D.C. police officers expressed dissatisfaction with Chief Charles H. Ramsey's leadership and criticized the department's effectiveness in a survey conducted this month by the police labor union, the latest sign of tension between the chief and the rank and file.
The survey marked the first time in about 20 years that union leaders had used questionnaires to gauge members' views about the direction of the force and other issues. Questionnaires were sent to all officers and returned by 465 of the 2,946 officers who received them, or about 16 percent, leaders said.
Union leaders said the results showed that the force is demoralized and highlighted serious disenchantment with Ramsey, now in his fifth year as chief.
"The officers feel that they don't have the complete support of the chief," said Gregory Greene, acting chairman of the Metropolitan Police Department Labor Committee of the Fraternal Order of Police. As a result, Greene said, "there's no proactive policing. They basically do the bare minimum, most of them."
Ramsey, who is in the midst of negotiations for a new contract, said he "didn't think much" of the survey, maintaining that it captured the feelings of a disgruntled minority. He defended new policies, such as the department's revised rules on the use of force and a controversial redeployment plan that union leaders said demonstrated his lack of support for officers.
"In the five years that I've been here, what have I asked anybody to do but be a policeman, and a good policeman?" he said.
The union's survey focused on Ramsey, but it also asked officers how confident they were in all levels of the department's hierarchy.
The lower the rank, the more confidence inspired in those officers who answered the survey: 48 percent said they were confident their sergeants would support them, one-third were confident in their lieutenants, but only 9 percent were confident in the chief.
Of the 465 surveyed, slightly less than half said they felt the department was "not very effectively" carrying out its basic duties. A total of 222 (about 48 percent) of those who sent back the questionnaires said the department's performance had declined under Ramsey, compared to 90 (19 percent) who said it improved and 126 (27 percent) who said it had stayed the same. Twenty-seven other officers declined to answer that question.
As they released the survey, union leaders traced what they said was a decline in department morale under Ramsey, beginning with his decision to invite the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the department's use of force. This invitation, made shortly after Ramsey arrived in the District, was spurred by a 1998 Washington Post series showing that D.C. officers used deadly force more often than their colleagues in other cities. It resulted in new standards for training, monitoring and investigating officers who use force.
Union leaders said this policy has been enforced in such a strict way that officers are afraid to be aggressive, fearful that they could be dismissed if allegations are filed claiming they used force unjustly. They said Ramsey also tended to blame the rank and file for poor department performance.
"I think that Chief Ramsey has used up every bit of the benefit of the doubt" officers extended to him when he arrived from the Chicago Police Department in 1998, said Gary W. Hankins, a former D.C. officer and now a labor consultant.
D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), who is chair of the Judiciary Committee, said that the survey showed "that the chief and his command staff need to be in better touch with the troops."
Ramsey said his invitation to the Justice Department likely averted a more comprehensive, and more disruptive, federal review of police actions. He said that his redeployment strategy, which calls for officers in desk jobs and some specialized units to do uniformed patrols at regular intervals, was necessary to keep up neighborhood policing. He said he had no plans to abandon that approach.
The chief contended that he offers plenty of support to good officers, noting that he had invited into his office a rookie who shot and wounded two suspects after being fired upon in a Northeast alley last Thursday morning.
"I support officers who do a good job," Ramsey said. "And I don't support officers that don't."