The D.C. Police Department is conducting an internal investigation to determine how members of the Church of Scientology, a controversial religious group that has been investigated by law enforcement agencies, were able to set up a course for recruits at the D.C. Police Training Academy, police officials said.
The course, taught by church members, was set up without the approval of Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. and is contrary to the department's procedures regarding outsiders teaching police academy courses, according to Assistant Chief Theodore Carr.
Two Scientology members taught the first half of the training course, based on the church's teachings, to eight recruits last month with the approval of Inspector Horatius Wilson, then head of the police academy, church members said. The course was intended to help officers communicate with crime victims and citizens under stress, church members said.
Carr, head of the department's administrative services bureau, which includes the police academy, said Wilson invited the Scientologists to teach "without my permission and without the permission of the chief of police.
"We're trying to determine the nature and purpose of the invitation," Carr said. "It leaves us stammering."
Wilson, a 21-year veteran of the force who took command of the academy in Southwest Washington in August, retired last month. Officials said that his retirement was coincidental to his superiors' anger over his allowing the Scientology course. Wilson, scheduled to start work tomorrow as the Fairfax County police department's minorities recruiter, was contacted yesterday and declined to comment.
Carr said that Wilson allowed the Scientologists to visit so Wilson could evaluate the worth of their course, and that Wilson ended the course after realizing that it was inappropriate. But Carr offered few other details pending completion of the investigation. The pilot course, on "Basic Communication," was slated to last two weeks, but after only five three-hour sessions, Wilson told the Scientologists the course would end immediately, church members said.
Mary Jane Keane, a Scientologist who helped supervise the course but did not teach it, said Wilson told her the course had to end because of the teachers' affiliation with Scientology, and because the course appeared to have something to do with "mind control." It is not clear whether Wilson's superiors ordered him to end the training course, or whether he did it on his own.
The police training course was based on the teachings of the church's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, 71, a former fiction writer who arrived at his theory of "Dianetics" in the 1950s and built it into one of the world's wealthiest new religions, worth $300 million and claiming 2 million members.
Two high-ranking church members were convicted here in 1980 on charges of aiding and abetting burglary in connection with break-ins at government offices in 1976. Prosecutors said the burglaries at the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department and elsewhere were intended to find out about the church's status as a tax-exempt institution, and about what the government knew about Hubbard. A number of other ranking Scientology members, including Hubbard's wife, have been imprisoned on various charges. Church officials have said those leaders charged with wrongdoing have been removed from their positions.
The church's critics around the country have charged that top Scientologists have orchestrated harassment campaigns against them.
D.C. police officials said they don't want to investigate the church, but the police academy's invitation to offer the course.
Church of Scientology members interviewed said they are angry the police department kicked them out of the academy.
"I feel insulted by the treatment we've received," said Keane. "We went in with good intentions, to help the police department."
The episode started last September, Keane said, one month after Wilson took command at the academy and around the time Scientologists set up a local branch of a drug abuse therapy group affiliated with the church, called Narconon.
Keane, who runs Narconon's recently opened office at 509 E St. NW, said she and other Scientology members approached Wilson in September to ask him to allow them to teach a course on "communications," at no cost to the police department. They gave Wilson materials about Narconon, Keane said, and Wilson "most assuredly" knew they were church members.
Wilson was receptive to the idea that they teach a course, the same one Narconon offers to people learning to be Narconon counselors, Keane said. After several planning sessions with police academy officials, two Scientology members, Robert Foss and Timothy Mantis, started teaching last month, Keane said. Foss and Mantis could not be reached for comment.
The course consisted in having the recruits read and discuss materials based on Hubbard's teachings, and then hold rap sessions. In a typical session, recruits assumed roles, with one playing a police officer and another playing a citizen, Keane said. In a second drill, recruits sat facing each other and silently looked at each other, she said.
Police officials would not say whether the eight recruits in the class were among the 188 graduated Friday from the police academy, or whether they are among more than 50 still enrolled. According to a police academy source, as well as to Keane, Wilson said he welcomed the Scientology teachers because the academy was so jammed with student recruits that its staff was stretched thin.
Keane said she plans to write Chief Turner for an explanation of why their course was ended. She said she and other Scientologists teach the same course to prisoners at Lorton Reformatory, at the prisoners' request. She also said Narconon is in the process of asking local judges to release drug offenders in its care.
Narconon, also based on Hubbard's teachings, seeks to cure drug addicts through a combination of exercise, therapy, vitamins and sauna baths, according to officials of Narconon, based in Los Angeles. A full six-month Narconon program, including room and board, costs the patient as much as $6,000, Keane said.
Although Narconon has attracted praise from professional athletes and entertainers, several drug therapy professionals have criticized it as ineffective.
Although it is an independent group, Narconon shares philosophical beliefs with the Church of Scientology. Scientologists' teachings revolve around the "audit," in which members confess embarrassing episodes from their past while hooked up to lie detector devices. Counselors use the measurements of emotional distress to help the individual learn to remove negative feelings, church members say.
Keane said Hubbard's teachings could be valuable to police officers dealing with potentially violent individuals.
Hubbard has prompted controversy for years. He disappeared from public view in 1980, and his son, Ronald DeWolf, petitioned a California court to be appointed trustee of his father's estate. DeWolf said in court papers that Hubbard may be dead. However, Hubbard's lawyers say he is alive and they filed in court a handwritten letter from Hubbard stating that he is alive and working on his writing.