With all the talk about regional cooperation these days -- how the suburbs and city need to work together to solve their common problems -- how did the swearing-in ceremony of Montgomery County's new police chief become a forum for a slur against the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department?
Rose Ochi, director of the Justice Department's Community Relations Service, arrived late for the event. She wasn't scheduled to speak, but her Justice Department colleague Robert Lamb saw her enter and invited her to come on stage.
Ochi said she was glad to be part of Chief Charles A. Moose's swearing-in, wished him well and apologized for being late. Then, with a comic's timing, she offered her excuse: "I got my directions from the D.C. police."
The room erupted in sustained laughter. Just about everyone in the crowd of 250 or so -- community leaders, Montgomery County police officers, friends of the chief -- seemed to find the comment hilarious.
I did not. I was dumbstruck. I don't lack a sense of humor, but the comment and the reaction struck me as monumentally unfair, demeaning and smug.
I've lived in the District for most of the past 15 years, and I reject the implication that D.C. cops are screw-ups. When my house was burglarized, the police responded quickly, professionally and in force. They did a thorough job of dusting for prints, recommended ways to better secure the property and promised to keep an eye on the place.
I've had other dealings with the D.C. police too -- at community meetings and while on assignment as a reporter -- and I'm almost always impressed with the officers I encounter.
And I'm not alone in finding the comment unfunny. Political analyst Mark Plotkin and D.C. City Council member Harold Brazil both called Ochi's crack "a cheap shot." "You have to question her judgment [for] openly criticizing the police department," Brazil said. "I think it reflects badly on the Justice Department. She ought to be chastised."
Assistant Police Chief Terry Gainor called the remark "very insensitive." He said, "It continues an unfair stereotype of the men and women of the department. And she should know better.
"The very thing her office is working on is to minimize stereotyping. The Metropolitan Police Department is a family, and we deserve to be treated better."
Ochi, in a phone interview, rejected any suggestion that she was trying to get a laugh at the expense of the D.C. Metropolitan Police. She said her comment "had nothing to do with D.C. . . . I just relayed what happened, with no intent to in any way make fun. I was surprised to be standing there." That may be, but it doesn't explain the audience reaction, which spoke volumes about the way many people view the District.
Plotkin says see-only-the-worst criticism of the District is partly a holdover from the Marion Barry era. But that mayor has moved off the stage, and while the city still has problems, it is doing better every day, and it ill-behooves us to use such broad-brush criticism.
Treating our neighbors more charitably -- now that would be regional cooperation.
-- Bruce DePuyt
is a NewsChannel 8 reporter.