Certainly, the Rivlin Commission knew that our recommendations to cut back on the District of Columbia's police expenditures would cause controversy. But our close look at the D.C. police department found the most bloated and inefficient big-city police department in the United States. Here's why our mayor-elect could follow the commission's recommendations and still ensure that the D.C. police department would do a much better job of protecting Washingtonians:
The department is grossly overstaffed, with eight officers per 1,000 citizens -- about 800 of whom have quietly been hired since our study late last spring. No other municipal police agency has a ratio anywhere near this or the department's ratios of officers per working population or tourist population. Among 12 other comparable cities we studied, Baltimore is next highest with 3.9 officers per 1,000 population. Philadelphia and New York have 3.6; Detroit, 3.3; Los Angeles, 2.2.
The D.C. police representatives argue that we need all these officers because, unlike other cities, the District gets no help from state or county law enforcement agencies. This argument is backward: D.C. police get more help from other agencies than any other American police department. Except in California, where the highway patrol polices urban freeways, state and county police stay out of big cities. But in addition to the D.C. police department, 5,000 federal and regional police officers work in the District. Add them into the equation, and the District has nearly five times as many police per capita as any other American city.
Despite all these officers, the D.C. police department incurs overtime expenses unequaled in any American police agency. Last year, these came to $22.7 million. This is $35 per citizen, twice as much as the second highest city and 100 times as high as the most overtime-efficient. Last year, several D.C. police officers earned in six figures. One officer, surely the nation's highest paid detective, drew $115,000 in salary and overtime. Despite these enormous costs, the D.C. police department has no effective system for monitoring overtime or for allowing field commanders to distribute it in a way that bears any relation to operational needs.
Contractual arrangements prohibit changes in officers' assignments without 28 days' notice. As a consequence, virtually every crowd scene or special event -- from weekend nights in Georgetown to KKK demonstrations -- results in massive overtime.
As far as we could tell, the District is the only big city without a night court or desk-appearance ticket system. As a result, virtually everyone arrested after the courts' close of business must be jailed overnight, and officers must appear in court the next day, usually on overtime. Some officers exploit this system by following a lucrative practice they call "collars for dollars." They make arrests late on evening shifts, book their prisoners on overtime (2.7 hours on average), return in the morning to go to court with their prisoners, sit around on overtime waiting for their cases to be called and go back out on patrol overtired.
As far as we could tell, the District is the only big-city police department that reassigns arresting officers from patrol to the prosecutor's office while their cases are pending before grand juries. In other places, small elite squads of detectives prepare cases far more effectively and efficiently than the District's system allows. Creating such a squad here would improve investigations, save money and get cops back out on the streets.
Even if this great number of officers and this huge overtime budget were wisely used, there would be little the D.C. police department could do to reduce the violence that has put Washington into the national headlines. The District's crime problem is drug-related violence, and, except for it, the District has less crime than most of the 12 comparable cities we studied.
Extensive research demonstrates that police can protect specific places -- streets and stores -- from crimes like robbery and burglary. As any police official will admit privately, police can do virtually nothing to protect mobile individuals from people who want to do them violence. Without assigning a cop to each one, the police cannot stop drug dealers from killing each other. Nor can the police do much to stem the demand for drugs that is at the core of most of the District's violence. Even the D.C. police department's Operation Cleansweep -- 46,000 drug arrests in 18 months -- had no demonstrable effect on drug trafficking or violence in the District of Columbia.
The D.C. police department's non-crime-related workload does not justify this staffing level and overtime expense, either. Washington's rate of calls for police service was lower than all but two of the 13 cities we studied. Washington's rate of calls per 1,000 officers was less than half the rates in Denver, Milwaukee and Seattle -- cities generally regarded as far less demanding than the District to police. The District was next to last in radio dispatches per 1,000 officers.
Despite this low overall workload, D.C. police street officers work hard because there are so few of them: The D.C. police department had the highest percentage of officers in non-enforcement jobs among the 13 cities. The rule of thumb is that two-thirds of all police officers should be beat or patrol car cops who work out of districts or precincts. After wading through the bureaucratic maze that hid more than 500 officers whose assignments to patrol existed only on paper, we found last spring that only 1,800 of the D.C police department's 4,100 officers -- 44 percent -- were on uniformed duty in the department's seven districts. Even among these, a good number were shuffling papers rather than fighting crime. Twenty-one of the officers in the districts are assigned on a full-time basis to tabulating officers' overtime.
"Civilianization" replaces desk-bound police officers with civilian employees whose salaries and pension benefits cost far less. The D.C. police department has the lowest percentage of civilian employees among the 13 cities studied. In the Technical Services Bureau alone, we found 205 uniformed officers and supervisors doing work -- manning phones, maintaining records and keeping track of vehicles -- that could easily be done by civilian employees.
There is little rhyme or reason to the D.C. police department's assignment patterns. About one in every four authorized patrol positions in the seven districts was vacant; one in every five authorized detective slots was vacant; and homicide detectives worked with impossible workloads. At the same time, the Youth Division had more than twice as many officers as authorized, and headquarters units had six officers for every five authorized positions.
The D.C. police department is technologically obsolete and professionally inexpert. It has no central computerized crime analysis capability to allow commanders to deploy officers most efficiently. Its youngest officers have been haphazardly trained and receive no in-service training once they finish recruit school. Its supervisors and managers are not trained for their work. Its organizational structure lets supervisors escape accountability for officers' performance. It has no formal system to evaluate or reward officers' performance.
We could go on. Suffice to say that, despite Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr.'s great ability, he has recently inherited a huge police department that bulges with far more fat than muscle and that wastes the immense talent and courage of his officers. If the fat and wasted effort are eliminated, the D.C. police department will emerge to provide better protection and service and to take a great burden off the officers who do its main work. If the fat and the wasted motion -- which are even greater in the District's fire department -- are allowed to remain, we'll have only politics as usual.
James J. Fyfe, a professor of justice in the American University's School of Public Affairs, was a New York City police lieutenant. Patrick V. Murphy, director of the United States Conference of Mayors Police Advisory Board, was a police chief executive in Syracuse, Washington, D.C., Detroit and New York City. Both served on the Rivlin Commission.