'They Are Putting People at Risk'
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Allegations about systemic training deficiencies became increasingly common in police brutality lawsuits against the District. Gregory Lattimer, then a corporation counsel lawyer, visited the police academy in 1989 to observe baton training while he was handling a case involving a citizen who had been hit in the eye with an officer's nightstick. Lattimer, who now often represents clients in cases against the city, said in an interview that he was appalled by the skimpy instruction and reported back to a supervisor, who urged him to write a memo but not complain publicly.
Martin Grossman, deputy corporation counsel, said in an interview that he cannot recall the case and that the office's internal files cannot be located. The city settled that lawsuit for $50,000, according to corporation counsel figures. Two years later, the city paid $45,000 to a woman allegedly hit over the head with a baton by another officer, the figures show.
"This has been going on for years," Lattimer said. "We all knew about it. No one did anything."
Two years ago, then-Police Chief Larry D. Soulsby vowed to send three-quarters of the force back to the academy for retraining. But the effort failed for lack of a committed follow-up, according to police officials.
With a new police administration in place, training is again being emphasized. Executive Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer said he was surprised to arrive in Washington from Chicago last spring and discover that many officers were unfamiliar with what law enforcement experts call the "force continuum."
The continuum is a written standard to guide officers in deciding how much force is appropriate in various situations; one intent of the standard is to prevent ordinary encounters with citizens from escalating to violence.
"Officers are not being taught this adequately," Gainer said in an interview. "They are not practicing these skills and they are putting people at risk."
Ramsey said he plans to send the entire force back through the academy, beginning in January. The chief said he will equip officers with an effective pepper spray to use as an alternative to clubs and will prohibit the use of blackjacks, the leather-covered lead bludgeons now carried by some officers.
"Most departments have discarded the use of those," Ramsey said. "They're difficult to control without serious injury."
Officers are permitted to use the "carotid artery hold," a technique of applying pressure or force to the carotid artery or jugular vein. But, under D.C. law, they must be certified in CPR in case the suspect becomes unconscious. Training instructors and police officials, however, acknowledge that a substantial portion of the force is not certified.
"Half to three-quarters of the department had not even qualified with their weapons," Gainer said. "So you can't expect that they were trained in the use of force."
The District, which a decade ago stopped requiring performance evaluations of officers by their superiors, is also the only jurisdiction in the nation that does not require annual in-service training for police officers, according to a report last month by a D.C. Council special investigative committee.
"You bring in a kid and put him through recruit school and then they get on the street and they're told, 'We do it this way, not by the book,' " said Robert Klotz, a former D.C. deputy chief. "So training needs to be continuously reemphasized."
Some recent trainees wrote in their training evaluations that they feel ill-prepared.
"My class was sent out to work without the needed life saving techniques to work the streets. We didn't receive our scheduled street survival classes or civil disturbance training," one recruit wrote. "I wonder how am I to serve and protect the citizens of the District of Columbia when the department that I believed in and work for puts my life and well being in danger."
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