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Fourth of July: City Preps

Public Safety on the 4th of July

Charles H. Ramsey
D.C. Police Chief
Thursday, July 1, 2004; 1:00 PM

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey was online Thursday, July 1 at 1 p.m. ET, to discuss safety and security precautions for the 4th of July, the recent series of bank robberies, enactment of the Distracted Driving Safety Act and other issues which affect the community.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


washingtonpost.com: Chief Ramsey, welcome back to washingtonpost.com. A lot of things happening right now. First off, today starts Day One of the cell phone hands-free law. How is it being enforced?

Charles H. Ramsey: Beginning today, DC law requires anyone using a cell phone while driving a vehicle to have a hands-free device. For the month of July, MPD officers will be issuing warnings only. Beginning August 1, officers will begin issuing tickets, which carry a $100 fine. However, first-time violators can avoid the fine if they can show proof of having purchased a hands-free device. Remember also that school bus drivers and individuals with learner's permits are not allow to use any mobile phone, except in the case of an emergency.


Washington, D.C.: Chief Ramsey,
I often see people driving holding a drink in one hand and a burger in the other. Why isn't just as dangerous to be eating or drinking as it is to be on the phone? Also, what about these cars where drivers have a TV screen that is visible to them. Those seem incredibly dangerous to me.

Charles H. Ramsey: These and other activities can be just as distracting - and as dangerous - as talking on a hand-held cell phone. DC law requires drivers to pay "full time and attention" while driving. Officers can, and do, enforce this law.


Washington, D.C.: Chief,
With the crackdown on drivers using cell phones in the District, have you done any analysis on how this shift in police resources will impact your ability to limit other types of criminal behavior, most notably murder and robbery and other violent crimes?

Charles H. Ramsey: Traffic enforcement is a routine, and important, part of police work. Enforcement of this law should have no impact on our ability to deal with other crime problems.


Bank Robbers: Since these people are so heavily armed, how do you help to ensure the safety of your own men?

Charles H. Ramsey: I am very concerned about this particular bank robbery crew because they are so heavily armed. Officers have been instructed to pay particular attention around banks, looking for anything suspicious or unusual. When responding to a call of a bank robbery in progress, officers have been told to approach with caution and wait for backup. Citizens should be aware of the robberies that have been taking place in both DC and Prince George's County, and if they see anything unusual around a bank to call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not attempt to intervene directly, but copy down any license plate numbers or other information that may be useful.


Bethesda, Md.: Are there any street closings around the Mall this Saturday in preparation for July 4?

Charles H. Ramsey: There will be some street closures in and around the National Mall this weekend, beginning mid-day on July 4th for the Parade. Specific information will be disseminated through the news media. The MPD is working with the US Park Police and other agencies on security for this event. I would encourage people to come down to the Mall to enjoy the Parade, Concert and Fireworks, as we celebrate our independence.


Georgetown, D.C.: Chief Ramsey:

I work in downtown Washington, and am interested in a comment from you on how these robberies seem to be happening in D.C., where guns are banned, and not in Virginia, where gun rights are recognized. Is it yet time to rethink the D.C. gun ban?

Charles H. Ramsey: One has nothing to do with the other. Two of the robberies have occurred in Maryland. Criminals such as this tend to commit crimes in areas that they are familiar with.


washingtonpost.com: Dwight Pettiford, acting director of the U.S. Park Police, will be online tomorrow to discuss road closures, security, checkpoints, etc., planned for the Fourth of July.


Washington, D.C.: With a multitude of federal police forces duplicating your efforts downtown, is there any reason why you can't just hand over responsibility for some areas of the city to these forces? For example, if the Park Police are already patrolling the Mall, why do you have cruisers patrolling the streets in these areas? Can't you just let the Park Police write the parking tickets in that area and free your officers to go catch drug dealers and bank robbers?

Charles H. Ramsey: There are some areas of DC where other agencies, such as the Park Police on the National Mall, do have primary jurisdiction. And the MPD works very closely with these agencies in areas where we have primary jurisdiction, as well as areas where they have jurisdiction. Our primary focus is on patrolling and protecting DC neighborhoods.


