December 24, 2013

Colbert I. King’s Dec. 14 op-ed column, “The growing arrest record for D.C. police,” focused on instances of criminal activity by Metropolitan Police Department officers over the past few years. I want to provide some context to his column and assure D.C. residents that they have a police force that is professional, ethical and dedicated to protecting the public.

The recent allegations of criminal misconduct by officers absolutely outrage me. Those few officers’ actions dishonor the oath that we all swore, to uphold the law, when we first put on the uniform. No officer is above the law. Any officer engaged in criminal misconduct will be investigated and prosecuted.

It should be noted that the majority of arrests involving officers stem from infractions committed while they are off-duty — such as the recent indictment of Officer Samson E. Lawrence III for charges that are domestic in nature.

No one should infer that the misguided actions of a handful of officers somehow show such behavior to be a regular practice of the department. It is not.

The Metropolitan Police Department employs almost 4,500 officers and civilians. This year, 18 officers were accused of potentially criminal activity, with the majority of those cases being either traffic offenses or misdemeanors. Although even one officer accused of inappropriate activity is one too many, those 18 officers represent 0.4 percent of the police department.

During my tenure as police chief, I have directed the department’s Internal Affairs Division (IAD) to conduct nearly 200 employeeintegrity checks so that we can identify any inappropriate behavior and immediately address it. These integrity checks have yielded results: Over the past four years, we have uncovered criminal misconduct by five officers, all of whom were arrested and prosecuted.

I have tremendous confidence in our IAD. It is one of the best in the country, composed of seasoned detectives and sergeants with decades of experience in conducting criminal investigations. Their efforts at protecting the integrity of the department help us detect and deter misconduct, as well as discipline those few officers who cannot meet the department’s standards of conduct.

However, one of my greatest frustrations is an arbitration process for employee terminations that, on multiple occasions, has required the department to rehire officers who had been fired for misconduct. In fact, we’ve had several instances in which an officer was fired for misbehavior, the case went to arbitration and the arbitrator ruled that we had to rehire the individual, who was subsequently arrested for additional misconduct.

As a result of arbitration, we are regularly required to rehire individuals who simply have no business being on this police force. Often, arbitrators in these cases don’t appear to have the best interests of D.C. residents in mind. Minor procedural errors are treated as sufficient grounds to ignore all the evidence and order a fired individual to be reinstated. We have seen arbitrators base decisions on their personal opinions rather than on the law or facts.

I am proud of the men and women of this police department. Each time they put on the uniform, they are willing to risk their lives to protect us. I believe in the officers of this department. I expect each officer to live up to the department’s high standards of integrity and trust. And if residents believe that an officer is not living up to those standards and is engaged in misconduct, I implore them to contact me so that I can hold that officer accountable.

Cathy L. Lanier, Washington

The writer is chief of the Metropolitan Police Department.