Report Exposes Flaws in Pr. George's Police Department
By Jamie Stockwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 5, 2003; 3:10 PM
A county review of the Prince George's Police Department released today found systemic failures increasingly evident in the leadership, management, supervision and accountability of the 1,300-member force.
The 30-page report, said county leaders at a news conference held this morning at police headquarters in Palmer Park, exposed major problems within the ranks of the department, including the inadequate allocation of patrol officers, the severe shortage of manpower, the failure of senior officers to supervise their subordinates, and the lack of closure on internal disciplinary cases.
"The number one task of the reform effort," said County Executive Jack B. Johnson, who campaigned on a platform of police reform, "is to make this a more effective police department . . . so the community can grow more confident in our police department."
Patrick V. Murphy, head of the county's recently created Office of Police Reform, authored the report and said this morning that it is a blueprint for the department, although the issues may take "several years to solve."
Proposed solutions to the problems outlined in the report include the hiring of more officers, exit interviews to find out why roughly seven a month are retiring from the force and requiring officers to be more proactive in the neighborhoods where they are assigned.
The police department has long been the subject of public scrutiny and community mistrust, and, for the past three years, the focus of a federal civil rights probe. Murphy, a former commissioner with the New York City Police, was hired in January to review the force and write the report.
Although it does not suggest solutions to the issues that county residents are more familiar with, that of alleged police misconduct, the report said that the department has taken steps to improve its canine unit, the nucleus of a separate inquiry by federal investigators. It also recently began talks with the Department of Justice about its three-year-old investigation, the report said.
Instead, the report is more of a management study, with proposed solutions for the day-to-day operations with an eye on improving the public's image of the department. Use of force concerns, the report said, "stem from the same fundamental departmental characteristic -- the lack of accountability of front-line employees and their supervisors for their actions."
"Accountability is the key to preventing improper use of force," it said. "Without accountability, there can be no effective supervision or departmental change."
Police Chief Melvin C. High said this morning that he was not surprised by the findings of the report, that most of the issues were pointed out to him before he began his job at the department in May.
"I knew I'd be facing a tremendous challenge, that there would be many problems," he said. " . . . Make no mistake, we will reform the police department. We will make the changes that need to be made."
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