For the first time in recent memory, the union representing city police officers and its razor-tongued chairman, Kristopher Baumann, will not be in attendance to counter the department’s testimony.
It’s not that they weren’t invited. A staff member for the Public Safety and Judiciary committee personally reached out to Baumann on Monday to see if the union was planning to attend. What’s more instructive is the scathing reply Baumann offered, explaining that the union has “no confidence” in the panel’s chairman, Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), and was thus not testifying.
Wrote Baumann, “Mr. Mendelson’s hostility toward police officers, the failure of Mr. Mendelson and the Committee to hold the Executive accountable for wrongdoing, the failure to protect witnesses, and the lack of accountability have created an environment where not only is the input of rank and file police officers not welcome, but those who testify are subject to retaliation.”
The letter goes on to lay out a number of concerns — that Mendelson didn’t do enough to protect rank-and-file officers who gave council testimony critical of management and were later retaliated against; that he has been inattentive to concerns about a dwindling number of officers; and that he has failed to keep fellow committee members apprised of investigations into department activities.
Mendelson received the union’s endorsement in his last election, in 2010. “We made a real effort here to try to work with him,” Baumann said in an interview Wednesday. “We were foolish to do so.”
”There comes a point where we are just not getting anywhere with him,” he continued. “His legislative agenda has been to make it harder to prosecute criminals, and if we do prosecute them, he’s made it easier for them to get out of jail.”
Mendelson joins Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) as a former police union endorsee who’s now run afoul of Baumann, who was recently reelected to a fourth two-year term as the union’s chairman.
Mendelson said in an interview Tuesday evening that Baumann is “clearly upset over the way I handled a couple of the hearings last year. . .He thought those were going to be gotcha hearings against the chief. I really don’t know what he expected.”
He said that Baumann’s concerns about retaliation have been overstated, that he has probed several alleged cases and has been satisfied that the department has handled the matter properly.
As for an increasing number of police retirements that threatens to bring the number of officers under 3,800 — a figure Lanier has said will lead to “trouble” — Mendelson said a recent uptick in retirements is “not a surprise.”
“It’s a concern, and there are factors in there we’ve known about for a long time,” he said. (Gray and the council moved last fall to hire more officers in order to keep the force above 3,800.)
Mendelson also defended his record on labor relations generally. “Every union except this one thinks I’m labor-friendly, and I’m known for having an open door and being accessible,” he said. “My first thought [on reading the letter] was, I need to sit down and have a cup of coffee [with Baumann].”
Said Baumann, “The time for that has come and passed. He has made a decision to side with management. He doesn’t like police officers.”
The letter in full, as sent to Mendelson’s staff and other members of the committee:
Thank you for reaching out to me and the D.C. Police Union regarding the oversight hearing for the Metropolitan Police Department. Unfortunately, the D.C. Police Union has no confidence in Councilmember Mendelson or the Committee on the Judiciary and, as a result, will not be testifying. Mr. Mendelson’s hostility toward police officers, the failure of Mr. Mendelson and the Committee to hold the Executive accountable for wrongdoing, the failure to protect witnesses, and the lack of accountability have created an environment where not only is the input of rank and file police officers not welcome, but those who testify are subject to retaliation.
On two occasions in the past year, the D.C. Police Union has helped arrange for members to speak in front of Mr. Mendelson and the Committee on the Judiciary about potential misconduct. In both circumstances no action was taken by Mr. Mendelson as to the underlying misconduct revealed by those members, and those officers were subsequently retaliated against and/or reassigned (i.e., DUI/DWI hearing and Celebrity Escort hearing). In addition to allowing (and perhaps encouraging) the silencing of any member brave and honest enough to come forward, Councilmember Mendelson’s disdain and contempt for rank and file police officers, combined with his relationship with the agency heads that he is supposed to be overseeing, has created a situation where the D.C. Police Union and its members have no confidence in the Committee on the Judiciary.
Preventing rank and file police officers from having a voice in the legislative and oversight processes undermines confidence in the Council and the District government as a whole. It also prevents the Council and the public from being aware of growing problems, misconduct, and other issues that negatively impact government functions and public safety. A good example of this would be the fact that 27 police officers left the Metropolitan Police Department in the month of December - almost double the number (15) that the Mayor and Mr. Mendelson claimed would be the rate of monthly attrition for Fiscal Year 2012. That information, combined with the fact that in the three months prior to December the rate of attrition was 21 officers per month, leaves the District in a situation where, despite allocating money for increasing the number of police officers, the overall number of officer may continue to fall.
This example also highlights the problems created by Mr. Mendelson’s past failures in providing proper oversight and why Mr. Mendelson has a vested interest in discouraging testimony likely to reveal misconduct or problems inside an agency under his oversight. In this case, the number of officers leaving the Department is a real public safety issue (even the Chief has publicly acknowledged this). The number of officers leaving is exacerbated by the fact that, through Mr. Mendelson’s lack of oversight, the Council has already let the number of police positions drop by 400 (from 4200 to 3800). The growing attrition rate and the growing number of officers eligible for retirement is going to have an enormous impact on public safety. Mr. Mendelson was responsible for failing to address the initial loss of police positions and now has to minimize the impact in order to shield the public from becoming aware of the extent of his incompetence. Because of the role of Mr. Mendelson and the Committee on the Judiciary played in helping to create this problem, the D.C. Police Union has no viable forum to bring these facts forward. This is just one example where the actions and/or omissions of Mr. Mendelson, along with his general hostility toward police officers, leaves the D.C. Police Union with no confidence in Mr. Mendelson or the Committee on the Judiciary.
The D.C. Police Union is also aware that the failure of the Committee of the Judiciary to address concerns raised by the D.C. Police Union and its members is intentional. The D.C. Police Union has been informed that on numerous occasions, requests for investigations or notices of potential statutory violations that were sent to Mr. Mendelson and the Committee on the Judiciary were not disseminated to other members of the Committee and no action has ever been taken on those matters. Mr. Mendelson’s actions have left us without a forum to bring forth problems and issues to the Council. This is unfortunate, especially given the failure of the Judiciary Committee to properly oversee not only the Metropolitan Police Department, but other agencies under its oversight. Again, thank you for your offer, but the D.C. Police Union has been forced to seek other venues for addressing the growing issues with the Metropolitan Police Department and other agencies under the oversight of the Judiciary Committee.