D.C. Trying to Again Fire 17 Rehired Police Officers
Saturday, May 24, 2008; Page B01
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said yesterday that she is trying to dismiss at least 17 officers who won back their jobs because of mistakes made by the department in firing procedures.
The chief's statements are a turnabout from her comments earlier in the week, when she said she had no choice but to bring back the officers, who were fired for misconduct. Yesterday, at the urging of interim D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles, Lanier said she would charge the officers with "inefficiency" to root them out.
Lanier said the officers will be investigated internally -- once again -- in a process toward termination. The inefficiency allegation stems from the fact that some of the officers back on the job may not be able to testify in court because of credibility issues.
Seventeen officers -- fired for offenses such as lying, falsifying documents, double-dipping and fistfighting on the job -- have returned to work since October because the department failed to meet deadlines in the disciplinary process. Judges and arbitrators ruled against the city in those cases. Lanier said she also plans to try to fire several other officers she was forced to bring back since she became chief in December 2006.
Most of the firings involved alleged wrongdoing before Lanier became chief. The majority of returning officers are back on patrol. Lanier said that the department will evaluate whether they should remain on the street while they are being investigated. Some could be placed on desk duty pending a final outcome, she said.
On Monday, Lanier said she had to bring back officers if a judge or arbitrator found they were "wrongfully terminated," giving them full back pay, benefits and seniority. News of the officers' return generated criticism from some D.C. Council members, who faulted the city for missing deadlines.
Yesterday, Lanier said she took another look at the issue at Nickles's suggestion. Nickles cited D.C. regulations that say the city should not be forced to rehire an employee because of a procedural error if the mistake did not cause "substantial harm or prejudice" to the employee's rights. In these cases, Nickles said, the employees' credibility renders them unfit for work.
"We're talking about serious offenses," Lanier said. "These cases raise profound issues of public safety in the District. We can't have officers testifying in court when their credibility can't be trusted."
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who joined Lanier and Nickles at a news conference yesterday, said police have put measures in place to ensure that they meet deadlines.
"The chief's action tells the public our officers will be honest and accountable as they perform their duties," Fenty said. "At the same time, we'll be sure to meet every relevant deadline in the future."
Kristopher Baumann, head of the D.C. police lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said that Lanier's latest move to fire the officers is disturbing.
"We have an attorney general and mayor who apparently have decided that the laws and regulations and the decision from D.C. Superior Court don't apply to them," Baumann said. "That should be extremely troubling to everybody involved."