operating from seven police districts. First, the forum participants recommended that MPD consider adopting a "team" approach to homicide investigations in place of its "lead detective" model. Another recommendation was to promote specialization by "not assigning homicide detectives to lesser crimes against persons" -- something that is more likely in a decentralized police district structure for detectives. "The most experienced detectives should be assigned only to homicide cases," the participants stated.

The best practices forum, as well as witnesses at the January 25 hearing, emphasize the importance of investigative experience for supervisors. A recent paper, "The Effective Detective; Identifying the Skills of an Effective SIO" (senior investigating officer), published by the British Home Office, concludes that three skill sets are necessary for senior investigative officers: investigative ability, knowledge levels, and management skills. This paper warns that if detective supervisors lack investigative experience, "There is an increased risk that an investigation will fail due to sub-optimal investigative decisions being made."

Other recommendations related to supervision and management were for MPD to conduct an analysis to determine if the allocation of highly experienced homicide investigators to each police district matches the workload, and to consider creating the position of homicide commander to monitor the quality and uniformity of major homicide investigations. In the present decentralized structure, detective lieutenants report to a field support captain and to the precinct commander.

On the final topic -- the removal of ineffective detectives -- the best-practices forums found little in the way of exemplary approaches that the District should follow, possbly an indication that the Metropolitan Police Department may need to look beyond other police departments for best practice information regarding personnel policy. One recommendation that emerged from the forum was for MPD to use an 18-month probationary period for new detectives, and use a formal evaluation process at the end of that period to determine whether the individual should be retained as a detective or returned to his or her prior assignment. Another recommendation was to use the SOPs as the basis for developing and implementing a performance evaluation tool, because "Rigorous ongoing accountability sessions may help prove whether a detective is doing his or her job well."

Additional Information Provided by the Metropolitan Police Department

MPD provided the Committee with supplemental information on a variety of other topics, including (1) plans for homicide case audit and review, (2) information about lines of authority and detective deployment, (3) ways of improving family notification, (4) the status of the witness protection program, and (5) the reporting of homicide case data. This information is summarized below.

First, Chief Ramsey advised the Committee that in the future the Office of Quality Assurance and the Office of Operational Services will audit the quality of open homicide cases, selected at random. The lead detective and his or her supervisor will be summoned to appear before senior officials from both offices, and the review will involve a discussion of the case status, an inspection of the case folder, and a dialogue about investigative strategy. The case audit will result in a report to the Executive Assistant Chief of Police, as well as monthly summaries for the Chief of Police and the Executive Assistant Chief of Police.

Second, Chief Ramsey provided data on the deployment of detectives and the command structure in the new decentralized system. Overall, there are 86 violent crime detectives who investigate homicides, 22 sergeants who supervise violent crime detectives, and seven lieutenants (one position is vacant) who manage violent crime detectives, for a total of 115. The lieutenant who heads each police district's violent crimes section reports directly to the district commander, who in turn reports to a Regional Assistant Chief. The Regional Assistant Chiefs report to the Executive Assistant Chief of Police.

District commanders spend at least one hour per day reviewing the status of homicide investigations, according to Chief Ramsey, and detective lieutenants spend a minimum of eight hours per day managing investigations. Each Regional Assistant Chief and district commander receives a daily homicide report summarizing each homicide. Weekly meetings of homicide commanders include the violent crime lieutenant from each district, and the meetings are chaired by a Regional Assistant Chief, or in his absence, the commander of the Special Investigations Division. These meetings encompass all violent crimes, not just homicides. Each violent crime commander is questioned about murders in his or her district and the steps that investigators are taking to solve them.

To improve communication with the families and other loved ones of homicide victims, MPD plans to provide in-service training to patrol officers about how to provide emotional support and important information to the survivors. MPD is considering establishing a family liaison responsibility within the detective teams assigned to a particular case, or using "civilian advocates" to provide support to family members. MPD is also conducting a victims' survey, in which victims of violent crime and their families will be contacted. The survey will provide MPD with feedback about its current performance and inform its strategies to improve communication with family members. MPD has also pledged to ensure that families are informed about the financial compensation that is available through the Crime Victims Compensation program, which can help families with burial expenses, counseling, and other costs.

MPD operates a witness protection program that generally does not exceed 72 hours. MPD offers protection not only to witnesses who assist in homicide investigations, but also to victims and witnesses in serious assault cases, rapes, robberies, drug trafficking, and other serious felony cases. Individuals in the witness protection program can be turned over to the U.S. Marshals' Service if the U.S. Attorney's office approves a formal request for protection. MPD's witness protection unit provided protection for 25 witnesses or victims and their families during fiscal year 2000.

