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

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.

She also said she is aware she could face some uphill battles as a white woman in a majority-black city. "If people get to know you, I think it's not a big deal," she said of her race. "If I treat everybody the way a chief should treat them, there won't be a problem."

Lanier lives in a home on six acres in Anne Arundel County with her 24-year-old son, her mother and her boyfriend, a D.C. police sergeant. She cares for five dogs, two of which are blind and deaf. She has agreed to move to the District "as soon as I can buy a house."

She's been with D.C. police for 16 years, starting first in patrol, then quickly moving up the ranks to commander. She worked in the 6th Police District in Southeast, then led the 4th District in Northeast. At the urging of Ramsey, she moved on to head the special operations division, where she worked on such issues as homeland security and counterterrorism.

In her homeland security position, she impressed many people around her, including Joseph Persichini Jr., assistant director of the Washington field office of the FBI. "Cathy just epitomizes the collaborative spirit," Persichini said.

Lanier said she is especially proud of her education, much of which she completed while working full time for the police. She studied criminal justice at the University of the District of Columbia and received a bachelor of science and a master's in management from Johns Hopkins University and a master of arts in homeland security and defense from the Naval Postgraduate School.

Her management style is to listen, build consensus and create specialized teams around her. She said her priorities include making police more visible on the street, improving the efficiency of the department and lifting morale by empowering officers and supervisors.

She said she does not expect to make wholesale change in the department -- something that already is drawing criticism from those who want a big shake-up.

"She's a protégé of Ramsey," said Betty Lewis, a community activist in Southeast Washington. Ramsey, in fact, had helped groom Lanier for the job. "They might as well keep Ramsey. Nothing is going to change with Cathy Lanier."

Others in the community who know Lanier said they were pleased with her selection. Sheila White, an activist in the area of Third and M streets NE, said Lanier was responsive and community-oriented when she voiced concerns about drug dealing in the area.

Terrance W. Gainer, former chief of the U.S. Capitol Police and the new sergeant-at-arms of the Senate, called Lanier a "great pick." Gainer, who once was Ramsey's second in command, said "Ramsey's feet are huge, and he's left a heck of a legacy."

"But she will create her own path," Gainer added. "She doesn't have to be Ramsey. She'll be Lanier."

Staff writer David Nakamura contributed to this report.

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