The Washington Post

D.C. police chief faces questions about officer integrity at public safety committee’s hearing

Police Chief Cathy Lanier holds a community meeting to discuss recent criminal charges against two officers, on Jan. 9 in Washington. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier asked the City Council on Friday for help ridding her department of officers convicted of crimes, saying that too often, she’s been ordered to rehire officers fired for serious misconduct because of procedural errors in the termination process.

The chief blamed independent arbitrators, who hear appeals that fired officers file with the D.C. Public Employee Relations Board. Lanier asked members of the council’s public safety committee to revise the law and strip those arbitrators of the authority to overrule her decisions when problems are solely technical, such as a missed filing deadline.

“It’s absurd to invest so much of our resources . . . only to have these decisions overturned by an arbiter more intent on finding technicalities than upholding the safety of District residents,” Lanier said in her opening statement. She had been called before the oversight committee to respond to a string of arrests of police officers in recent weeks.

The president of the D.C. police union questioned Lanier’s proposal, saying in an interview that it is incumbent on the department to follow its own rules when firing problem officers. “The individuals that were reinstated are not the same ones that are being arrested,” Kristopher Baumann said. “If the offense they are accused of committing is so serious, why wasn’t it serious enough for the department to simply follow its own rules?”

Lanier addressed questions for nearly two hours, primarily from the committee chairman, Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), and Anita Bonds (D-At Large).

Wells, who is running for mayor, said the hearing was intended to ensure that safeguards are in place to “understand the scope of the problem.” Two officers were recently charged in separate cases involving sexual abuse — one accused of running a prostitution ring that involved minors, the other with taking pictures of a semi-nude teenage girl. That officer was found dead in the Washington Channel the day after he was released on bail.

In December, another officer was charged with attempted first-degree murder for allegedly trying to kill his wife.

From 2009 through January, 47 D.C. officers were convicted of crimes. Lanier said most involved alcohol, traffic and domestic violence. Five officers were convicted of crimes in 2009; 10 in 2010; 20 in 2011; eight in 2012; and four last year.

Lanier said that of the officers she had to rehire, one had gotten into trouble again. That officer had been fired in 1996 after getting his job back but then was convicted in 2012 of driving under the influence.

She added that in the past several years, she has had to rehire 28 officers who had been convicted of crimes or misconduct and fired, some because of procedural errors.

She cited several examples: an officer twice convicted of domestic violence; two officers fired after forcing a man caught urinating in public to take off his sweater, use it to clean up the urine and then put it back on; and an officer who failed to report a home-invasion robbery involving his daughter’s boyfriend that ended with the killing of a witness.

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