New Head of D.C. Police Union Sees 'Crisis' in Department
Sunday, March 12, 2006
The new head of the D.C. police union does not hesitate to give his assessment of the force: "We are a department in crisis," Kristopher Baumann declared during a recent D.C. Council hearing, "a thousand disturbing stories, careers ruined, officers that deserve better, citizens that deserve better."
A former tax lawyer with a little less than four years' experience on the D.C. police force, Baumann was delivering on his promise to aggressively stand up for the rank and file -- and he demonstrated his slashing style at a council hearing attended by many of the force's top commanders.
Baumann, 38, was elected in January to head the D.C. police labor committee for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, the bargaining group that represents the department's 3,400 sergeants and officers. He defeated the incumbent, a longtime sergeant who last year successfully negotiated one of the largest raises in union history.
Baumann won after pledging to lead battles on fronts ranging from disciplinary issues to crime-fighting strategies. The tough talk struck a chord with union members who remain frustrated despite their raises, officers said. Although Baumann doesn't officially take office until next month, he's already assailing the top brass wherever he can.
"A lot of the younger guys wanted a lot more aggressive chairman," said Detective Vince Tucci, a top union official who was reelected in the same contest. "I think a lot of people feel Kris will go at the chief as hard as they would like to see, because morale is so low. The rank-and-file officers are not happy with the way things are going."
Baumann has a boyish face that belies his age and experience. Born and raised in Kansas, he attended UCLA, where he received a degree in history. He went into law enforcement as an officer with a small police department in Oregon. That was where he began pursuing a career as a lawyer, graduating in 1997 from Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland. He followed up with a master's degree in tax law from New York University, a clerkship with a federal judge in Washington and a job at the Treasury Department.
Still, he found himself missing police work. He joined the D.C. police force in 2002 and was told that he would have an opportunity to work undercover and tackle some investigative assignments, he said.
But he was sent out on patrol and quickly grew disillusioned, because there didn't seem to be many officers on the street and there were few good crime-fighting plans.
Because of his legal background, officers began asking Baumann for help in disciplinary matters. By 2003, he was the union representative for the 7th District and a close adviser to Sgt. Gregory I. Greene, chairman of the labor committee.
Last year, Greene successfully negotiated a contract that gave officers a 21 percent raise over 3 1/2 years. But Baumann said he felt he could do a better job and entered the race for chairman last fall.
During his campaign, Baumann toured the city's seven police districts and said he often heard the same refrain: Officers felt beaten down by what they viewed as an unfair discipline system and a lack of leadership at the top. Police officials were not coming up with strategies to curb crime. Beat officers felt overworked and underappreciated. They felt that Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who has headed the department since 1998, offered nice sound bites for TV but didn't follow through, Baumann said.
Baumann was not shy about attacking Ramsey or other commanders during the campaign -- and he hasn't let up since.