Fenty's Pick for Police Chief Has Made a Swift Ascent

cathy lanier
Cathy L. Lanier joined the Metropolitan Police Department in 1990. (Marvin Joseph - Marvin Joseph -The Washington Post)
By Allison Klein and Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Three days after the election, Cathy L. Lanier was called to the office of Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty. The police commander figured that Fenty wanted to ask about the inner workings of the force.

Instead, he asked: "Would you be the next police chief?"

"Are you kidding me?" Lanier stammered back.

There had been no formal interview, no hints he would ask the 39-year-old single mother to take on one of the most high-profile, demanding jobs in law enforcement. Since April, she had been the head of homeland security and counterterrorism for the department.

Lanier called Fenty two days later and accepted. With approval from the D.C. Council, she is poised to make history as the city's first permanent female police chief, succeeding Charles H. Ramsey.

It was the latest in a long line of unimaginable successes for Lanier, an accomplished police commander with a rugged beginning and meteoric surge to the top. Her inclusive management style and tireless work ethic -- she sometimes stays in the office until 1:30 a.m. -- are part of what attracted Fenty to her.

"There is nothing more satisfying than seeing results," said Lanier, who added that she is "addicted" to her job.

Lanier grew up in a modest neighborhood in Prince George's County and dropped out of school after ninth grade to have a baby. At 15, she wed the baby's father, a marriage that lasted two years.

She said she saw her mother -- a single parent with three children -- working hard to raise her and her brothers and made a decision that she would do her mother proud. Lanier got her high school equivalency diploma, worked in a print shop and sold canopies and awnings. Then she joined the police academy. She said she immediately knew that was the job for her.

She followed the footsteps of other public safety officials in her family -- her brother is a captain in the Prince George's fire department, and her father is a retired deputy chief there; another brother is a detective with the Greenbelt police.

Lanier and her brothers grew up in Tuxedo, just off of Route 50. She said she was always "one of the boys" and literally took her share of punches from her brothers.

So she knew how to handle herself when, as a rookie, she was punched in the face by a heroin dealer during an arrest in a rough-and-tumble area of Northwest Washington. And as a woman in the department, she said, her path has not always been smooth. She doesn't expect it to become any easier when she's chief.

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