Washington, D.C.: The Coast Guard just recently took up special plans for patrolling the Potomac during the 4th of July. I imagine other federal police agencies and security forces have made similar special arrangements. Do the D.C. police get consulted in these kinds of decisions? What sort of coordination is done between D.C. police and these other security/policing agencies on the ground? I worry that our community's police force is left out of the decision-making loop.

Charles H. Ramsey: There is constant discussion and collaboration among law enforcement agencies in our region - federal, state and local. For example, the Coast Guard coordinates its patrols along with the MPD's Harbor Patrol Branch. In addition, our air patrols are frequently coordinated with the US Park Police. And this weekend, these and other agencies will be in our Joint Operations Command Center as we monitor events this holiday weekend and coordinate our efforts.


Capitol Hill: Good Afternoon Chief Ramsey:

I want to thank you and your officers for a great job these last couple years I think that there are so many complainers who may be drowning out the positives, and I want you to know that there are so many of us who appreciate the safer streets, the assistance of your officers, etc. Keep up the good work.

My question relates to the increased terror alerts. Here in DC, we are of course subject to different standards since we have the federal government and so many big events held here that require a lot of security, such as the July 4th events. However, do you have any sort of doubt about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's warnings that seem to crop up on every holiday, whipping folks into a frenzy of fear? Is there really any larger sense of worry apart from the already heightened matter of it just being a big crowd? I have grown very weary of so-called alerts that happen to come up when there are big crowds and then turn out to be nothing. Sept. 11th was not a national holiday, or a religious holiday, and frankly, isn't that what the terrorists are after -- the element of surprise? Thanks.

Charles H. Ramsey: Thank you for complimenting our officers. It's an unfortunate fact that our post-9/11 world has changed how we deal with large events, such as this weekend's celebration. We monitor very closely the intelligence coming from the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and other sources. The alerts are something that we have to become accustomed to, but we should not allow them to dramatically change how we go about our daily routines. We recognize that people may become desensitized to these warnings, but the government has an obligation to provide as much information as we can to the public, so that people are aware and observant - and can actually assist us in keeping these events safe for all.


Underage drinking: Chief Ramsey, although I sometimes question the work of MPD (why doesn't anyone direct traffic or enforce traffic laws?) do you feel that our legal system is constantly underming the work you do? I'm talking about things such as the recent change in status of underage drinking, the Scarborough burglary case last year and most of our juvenile laws.

Charles H. Ramsey: I am disappointed in the court's recent decision to essentially decriminalize underage drinking in DC. This is a serious problem that should not be taken lightly. The MPD is working with the DC Council on legislation to address the court's concerns. In the area of juvenile justice, I am very hopeful that the Council will pass Mayor Williams's legislation, which will dramatically strengthen our juvenile laws. These reforms are long overdue.


Washington, D.C.: Is it true that D.C. police officers are not required to have high school degrees (or the equivalent)? I have heard this from a few people and wanted to hear the answer from you.


Charles H. Ramsey: This is absolutely untrue. In fact, beginning January 1, 2004, applicants for the MPD are required to have 60 semester hours of college credit to be eligible for our Department. Prior to that we required a high school diploma. The job of a police officer is increasingly complex. In addition to our higher educational requirements, we have also increased the training we provide officers.


Washington, D.C.: The lack of traffic violation enforcement in the District is a cause of a lot of commuting problems as double and triple parked delivery vehicles block streets, cabs double park in the middle of the block to pickup and discharge passengers, and blocked streets make it a hassle to get around downtown. Traffic citations could be a big source of revenue to the District as well as alleviate a lot of the headaches that make it difficult to get around. Is the new cell phone law an attempt to do this? Safety is fine and good, but what good is the law if it is never enforced?

Charles H. Ramsey: Traffic enforcement is an important part of law enforcement. I will continue to stress the need for vigorous traffic enforcement to our members. Our traffic enforcement efforts, including our enforcement of the new distracted driving law, are designed to improve traffic safety.


Washington, D.C.: Has there been any change/update in the "No Chase" policy in D.C. that seemingly gives "kiddie" and other car thieves the courage to steal cars and flee police in a very reckless manner? They are tearing my neighborhood up.

