Q&A With Charles H. Ramsey
"Levey Live" appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It's your chance to talk directly to major newsmakers and to key Washington Post reporters and editors.
A native of Chicago, Ramsey joined that city's police department in 1968 as an 18-year-old cadet. After becoming a police officer in 1971, Ramsey spent the next 30 years working his way through the ranks, from sergeant to Deputy Superintendent of the Bureau of Staff Services.
Ramsey was a key player in the development of CAPS, the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, considered a landmark in community policing. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in criminal justice and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. Ramsey became Chief of Police in Washington, D.C., on April 21, 1998.
Here is a transcript of today's session:
Colesville, Md.: I'd like your reasoning on why the off-duty officer killed at a nightclub deserves recognition as "dying in the line of duty"?
Charles H. Ramsey: In making the determination as to whether or not the death of an officer is in the line of duty, I review the entire case file. In the case of Officer Hamlette, based on witness statements, the determination was made that at the time of his death, Officer Hamlette was attempting to arrest a subject he had been arguing with. The suspect, according to witness statements, pushed Officer Hamlette. At this point, even though there are no witness statements to confirm it, Officer Hamlette drew his weapon, and there was a brief struggle. I can only presume that he was attempting to arrest the individual at that point. Not all cases in which officers are killed or seriously injured are clear-cut. I believe that in cases like the Hamlette case, the officer should be given the benefit of the doubt. This case is particularly tragic because another officer, who was unaware of what was taking place, shot and killed Officer Hamlette. I have also ruled that shooting, based on the information the officer had at the time it occurred, was justified. I think it's time that people allow Officer Hamlette to rest in peace, and the other officer to rebuild his life and move on.
Charles H. Ramsey: I believe very strongly that officers should go back to school to further their education and, if possible, obtain their college degrees. One of the things we are attempting to do is to adjust officers' days off so they can attend school during off-duty time. It is very difficult to allow officers to attend school during on-duty time, because it takes away from the Police Department's ability to provide adequate police coverage in all of our neighborhoods. We have had some discussions with the Control Board to allow for tuition reimbursement for officers; however, that proposal is still under consideration.
Bob Levey: The headline in the Post was very welcome yesterday--D.C. HITS 25-YEAR LOW IN SERIOUS CRIME. But those are reported crimes. Could we just be seeing fewer crimes reported, rather than fewer crimes?
Charles H. Ramsey: We do know that many crimes go unreported. However, there is no indication that there are any more crimes that are not being reported today than in the past. The fact is, crime in the District of Columbia is on the decline. Last year represented a 25-year low for major crimes. And thus far this year, we are 14 percent below last year's figures. I am not satisfied with those figures, however. There is still a great deal more that can -- and will -- be done to make our streets safer. To make that a reality, we will need the continued support and involvement of the community and other agencies.
Good Morning Chief,
Charles H. Ramsey: There is currently an internal investigation under way as a result of the Fox 5 investigative report. The officers named in the report have been placed in a "no-contact" status, pending the outcome of the investigation. They have also had their secondary employment privileges revoked. I have suspended the secondary employment privileges of other officers who had worked at that club. I still believe that off-duty employment should be restricted. There are some jobs that are inappropriate for officers because they potentially create a conflict of interest and undermine the credibility of the Police Department. I will continue to work with the Council to make the appropriate changes in legislation and provide better oversight of officers who engage in secondary employment.
Bob Levey: Marion Barry's huge security detail left a bad taste in many mouths. What's the story with the security detail assigned to Mayor Williams? Smaller? Fetching luggage from any airports?
Charles H. Ramsey: The security detail that was assigned to protect Mayor Barry was cut in half shortly before I took over as police chief in April 1998. That number remains the same. We have taken a careful look at the Mayor's security and sought the input of the U.S. Secret Service, which has a great deal of experience in executive protection. We are comfortable with the number of officers currently assigned, as long as there is no direct threat made on the life of the Mayor. The officers assigned are there to perform security functions only, and no longer engage in inappropriate activities such as fetching luggage, as they were asked to do under Mayor Barry.
Half an hour remaining with Chief Ramsey. Keep those questions coming....
Bob Levey: When you took over a little more than a year ago, equipment was one of the police department's biggest problems. Roofs leaked, cruisers didn't work, gas pumps contained no gas. Have these (and similar) problems been fixed?
Charles H. Ramsey: We have made tremendous progress in correcting many of the problems that have plagued the Department in terms of poor equipment, facilities, training, etc. For example, we have purchased approximately 1,800 new police radios, 287 new police mountain bikes, 490 new police cruisers, 300 new mobile data computers and new less-than-lethal technology (OC spray and retractable batons). In addition, we have begun a major capital improvement project in which $101 million will be spent over a six-year period to rehabilitate all of the district stations and many of the other facilities that have been allowed to fall into disrepair over the years. We have also made a huge investment in training, providing investigative and management training for the first time in years. If we are to have a professional Police Department, it is important that we provide our officers with the equipment, facilities and other tools they need to get the job done. We will continue to make these investments in the years ahead.