Chief Ramsey also informed the Committee about new procedures that MPD will use in classifying homicide cases. MPD will use three categories. The first is open/active, for cases that have not been solved. The second category is closed/active, for cases in which a suspect has been arrested or administratively cleared, but which also require further investigation to apprehend an additional suspect or suspects. The third category is closed/inactive, for cases in which all of the suspects have been arrested or administratively cleared.

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One of the most important purposes of this report is to provide a baseline of the current performance of MPD's homicide investigations and to document the issues that the Committee will monitor and address throughout Council Period 14 to help MPD improve its homicide investigations. The goal is to provide a road map for the Committee's work, drawing on the information gathered at the January 2001 public roundtable and other research conducted by the Committee, and to hold the Committee accountable by laying out some of the most important next steps. To this end, this section of the report summarizes important issues and questions that the Committee should continue to probe during the next two years.

March 7, 2001 Performance Hearing

One of the first opportunities for follow-up will be a March 7, 2001, Committee performance review hearing that includes MPD. The Committee intends to review the status of the investigations of homicides that occurred between the January 25, 2001, public roundtable and the end of February, as well as other issues raised in this report. Specifically, the Department will be asked in writing to respond to two specific concerns:

  1. For each homicide that has occurred since the Committee hearing on January 25 through the end of February, please provide summary information including those assigned responsibility for investigating the homicide, status of the investigation including whether arrests have been made, number of contacts with family members of the victim, and an approximate number of man-hours devoted to each investigation to date.
  2. With regard to each witness who testified in the evening session of the January 25 roundtable and sought assistance from MPD representatives in attendance, provide a summary of the Department's followup and status of each case.

The Committee also plans to hold additional public hearings after the new standard operating procedures for homicide investigations have been in place for at least six months.

Ongoing Review of Current MPD Practices

The Committee's public roundtable and its other research have raised many constructive questions about MPD's homicide investigative practices. These concerns require further attention and review, particularly in light of the drop in the UCR homicide case closure rate from 70 percent in 1997 to 57 percent in 2000, even as the District witnessed a 40 percent drop in the total number of homicides. The steady erosion of the in-year case closure rate since 1990 provides even greater cause for concern.

First, Chief Ramsey has expressed his strong commitment to the decentralization of detectives, who are based in the seven police districts instead of operating from a centralized headquarters unit. The Chief has also stated his concern that the issue of decentralization can obscure more important questions relating to the quality of investigations, training, supervision, and case management, and has pledged to provide stronger centralized management of the decentralized investigations program. Given the Chief's commitment to a decentralized structure, it is important for the Committee to monitor the following issues to ensure that the decentralized approach is as effective as possible:

