The article misstated the number of officers from major police agencies in the Washington area who were on leave or restricted to desk duty while being investigated for shooting at suspects. It should have included a D.C. police officer who was on administrative duty. The article also should have explained that D.C. officers sometimes remain on leave or desk duty for more than three days after shootings that are later deemed justified.
Lengthy Review Process Keeps Prince George's Police Who Fire Weapons Off Patrol
Monday, April 13, 2009
In the Washington area, 37 officers from major police agencies are on leave or restricted to desk duty, sidelined while they are investigated for shooting at suspects.
All but six are Prince George's County police officers.
Unlike most area departments, which typically return officers to the street within days or weeks, officers in Prince George's usually remain on desk duty for months after firing a weapon. One has been on desk duty for more than a year.
In the county, such shootings are investigated by police, reviewed by prosecutors and then reexamined by an internal police board before officers are allowed back to work. The process represents a cautious approach in a county with a history of allegations of excessive force by police. But it is at odds with an aim shared by most other departments in the region: to see that officers who have done nothing wrong return to work as quickly as possible.
Over the past five years, the lengthy process has resulted in more than 100 county officers being taken off patrol for months at a time and more than $1 million in salary being paid to officers restricted in their jobs. Not one shooting by an on-duty county officer in that time has been deemed unjustified.
Until a reporter described them last week, Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton said he was unaware that the differences between his department and others in the area were so stark.
"It goes against all models of reasonableness," Hylton said of his department's approach. A 28-year veteran, Hylton became chief this year.
Hylton said he would discuss the issue with State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, whose investigations into the shootings typically take months.
The strain of the officers' absence has become palpable in recent weeks, particularly as budgetary constraints have forced two-week furloughs. The 31 officers under investigation cannot work their patrol shifts; police supervisors have resorted to assigning fewer officers to target the most pressing crime trends in the very neighborhoods where carjackings, bank robberies and hostage situations led to police shootings.
Vince Canales, president of the Prince George's officers' union, said officers dislike desk duty -- many lose income because they cannot work overtime and are banned from working private security jobs while under investigation. In addition, Canales said, the policy has created a potential risk to public safety.
"We have had officers who have been in serious situations -- and who should have fired their weapons -- later report that they did not because they worried about the fact that they would be off for so long," he said.
Last month, 12 county officers were added to the list of those on leave or desk duty after they fatally shot an armed man outside a bar in Temple Hills. Largely because officers fired so many rounds -- about 90 -- clearing up who shot when and whether every shot was justified will mean the 12 will remain away from patrol for months, police and prosecutors said.