Charles H. Ramsey: The MPD does not have a "No Chase" policy; we have a "Restricted Chase" policy. This policy allows officers to engage in a vehicle pursuit if they are attempting to apprehend a felon who poses an immediate threat to the public, and that the need to apprehend this individual outweighs the risks inherent in a vehicle pursuit. I share your frustration over car thefts. But having a police officer pursue an inexperienced driver at high rates of speed through neighborhood streets only makes a bad situation even worse. The MPD arrests numerous juvenile auto thieves, only to see them back on the street to repeat their crimes. We need tough legislation that will impose stiff penalties on people who steal autos or engage in joyriding in stolen cars.


Washington, D.C.: Does the Metropolitan Police Department have any enforcement responsibility for keeping snakehead fish out of the area? This would help prevent the infestation of fresh water lakes and ponds, now that the battle of the Potomac has been lost.

Charles H. Ramsey: I have a lot of things on my plate, but fortunately snakehead fish are not one of them :)


Friendship Heights, Washington, D.C.: Chief Ramsey:

When are we going to start seeing MPD officers patrolling in our neighborhoods?

It is simply incomprehensible to me how rarely I actually see MPD officers -- and this is a densely populated city and you have more officers per square mile and per capita than any other police chief in the U.S!

Where is everyone?

Charles H. Ramsey: We have officers deployed to every neighborhood. I would encourage you to contact the Second District and find out when your next PSA meeting is, so that you can get to know the officers patrolling your community and they can get to know you.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Chief Ramsey,

This may be off topic, but I was wondering what is the penalty for a police officer for filing a false report? One of your officers filed a false report and ticketed my cousin for fleeing the scene of an accident. I actually have proof and affidavits showing that she acted knowing he did not commit the crime. What should we do?

Charles H. Ramsey: If you feel that an officer has engaged in misconduct, you should contact the MPD's Office of Professional Responsibility at 202-727-4385. We take all complaints seriously and will investigate.


Columbia, Md.: Good afternoon Chief Ramsey sir,

First allow me to say that its truly an honor and a privilege to talk with you. I've watched your career here in the District for some time and the one thing that stands out about you is that you seem to instill discipline and leadership in your officers. Especially during the WTO protesting a few years back. I don't recall seeing the Police Chief walking the line amongst the troops when the WTO met in Washington state and as a result the protesters lawlessness ran a muck resulting in mass chaos. You definitely seem to "walk it like you talk it." Thank you for your service to the people of our nation's capital.

Now to my question. Do you feel as though your agency is receiving enough support and resources from the federal law enforcement, Congress, and other executive branch agencies (FBI, Home Land Security, etc.) to adequately serve and protect the citizenry of the District in the event of another terrorist attack? I look back to the false alarm during the Reagan funeral procession when the alert was issued to "run for your life". It seems to me that there was no realistic plan for an orderly and safe evacuation of the Capitol area and that the federal agencies responsible let you down and let down the people who came to pay their respects.

Thank you sir for taking my question and again thanks for serving us.

Charles H. Ramsey: Thank you for your comment. I believe the MPD does receive excellent support and cooperation from our federal law enforcement partners here in the District. The Reagan funeral was a good example of this cooperation. On the crime-fighting front, I'm very proud of the men and women of the MPD. So far this year, we have experienced a 12% overall reduction in crime, a 16% drop in violent crimes, and a 26% drop in homicides. We have also taken more than 1,000 firearms off the street so far this year - a 10% increase from last year at this time. Although these accomplishments are not due exclusively to MPD, I think they are examples of the hard work and dedication that officers, citizens and other government agencies display every day.


Washington, D.C.: Hello Chief,

Why has the job for Deputy Mayor of Public Safety (formerly held by Ms. Kellums) been vacant for so long? Are there any candidates for the job out there that you know of to fill this critical post in our government?

Charles H. Ramsey: The Mayor is in the process of finding a replacement for Margret Kellems. I do not know when the position will be filled. But let me say that Margret Kellems did an outstanding job as Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, and it will be very difficult to replace her. She provided excellent leadership to all of us in the public safety cluster, which includes police, fire/EMS, emergency management and the Medical Examiner's Office. She was the person responsible for coordinating homeland security in the District of Columbia, and worked tirelessly to get us all of the resources we needed to perform our jobs effectively. I just wanted to take this opportunity to publicly thank her for a job incredibly well done, and to wish her the best in her future endeavors.

Thank you to everyone who submitted questions. I'm off to catch me a snakehead :)


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