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Testimony of Ron Robertson, Fraternal Order of Police
before the Committee on the Judiciary
October 10, 1997




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Fraternal Order of Police
Metropolitan Police Labor Committee
400 5th Street, N.W., Suite 100, Washington, D.C. 20001-2721
(202) 628-0600 fax (202) 628-0605
TESTIMONY of Detective Ron Robertson, Chairman, FOP/MPD Labor Committee, before the Judiciary Committee of the City Council

October 10, 1997

Chairman Evans, other members of the City Council, thank you for this opportunity to testify regarding the state of the Metropolitan Police Department. We are all aware of the media stories which have chronicled confidential reports from the Booze Allen consulting firm regarding our police department. I must point out that the Fraternal Order of Police was placing many of these issues in the public record more than a year ago. As a union, we took the unusual position of criticizing our own agency and identifying many of our own shortcomings because we realized that police officers have a sacred trust to serve and protect the community.

Some of my fellow officers fell short of the mark, but many many more of us struggled heroically to perform our jobs without, computers, cars, training, tires or even paper. We begged supplies from other agencies or went into our own pockets to purchase them. It is an unfortunate fact that the Booze Allen consulting firm has simply validated our claims regarding the decay which had spread throughout the Metropolitan Police Department. For years the FOP came before this body and others time and again to make the case now offered by Booze-Allen. We commend them on their thorough review and appreciate that the City Council, the Financial Authority and the Congress have moved to provide critically needed resources and support reforms designed to make us work better and the community safer.

Today, our Homicide Unit is the focus of intense debate. Chief Soulsby transferred everyone in the ranks of sergeant and above out, in reaction to a low closure rate and public criticism. Before I go any further in a discussion of the Homicide Unit, I must say that it is never a good policy to take wholesale actions like this. It punishes the most effective sergeants and above in order to remove those who failed to do their jobs. That is never the right thing to do. It sends the message that individual performance means nothing. It demoralizes everyone who is touched by it and undermines personal initiative. I personally know several individuals who deserved commendations, not transfers. Every one who knows them, now feels that management is more concerned about appearances than about performance.

Homicides committed in this decade have little in common with those of just twenty years ago. Where domestic disputes or other personal relationships most often fueled murders in the past, today we see more people killed by strangers due to narcotics or other criminal enterprises. These conspiracy type cases demand much more time, manpower and technical resources than ever. Yet, our Homicide Detectives still find themselves without computers, unless they bring them in from home. They are asked to investigate a crime which demands the highest levels of professional performance, but they are not provided with formal training. The burden of proof in our courts today requires a level of technical and professional proficiency which challenges even the best educated and supported investigators. In the District, we do not provide even minimal investigative training or continuing technical and managerial support. Most of my fellow detectives in the Homicide Unit perform heroically when you consider the terrible circumstances they must work under. And now, some of their best supervisors have been stripped from them in a foolish public relations gambit. They are doing the best they can in a sick system, and reaping almost daily criticism for their efforts.

The Homicide Branch is just one limb on a very sick tree. The Metropolitan Police Department is like a mighty Oak which has endured decades of drought, neglect and abuse. Where it once stood tall and provided shelter for many, it has lost most of its leaves; some of its branches are dead and others are dying. It is unable to serve the way it once did. We are now in the process of reviving this Oak. With your help, we have begun to prune away that which cannot be saved; we are restoring water to its parched roots and to fertilize the ground upon which it stands. We must recognize that this great tree did not fall ill all at once and that when it began to lose its leaves and show its decline, its symptoms were ignored. Just as its shelter did not vanish after a single season of drought, it will not return with a single season of proper care. We must now continue to properly care for it without interruption, knowing that it will require a few seasons of improved resources before we will see the restoration we all seek. No one should expect overnight miracles, just as a gardener would never expect the seed he planted today to bloom tomorrow.

I am happy to report that your attention and willingness to provide resources and assistance are already beginning to work. Crime is down, the community is safer but we have a very long way to go.

The Police Service Area, or PSA system which has been implemented in our Department has significantly improved our delivery of services to the community. It has won the support and respect of most of our members. Many find themselves excited and energized about doing their jobs, as they have not been in years. Recently, our members in the Sixth District proudly shared with me that they closed a murder in less than a week because the PSA system allowed them to share critical information with the investigators quickly. They were a team of police officers who worked together to close a murder. While this system is working well generally, there is one very important and real complaint which I here from officers throughout the City. The number of people per PSA must be increased because the current complement of officers per PSA does not adequately consider vacations, court appearances, training or sick leave demands. Officers are consistently denied leave or relief because there are not enough people available in most PSAs.. Sergeants and detectives are moved from their PSAs or from their regularly assigned duties in order to fill scout cars and answer calls for service. It prevents investigators and supervisors from performing their regular and important duties. Management, patrol and investigations suffer. Increasingly, we are seeing significant delays in our response to calls for service. Our officers are becoming exhausted and their performance is affected. No plan can succeed if we do not provide adequate manpower to support it. We must either hire more people or reduce the number of PSAs so that the existing pool of manpower can be used more effectively.

Recently, our critics express surprise and rage that so many cases are dismissed at court dues to allegations that officers bungle evidence or lose files. I submit that this ignores the fact that our Department makes about 50,000 criminal arrests each year and the courts can only handle about 700 felony trials annually. It has long been established that our courts will never exceed their trial capacity. Instead, prosecutors must find ways to eliminate 49,000 potential trials each year. This is done by plea bargaining and/or dismissing ten of thousands of cases. I do not pretend that police officers do not make mistakes but I believe that we have become a convenient excuse for the courthouse to manage its caseload.

If you continue the improved care and resources for our Department we will see more and better training which will better equip our members to satisfy the every increasing demands of the courts at trial.

We have not yet reached the beginning of the end of our renewal, but I think we have passed the end of the beginning and are now on the road to recovery. We need your patience and your support.

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