  1. What are the best ways to promote the sharing of information among detectives and supervisors in a decentralized investigations program?
  2. What level of specialization among detectives is appropriate in a decentralized system? Many detectives have expressed concern to the Committee that under the decentralized system, an investigator working out of a police district may be assigned to a rape case, even if homicide is his or her specialty and he or she lacks knowledge of rape cases (or vice-versa). Because homicide is the most heinous form of crime, there is a strong argument for assigning the best investigators to work only on homicide cases.
  3. How can MPD implement and enforce common standards for homicide investigations in a decentralized system where investigators report to seven different detective lieutenants in each of the seven police districts? What kind of oversight is needed to make the system work, and how can it be provided in a system of seven police districts and three regional operations commands?
    Another major concern raised during the January 2001 public roundtable as well as in private communications to the Committee is deployment patterns in a decentralized investigations program, and, more specifically, MPD's ability to respond quickly to changing homicide patterns by redeploying investigators. Those who have raised concerns about deployment have pointed out that annual data on homicides obscure sudden, sharp rises and falls in murders during the year, particularly as homicides can feed on each other in a cycle of retaliation. Therefore, the Committee must regularly consider the following questions:
  4. Has MPD adequately reviewed the present deployment patterns for detectives in its decentralized system? Do deployment patterns match the crime data? Is there a fair distribution of experienced investigators? Is further review needed?
  5. How does MPD redeploy detectives to respond to crime waves? Are these procedures adequate? Although Chief Ramsey expressed firm support for decentralization, he also expressed his willingness to reconsider deployment patterns if decentralization does not produce the results he is expecting. Therefore, it will be useful for the Committee to learn about modified or hybrid systems with more centralized control and deployment that also allow detectives to develop and maintain knowledge and trust in particular communities. The following topic may be particularly important in this regard:
  6. How could a more centralized homicide investigations program work? Could there be a centralized detective pool, based at headquarters, in which detectives are assigned to particular districts? This approach might combine the information sharing and closer supervision that is fostered in a centralized system with the knowledge of communities and individuals that is fostered in a decentralized system.
    Another critical issue is the experience of detective supervisors. Although Chief Ramsey expressed the view during the Committee's public roundtable that case management abilities may be more important than experience, and that a good investigator does not necessarily make a good supervisor, other witnesses strongly emphasized the importance of prior experience for supervisors. In response to questions from Chairperson Patterson, Chief Ramsey was unable definitively to affirm or contradict a Washington Post report that only 11 of 33 detective supervisors have experience in homicide investigations. Accordingly, the following questions are critical:
  7. How many detective supervisors have a background in homicide investigations? What kind of background should supervisors have?
    During the Committee's public roundtable, several concerns were also raised that the MPD is failing to take advantage of important techniques or resources that could help solve homicide cases. The following questions are important in that regard:
  8. What kind of crime mapping techniques are employed by MPD, and what kind of crime mapping information is routinely available to detectives at the patrol service area, police district, and citywide levels?
  9. How are gun recoveries used to help solve cases?
  10. Does MPD need more technician services at homicide crime scenes, so that technicians can assist homicide investigators by taking photos and videos of the crime scene, dusting and extracting fingerprint evidence, collecting trace evidence, and collecting biological fluids for DNA analysis?
  11. Has data on 1,800 unsolved cases compiled by the National Drug Intelligence Center in a 1996 study been entered into the WACIIS data base so that detectives can draw on the information in identifying patterns and solving homicide cases?
    Several witnesses also expressed concern that MPD specialized task forces consume too much in the way of resources without making a sufficient contribution to the solving of crimes. The Committee should consider:
  12. What are the specialized task forces presently operating, and what are the resources committed to these task forces in terms of staff and funding? What are the outcomes of these task forces, and could the resources be better used elsewhere, such as by increasing the number of officers on patrol or the number of detectives?
  13. What are the outcomes of MPD's homicide cold-case squad? What are the merits of focusing on older cases if MPD is not doing an adequate job of solving new cases, which tend to be the easiest to solve?
    This report has also raised a number of concerns about the way MPD reports homicide case data. First, MPD's rate of closing cases administratively -- 19 percent of cases were closed administratively in 1998 -- appears to be particularly high. Second, a case closure does not necessarily indicate a thorough or effective investigation. A case can be recorded as closed even if the U.S. Attorney declines to prosecute a case, suggesting that an arrest does not always reflect the solving of a case. Third, the Committee has raised concerns about the accuracy of MPD's data in Section 3 of this report, based on (1) a highly publicized case that was listed as closed by MPD in January 2001, even though a suspect had been released three months earlier and the investigation continued until the arrest of another individual on February 13, 2001, (2) allegations that MPD listed several cases as being closed in more than one year, and (3) allegations that MPD never included a number of cases in the tally of homicides reported for a particular year. Finally, the Committee noted a troubling disparity between the UCR case closure rate for MPD, which shows a more even path, and MPD's in-year case closure rate, which shows a steady downward pattern. Therefore, it should be a priority for the Committee to consider:
  14. What happens to cases that are not prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney? Is MPD reviewing the cases to see if further investigation is warranted? Are such cases pursued adequately before they are recorded as closed?
  15. Is independent and impartial review needed to ensure the accuracy of MPD homicide data? Is there a role for independent entities such as the Office of the Inspector General?
  16. What explains the disparity between MPD's UCR case closure rate and its in-year case closure rate? Are administrative case closures inflating the UCR case closure rate and concealing a downward trend in performance?
  17. What accounts for the sharp increase in the percentage of prior-year cases solved, from 6 percent in 1993 to 37 percent in 2000? Why would prior-year closures increase when MPD is having difficulty with same-year closures?

Monitoring MPD Reform Plans

In his testimony at the Committee's public roundtable and through other communications with the Committee and the public, Chief Ramsey has outlined in considerable detail his plans to improve homicide investigations. The plans are comprehensive, addressing detective selection, retention, promotion, evaluation, and removal; standard operating procedures; training, management and supervision; technology; and communication with families. It must be a priority for the Committee to track regularly the implementation of the reform plans and provide assistance, as appropriate, during this process. Accordingly, the questions described below will require considerable attention.

