U.S. Relaxing Use-of-Force Scrutiny
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The D.C. police department has been largely released from intensive federal oversight of cases in which officers fire their weapons or otherwise use force against people, officials said yesterday.
Police reached an agreement with the Department of Justice in 2001 after federal officials determined that "to some extent, the [police] department was out of control," Acting D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said.
The close oversight ended April 7, two months early, because police had complied with regulations that led to fewer incidents of officers using force on the job.
Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, appearing at a news conference yesterday with Nickles and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), said her agency has made huge progress.
"We went from being a department that used force more than any other department in the country to being a department that is a national model," Lanier said.
Last year, eight people were shot and killed by police, according to department data. This year, there has been one fatal shooting by an officer. That is a significant improvement from the 1990s. D.C. police shot and killed 12 people in 1998.
In 1998, then-Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey called for a Justice Department probe after an eight-month investigation by The Washington Post found that D.C. police officers shot and killed more people per capita in the 1990s than any other large U.S. city police force. Several shootings involved reckless gunplay by officers who were sent into the streets with inadequate training and little oversight.
The police department's agreement with Justice officials is now mostly dissolved, but until June, police will report to an independent monitor in three areas: continuing force training for recent graduates of the police academy; efforts to help residents report excessive-force claims; and completion of a computer system to track officers' use of force.
Police shootings are now investigated by the department's Force Investigations Team, a group of officers who work in the Internal Affairs Division. Before the team was created, an officer who shot someone was investigated by an immediate supervisor.
In recent years, the team has investigated about 40 cases a year in which an officer fired a gun and about 20 cases a year in which an officer deployed a police dog, officials said. Police from elsewhere in the country have come to the District in recent years to learn from the team.
Fenty said the department will continue the programs and regulations set up under the agreement.
The city is awaiting a decision by the U.S. attorney on whether two police officers, James Haskel and Anthony Clay, will face criminal charges in the fatal shooting of DeOnté Rawlings, 14, who allegedly got into a gun battle with police over a stolen minibike. DeOnté was shot in the head on Atlantic Street SE, near his home, on Sept. 17.
Authorities say an investigation has found evidence that the officers were fired on first, but DeOnté's family disputes that he had a gun.