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  • Deadly Force series

  •   Standards Eased in Rush to Expand Force

    Law and Disorder
    Day One
    D.C. Police Paying for Forced Hiring Binge
    Pride in Badge Keeps Officers on Beat

    Day Two
    Standards Eased in Rush to Expand Force
    After Rookie Got Role Model, He Lost Job

    Day Three
    Police Credibility on Trial in D.C. Courts

    Day Four
    Police Efforts to Clean House Hit Snags
    Some Supervisors Not Affected by Missteps


    By Keith A. Harriston and
    Mary Pat Flaherty

    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Monday, August 29, 1994; Page A01

    Kenneth Rather completed the D.C. police academy in the summer of 1989. Then fear set in.

    During his stint there, officials cut back the time spent teaching recruits how to fire their 9mm handguns and how to maneuver a cruiser in a high-speed chase.

    As he approached his rookie assignment in the relatively low-crime 2nd District, west of Rock Creek Park, Rather was unsure he could handle it. "I didn't feel like I was getting trained right," Rather said. "I got scared, to be honest with you.

    "And then we got the guns, and I thought, 'I'm not ready for this.'"

    Rather quit.

    Most did not. Almost 1,500 recruits who now make up about one-third of the force attended the D.C. police academy in 1989 and 1990 during a buildup of the force and received similarly curtailed training, the results of which are felt on the streets of the nation's capital.

    For example, the failure to teach proper handcuffing techniques to some recruits who followed Rather led to a rash of excessive-force allegations before the Civilian Complaint Review Board in later years. There was a sharp increase in accidents involving police vehicles, including nine deaths, at a time when training in high-speed pursuits was being reduced. Scared and unprepared police officers were let loose on city streets; some committed crimes, and others say they became alcoholics.

    The Post obtained and reviewed hundreds of pages of internal department documents on the academy and transcripts of interviews with academy personnel by General Accounting Office investigators who audited the program. The Post also conducted scores of interviews with officers hired during the buildup as well as past and present academy supervisors and instructors.

    The portrait that emerged is of an academy where overburdened and often out-of-touch instructors taught in cramped classrooms. Some recruits shared scarce course materials, and there wasn't a reliable copying machine in the building.

    Relaxed Atmosphere

    The rigors of a police training institute often were nowhere to be found. Many trainees arrived late and talked loudly in the halls. A few drove cars with bullet holes in the doors, and some bragged about former exploits as drug dealers. One flashed his own gun in the parking lot, and another complained to instructors that someone had rifled a large bag of cash stored in his academy locker.

    Downtown bosses stymied attempts to improve the academy. Then-Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. resisted efforts to operate the academy under national accreditation guidelines. Those guidelines would have tightened accountability, improved record keeping and mandated better facilities. Fulwood instead spent two years arguing unsuccessfully for a unique D.C. approach through closer ties with the University of the District of Columbia.

    And when a training director initiated remedial classes for recruits who consistently received low scores on reading comprehension tests, then-Mayor Marion Barry halted the classes. The director said he believed that Barry feared the classes would reflect poorly on D.C. public schools from which many of the recruits had graduated.

    "If patrol was the backbone of the department, the top priority, then training was the lowest priority," said Capt. Gail Fisher-Stewart, second in command at the academy during those years. "That was the attitude among top command in the department."

    Julian Caballero, who has left the force to return to school, entered the academy in May 1990 after four years as a Fairfax County deputy sheriff and still remembers what happened in his class on how to use a nightstick. An instructor rested on his back on stage while recruits whacked each other with a padded stick. Unlike at the Fairfax training academy, there were no sessions on how to diffuse tense situations without guns, billy clubs and the like.

    "There was nothing but how to use lethal force," Caballero said. "We go from zero to 60 just because we weren't given proper tools."

    Double Shifts

    The large academy classes in 1989 and 1990 came as the department rushed to meet a mandate from Congress to hire 1,800 officers or lose more than $430 million in federal funds each year. The new officers were to strengthen patrols on city streets as homicide rates soared and more than 2,300 officers were about to become eligible to retire with generous pensions in 1992.

    To accommodate the influx of recruits, the academy operated on two shifts, running from 6:30 a.m. to almost midnight. But the department didn't double the number of instructors.