  1. What is the status of the standard operating procedures prepared by MPD? Are staff at all levels -- patrol officers, detectives, crime technicians, supervisors -- following the SOPs? Is training adequate? Are the SOPs improving the investigation of homicide cases? In tracking the implementation of the SOPs, it will be important for the Committee to seek feedback from MPD officers, detectives, and supervisors, as well as outside experts.
  2. Has MPD implemented the periodic case reviews called for in the SOPs? Are milestones being documented and met for lead detectives and supervisors at one day, seven days, 15 days, 30 days, 60 days, and every 30 days thereafter during the first year after a case is opened? Are cases being periodically reviewed after that point?
  3. Is MPD proceeding with random case audits, in which lead detectives and supervisors are required to discuss a case with senior officials and justify the steps they have taken? How are policy and practiced systematically informed by the audits?
  4. Has MPD moved forward with new procedures governing the selection and retention of detectives? Has MPD implemented a minimum experience requirement, and is it subjecting detective candidates to a written test, an oral interview, and a performance review? Has MPD implemented a probationary period for new detectives?
  5. Has MPD implemented a new performance evaluation tool for detectives and supervisors, based on the standards set out in the homicide SOPs? Have evaluations been conducted? What have the results been of the evaluations?
  6. Is MPD using its performance evaluation system to discipline and remove poorly performing detectives and supervisors when appropriate? What kind of disciplinary guidelines are in place and have they been used? If so, how often and in what circumstances?
  7. Has MPD launched its new training program for criminal investigators? What kind of results is the new training program achieving? What are the opinions of investigators and external experts about the quality of the training? Does the training allocate appropriate time and attention to Fourth Amendment search and seizure issues? What kind of in- service training opportunities are available for experienced investigators?
  8. Is MPD following through on its plans to improve internal controls over homicide case jackets? Are all of the case files complete and available at the headquarters location? Have there been disciplinary consequences for detectives and others who do not maintain complete case files?
  9. How is the implementation of the newly upgraded WACIIS proceeding? Have all investigators been trained about how to use the upgraded system, and more importantly, are they adding case data to the system as required? Are detectives taking advantage of WACIIS' new capacities?
    Chief Ramsey also called on the Committee to support a proposal for the District to build its own forensic lab that would serve the needs of MPD, the Medical Examiner's office, and the Department of Health. Presently, the District's forensic evidence is sent to the FBI's lab for processing. To assess the Chief's recommendation, the Committee should research the following issues:
  10. What is the current performance of the FBI lab in processing the District's evidence? How does the FBI's responsiveness and capacity to handle MPD evidence vary over time and with regard to particular types of evidence?
  11. What are the performance gains that would be likely if the District established its own lab? What are the expected costs of building the lab, and would the lab represent a more effective use of District funds than other steps to hire new officers or detectives, upgrade training, provide equipment, or improve technology?
    More generally, the Committee must give attention to the following resource issues as MPD tries to reform and upgrade its homicide investigations:
  12. Are there sufficient numbers of detectives available for duty? Is MPD able to recruit and retain skilled detectives?
  13. Are there sufficient funds for training and necessary equipment, such as radios, cars, and functioning videotape machines? Do detectives have access to the necessary technology to do their jobs well?
  14. Does MPD have enough support from other agencies that it needs to solve homicide cases? For example, is the Medical Examiner's Office able to generate autopsy reports on a timely basis?

Finally, Chief Ramsey has made a commitment to improve communication with the families and other loved ones of homicide victims. This commitment is particularly important, because the lack of information about a case only increases the anguish that families feel after a loved one has been murdered. As Fraternal Order of Police representatives stated, the support from family members -- not only the information but also the emotional support that they can offer -- can be very beneficial to detectives. Moreover, the concern of family members may be the most powerful tool of accountability, ensuring that cases are not put aside and forgotten.

To improve communication with family members, the draft standard operating procedures create guidelines for periodic communications between detectives and family members. Chief Ramsey also raised several ideas to improve communication during the Committee's public roundtable, including the possibility of creating civilian family liaison positions. Chief Ramsey has also announced that MPD will be surveying family members of homicide victims about their experiences with MPD to establish a baseline of current performance and elicit suggestions for how MPD can do better. To follow up on this critical issue, the Committee needs to ask:

  1. Have the new guidelines for contacts between detectives (or any other designated MPD staff) been publicized and enforced? What is the feedback from family members about the frequency and the sensitivity of these contacts?
  2. Is MPD advising families about the assistance that is available through the Crime Victims Compensation program administered by the D.C. Superior Court?

