The District’s Police Complaints Board issued a report Monday that criticized the use of foul language and other conduct by D.C. police officers in recent years and recommended the department address the issue to improve community relations.
The board reviewed 945 complaints from citizens during a four-year span between January 2012 and June. They found examples of D.C. police officers cursing and name-calling, including referring to a landlord as a “slumlord” and calling a complainant “ignorant,” the report said.
The board said that 190 of the allegations involved profanity and 639 cases concerned officers’ tone and demeanor. They also found that more than 40 officers had three or more language complaints against them.
Officials listed a few specific complaints sustained by investigators. In one instance, an officer conducting a traffic stop told a woman who couldn’t find her license to “cut the bull----.” When asked why the officer cursed, he replied “because I can” and, after issuing a ticket for failing to stop at a stop sign, the officer said, “Look forward to getting many more in the mail.”
In another instance, an officer told a breast-feeding woman to “take that in the corner or the bathroom.”
The report noted that D.C. police rules require officers to be “courteous and orderly in their dealings with the public,” but cautioned that the department should reemphasize those rules and consider updating the policy.
Police “should focus on improving officer communication skills, recognizing the potentially grievous impacts of improper language or conduct on the department, individual officers, and the community,” the report recommended. “Moreover, improper language or conduct can quickly escalate an otherwise minor situation, sometimes to the point of requiring force.”
Interim police chief Peter Newsham said in a statement that the force prides “ourselves on professional and courteous interactions with the community on a daily basis, and acknowledge the recommendations issued by the Office of Police Complaints.”
Stephen Bigelow, Jr., vice-chairman of the D.C. police union, said the union has been aware of the complaints and wworked with the department last year to develop training on implicit bias, procedural justice and de-escalation techniques. Managing stress and overall officer wellness is an important focus during dangerous times in which an increasing number of officers are killed in the line of duty nationwide.
“It is important that we continue to communicate and receive input from the community,” Bigelow said. “We have taken steps in advance to address these issues with in-service training this year.
“Our officers go out there and try to do the best job possible under extremely stressful circumstances.”