    "We didn't have the staff to do it," said Inspector Clarence Dickerson, academy director from 1988 to 1990.

    Not only were the academy's classrooms crowded – peaking at 76 recruits in just one of the 27 1990 classes – but instructors also had less time to teach. In early 1989, because of a rapidly increasing crime rate, then-Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. declared a crime emergency. For the academy, that meant lopping hours of classroom instruction and sending recruits to the streets more quickly. The academy, built to handle 300 recruits a year, handled 1,500 in two years.

    In 1989 and 1990, some D.C. police trainees spent as few as 322 hours at the academy, and some as many as 652 – a nearly three-month difference. Their counterparts at the Prince George's County police academy graduated after 900 hours of study. In Fairfax County, completing the academy took 704 hours.

    In some courses, such as those on laws of arrest and rules of evidence, D.C. academy officials reduced the number of hours. They left subjects such as media relations and how to deal with intoxicated people to home study. Some segments were dropped entirely, such as staging mock trials during which recruits practiced how to testify in court.

    For some groups of recruits in 1989, driving instruction was cut from 40 to 24 hours, according to Lt. Lowell Duckett, who taught vehicle skills and use of firearms at the academy for two years starting in 1987. Training in high-speed pursuit was cut back most, Duckett said.

    Only on Paper

    Academy syllabuses released to The Post under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that recruits in those years spent 40 hours on vehicle skills. "That's just on paper," Duckett said. "The actual training time was 24 hours. One day in the classroom, one day for felony stops and one day for driving.

    "No one wanted to change things on paper because they didn't want to take responsibility," Duckett said.

    As officers from the 1989-90 classes hit the streets, the number of deaths related to high-speed police pursuits increased ninefold. From October 1990 through November 1991, nine people in the District were killed in accidents involving police pursuits. In each year from 1987 to 1989, there had been only one such death for all the police departments in the Washington area.

    A D.C. Superior Court jury last year awarded $6 million to the families of two victims of a crash involving a police chase. The award, which the District is appealing, stemmed from a rush-hour accident on May 7, 1991, at Ely Place and Minnesota Avenue SE near Fort Dupont Park.

    Two police cars, each carrying two officers, were chasing a Nissan Pathfinder at speeds of more than 80 mph. The Nissan slammed into a car carrying 8-year-old James Gripper Jr. and his aunt, Donna Love, 31. Both died.

    The four officers involved all graduated from the academy in 1990.

    In depositions taken for the lawsuit, the officers estimated that they had spent less than an hour studying high-speed pursuit in a classroom. One of the officers said his hands-on driving training lasted "three or four minutes." All four of the officers said that in their driver training they never topped 40 mph and didn't chase anybody.

    Accidents Surge

    "That training consisted of riding through ... basically pylons," said Officer Mark D. Marable, who drove one of the cruisers involved in the fatal chase.

    Accidents involving police vehicles surged from roughly 500 in 1988 and 1989 to 597 in 1990 and 632 in 1991. The number then fell to 520 in 1992 and then rose to 548 in 1993.

    Dickerson, the academy director from 1988 to 1990, said in an interview that cuts in hours of instruction didn't diminish the quality of new officers. He said that under his predecessor, recruits spent time painting the building and white stripes on the parking lot and making copies of course materials for the next class.

    "They had a lot of down time, so I could see that we could reduce some hours," Dickerson said.

    Some recruits, though, say they realized they weren't prepared.

    Rather, the rookie who was headed for the 2nd District, decided to quit after completing the academy in 1989. He took a job managing a District restaurant about a block away from the police department's headquarters, where, he said, "I'm content talking to the officers who come in here."

    Ernest Hamner said he wasn't ready when he went on the beat. He joined the force as a cadet in 1987, completed the academy and was given his gun and badge in late 1989. Sometimes, he patrolled alone in the 6th District in far Northeast and Southeast Washington when he was still 20 years old.

    "A lot of {us} had to learn from the streets because we were rushed through the academy," Hamner said. "But a 21-year-old – and certainly a 20-year-old – is too young to place on the streets. They have to give a person a chance to grow up before they throw them to the wolves."

    Within a year, Hamner said, he became an alcoholic. In less than two years, he raped and sodomized a woman at gunpoint in the district he patrolled and was convicted. He is in prison.