Lessons for Other MPD Operations

As indicated in the hearing summary and Section 3, the requirement in the 1998 Omnibus Personnel Reform Act that District agencies implement a performance management system, including employee evaluations and pay-for-performance, has apparently not been met by the MPD -- not with regard to homicide investigators and presumably not with regard to the Department as a whole. This raises the question on whether there are other areas appropriate to Committee oversight identified with regard to homicide but relevant to other aspects of the Department's responsibilities.

  1. What is the status of MPD's compliance with the 1998 Omnibus Personnel Reform Act pertaining to performance management, and the status of adoption of personnel recommendations made by the Council Special Committee on Police Misconduct and Personnel Management?
  2. Training has been cited as a critical element in the Department's anticipated reforms in homicide investigation. What is the status of in-service training across the Department, and is that training meeting all the identified needs?
  3. Similarly, deployment has been cited as a critical element in the Department's record in investigating homicides. Are there other related issues with regard to deployment across the Department?

Comparisons with Other Jurisdictions

In Section 3 of this report, the Committee outlined a range of information about homicide rates and investigative outcomes in other jurisdictions. Nevertheless, additional work to learn about the experiences of other jurisdictions would benefit both the Committee and the MPD in understanding the problems in MPD homicide investigations and informing the solutions. The following are some important questions for the Committee to explore:

  1. Despite the sharp reduction in homicides in the District of Columbia in recent years, why is the District's homicide rate so much higher than in other cities? Why was the District's homicide rate of 49.7 per 100,000 in 1998 more than six times that of New York, where the rate was 8.6 per 100,000? What can the District learn from cities such as New York that have much lower homicide rates?

More generally, the District's homicide case closure rate (57 percent in 2000, according to the UCR measure) seems lower than the closure rates typically found in other cities. Therefore, it is worth asking:

  1. What are the leading cities in the nation in terms of homicide case closure rates, and what can we learn from those cities?
  2. What are the case closure rates achieved by the "best-in-class" cities in the nation? This information should inform the setting of goals for the District for annual improvement in its homicide case closure rate.

In his testimony to the Committee, Chief Ramsey also pointed to New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago as examples of cities that have decentralized their detective squads with good results. Nevertheless, these examples are not fully persuasive because all of the three cities cited are much larger than the District; decentralization may be almost inevitable in such large cities. Therefore, it would be useful for the Committee to explore:

  1. What are the deployment patterns of other cities, and what are the outcomes associated with centralized or decentralized deployment patterns? How do cities such as Boston, Baltimore, or Seattle that are more similar in size to the District deploy their homicide and other investigators?

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The Committee on the Judiciary met on February 27, 2001 to consider and approve the Oversight Report on the Metropolitan Police Department's Homicide Investigative Practices and Case Closure Rate. Present and voting were Councilmembers Patterson, Chavous and Evans.

Chairperson Patterson introduced the report and explained that the purpose of the report is to establish an accurate baseline of MPD's performance in investigating homicides and to outline the issues that need to be addressed and monitored in order for MPD to solve more cases. She also stated that the report is intended to hold not only the MPD, but also the Committee, accountable for addressing and monitoring the tasks that must be accomplished in order to improve homicide investigations.

Councilmember Chavous stated that he was interested in having a better understanding of the role of the MPD Major Crimes Unit in investigating the highly publicized homicide cases at Gallaudet University. He also expressed a desire to better understand how the decision to involve the Major Crimes Unit in any homicide investigation is made. He wondered if the need for the involvement of that unit on high-profile cases is itself an argument for the re- centralization of the Homicide Unit. Councilmember Patterson said those issues were included in questions sent to the Department in anticipation of the Committee's performance hearing on March 7, 2001.

Councilmember Evans stated that he was pleased with the comprehensive nature of the report and also complimented committee staff for the hard work and short turnaround time reflected in the report.

Chairperson Patterson then moved for approval the Oversight Report on the Metropolitan Police Department's Homicide Investigative Practices and Case Closure Rate, with leave for staff to make technical corrections. The Committee voted 3-0 to approve the report with members voting as follows:

YES: Councilmembers Patterson, Chavous, and Evans
ABSENT: Councilmember Ambrose and Councilmember Brazil

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