Charles H. Ramsey: I agree that the article failed to mention many of the positive steps that we have taken during the past year. As you can see from the previous response, a great deal of progress has been made in upgrading our equipment, technology, facilities and training. During the same period of time, we initiated a major reorganization of the entire Department that has put us in a better position to open lines of communication, better deploy our resources and provide higher quality services to the citizens of the District of Columbia. The article also failed to acknowledge the nature and extent of many of the problems we faced in MPD, even though there is a clear record of this Department's decline over at least two decades. Systemic problems like the ones the Department faces are not fixed overnight. But I am confident that we are on the right path and have made tremendous progress, despite many of the obstacles that have stood in our way.
Washington, DC: Why aren't there more police directing traffic to make it move better, particularly during rush hour and Georgetown on weekends? Even though you had a recent initiative to prevent blocking intersections, it doesn't seem that traffic is a priority.
Charles H. Ramsey: I agree that more can be done in the area of traffic control and enforcement. We do have some officers assigned to specific locations during rush hour to improve the flow of traffic. More needs to be done in this area, however. I have come to realize that traffic is a major issue for people in the District of Columbia, and we will do everything we can to improve conditions here. For example, we have recently received approval to proceed with the red-light camera project, where cameras will installed at numerous locations throughout the District to catch motorists running red lights. We are also involved in two projects in the downtown area where we are working with the business improvement districts to eliminate gridlock at key intersections.
Washington, DC: The one area that the District of Columbia has always been very efficient at is ticketing and towing illegally parked cars. I recently took a job in downtown DC. I commute via 13th Street, NW from 13th and Military Road to 13th and T Street, N.W. There are very few days that pass when there aren't illegally parked cars on this route. It doesn't matter whether it is the AM or PM rush. Often times the cars will have tickets, but I think that the city needs to really go back to strict enforcement of the parking regulations and towing of vehicles that are blocking the flow of traffic. What can be done? [edited for space]
Charles H. Ramsey: Thank you for bringing the problems on 13th Street to my attention. We will see to it that officers assigned to that area continue to write tickets on illegally parked cars. We will also work with the Department of Public Works to increase towing of these cars. As I mentioned previously, traffic flow in the city is a concern and a priority. Anything we can do to alleviate some of the congestion, such as clearing rush-hour traffic lanes, will go a long way toward making everyone's commute both shorter and safer.
Charles H. Ramsey: In the Department's most recent collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police, there was a provision for the Department and FOP to work together to create fitness standards for our officers. Those standards are still being developed. In the meantime, we hope to begin a wellness program that will focus officers' attention on the need to remain physically fit.
Washington, DC: I'm concerned that we are not paying enough attention to crime prevention, through cracking down on 'quality of life' crimes, including public drinking, aggressive panhandling, etc. Walk down 8th Street SE any day and you'll see numerous illegal activities going unchecked, day and night. What actions are you taking to deal with quality of life crimes, and what can we do to cut down on panhandling en masse, which wears mightily on the soul?
Charles H. Ramsey: Quality of life crimes are important, and I expect officers to take appropriate action whenever they observe illegal activity taking place. It's also important to remember, however, that in order to avoid conflict with many of the communities that we serve, members of that community need to be involved in helping to establish the values and norms for that particular community. Together, we need to find new ways to deal with many of the problems that you raise. A law enforcement approach alone is not the solution. We need to engage other agencies, private service providers and the community itself to develop long-term solutions to these problems.
Washington, DC: What is the recruitment situation with the police department? Are you attracting young, educated people or is recruitment a problem area? That is, are you attracting good candidates or having to settle for men and women who will be, at best, simply "average" cops?
Charles H. Ramsey: Our recruitment efforts to date have shown marked improvement, although we are still not keeping pace with our attrition rate. I was recently informed by my director of Personnel that applicants for MPDC are, on average, better educated and are passing the entrance exam with much higher scores than in the past. All of this will lead to a higher quality police officer. We are committed to attracting the very best people to join our Department.
Centreville, VA: I really have no questions, but would like to thank you for the fine job you are doing. For the first time in many years, I am regaining my sense of feeling safe with coming to Washington, D.C. for cultural events and nightlife. I would like to see DC have a better reputation than it has had in the past. Congratulations on a JOB WELL DONE!
Charles H. Ramsey: Thank you very much for your comments. Washington, D.C., is a great city, and people should feel comfortable coming here and being able to enjoy more than just the monuments. There is an entire city that extends beyond the downtown area, with diverse neighborhoods and cultural offerings. We are very pleased with the progress we have made in reducing crime and the fear of crime in the District of Columbia.
Bob Levey: That's all we have time for today. Many thanks to Chief Charles Ramsey for being with us. Be sure to join us next Tuesday, May 18, when our guest will be Bob McCartney, The Washington Post's new foreign editor. We'll discuss the Balkans and other world hot spots. Meanwhile, be sure to join us on Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time for "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," our weekly anything-goes show.