    Brian Gibson, a former Marine and a defendant in a pending lawsuit alleging police brutality, entered the academy in April 1990. During his time on the force, he has received a commendation from the chief for apprehending a man with a shotgun, yet he's spent the last year taking classes to make up for what he thinks he missed at the academy.

    "I had to go back to school myself to learn the way to do policing, the theory," Gibson said. "We didn't get that kind of thing in the academy because there wasn't time for it."

    Question of Priority

    In-service training has not been a priority for the department. The police budget for training outside the academy held steady at about $40,000 a year from 1988 through 1992.

    Police officials then opposed national accreditation for the department, saying they didn't think broad standards could apply equally to departments of all sizes.

    National accreditation would have established standards throughout the force. It would have required the department's academy to establish written guidelines detailing responsibilities of the training staff and the training director and the director's relationship with the chief, ensuring accountability.

    Accreditation also would have required the police academy to maintain records on courses and grades for all recruits. The department would have to have written guidelines on remedial instruction for recruits and given them access to a track for vehicle training.

    In 1992, after some prodding from Congress and some members of the D.C. Council, Fulwood started the national accreditation process for the department. It is to be completed next year.

    Unhappy Memories

    Some officers trained in 1989 and 1990 have unpleasant memories of their academy days.

    "It seemed a lot like high school," said Millicent Holliday, who was a reservist for the Army National Guard and an accounting clerk at Bolling Air Force Base before she joined the D.C. police in April 1990. "A lot of people didn't seem to take it seriously."

    Physical fitness was a low priority. Some recruits took training in driving skills without having their driver's permits. One was caught stealing wheel rims from cars in the academy parking lot.

    One recruit raised his hand during a lecture by a narcotics detective and described himself as an expert on drugs because he once had sold them. He was thrown out of the academy.

    Another recruit went to academy officials furious. Someone had rifled his duffel bag. "It was a bag full of cash, and he wanted us to investigate it," Fisher-Stewart said. He resigned from the academy.

    Ready to Compromise

    Police and city officials appeared willing to compromise academy standards. Academy director Dickerson established a panel to screen and select instructors. But officers still showed up without notice and announced that they had been transferred to teach at the academy, former instructors said.

    The exam scores for one class were so consistently low that Dickerson had the group tested for reading comprehension at the University of the District of Columbia. "The results were pretty bad," Dickerson said.

    He started the remedial courses, but Barry promptly stopped them. Barry declined to comment through a spokeswoman.

    English Classes Scotched

    City officials also stopped a UDC course in English as a second language for group from Puerto Rico who had been recruited by the department to increase its contingent of Spanish-speakers. The recruits from Puerto Rico were getting low test scores at the academy.

    "They could speak English, but they weren't thinking in English," Fisher-Stewart said. The English program ended after six weeks "because {city lawyers} thought it was discriminatory."

    "Having been now to another police academy, I can see that D.C. didn't train us, really," said Theodore Robinson, who completed the academy in 1989 but left the force two years later for a police job in Charlotte, N.C. "We were going to be going out in a $20,000 {patrol car} with 54 rounds of ammo and a weapon, and what we got at the academy from most of the instructors was, 'Go and do it.' "

    Cabellero, the former Fairfax County deputy sheriff, recalled that at the Fairfax training academy, county lawyers taught constitutional and legal principles. At the District's academy, a 20-year police veteran who had been at the academy almost half that time, taught the class.

    "He hadn't seen the inside of a courtroom for 10 years," Cabellero said.

    Missing the Point

    The caliber of teaching reflected the level of commitment and experience instructors brought to the job, said Lolita Armstrong, who taught at the academy from 1981 to October 1990. Some instructors, Armstrong said, didn't update their course materials to reflect changes in the law or department procedures.

    "Some instructors just didn't see how important the job was," Armstrong said. "I don't think a lot of them understood that they were sending someone out there with a gun."

    Types of charges filed against officers accused of breaking internal rules of conduct in 1993:

    Neglect of duty ..................... 96

    Conduct unbecoming .................. 66

    Untruthful statement ................ 56

    Failure to obey orders .............. 51

    Absence without leave ............... 32

    No action ........................... 31

    Disobeying orders ................... 24

    Prejudicial conduct ................. 22

    Negligent use or loss of weapon ..... 13

    SOURCE: Metropolitan Police Department

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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