IT WOULD have been easy for D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier to finish her last few weeks in office without ruffling any feathers. Just accept accolades, like those offered at Monday’s Washington Nationals game, for her decades of public service. Instead, she offered a candid critique of the system that is supposed to keep a check on violent offenders in the District. That there seemed to be more angst about the timing of her comments than their substance suggests the chief may have been right in asking: “Where the hell is the outrage?” And that underscores the need for her complaints to be taken seriously.
After 26 years in the city’s police department, nearly 10 of them as chief overseeing reforms credited with contributing to a drop in crime, Chief Lanier is retiring this month to head up security for the National Football League. She revealed in a recent interview with Post reporters that one factor in her decision to leave was her frustration with a criminal-justice system that she described as “beyond broken.” There was immediate criticism about Chief Lanier waiting until she left office to speak out. But while her remarks were unusually — and, to our mind, refreshingly — blunt, it was not the first time she has expressed concerns about violent offenders being released into the community. When homicides in the District rose in the summer of 2015, Chief Lanier joined Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) in spotlighting repeat offenders as an issue.
The District is unique in that its criminal-justice system is a mix of local and federal agencies, and officials who are answerable to federal authorities make the critical decisions about bail, detention, the filing of charges and the monitoring of suspects under court supervision. Chief Lanier pointed to a case in which a man who was supposed to be on GPS supervision went on a crime rampage after the tracking system became inoperable as an example of lax supervision and the lack of accountability. There have been other instances, including placement of a GPS device on the artificial leg of a man who was accused of committing a murder after removing his prosthesis. Another case documented by The Post’s Amy Brittain showed how lax enforcement by key federal agencies and questionable judgments from D.C. Superior Court resulted in the release of a man who later raped a woman. As to accountability, it is telling that 2010 was the last time there was a congressional oversight hearing for any of these agencies.
D.C. officials traditionally have been circumspect in their public criticism of these agencies; not only do they need to continue to work with them, but also under the arrangement that rescued the city from bankruptcy, the U.S. treasury, not D.C. taxpayers, pays the costs. Chief Lanier, a pioneer of community policing and an early critic of laws that resulted in over-incarceration, is not proposing to lock people up and throw away the key — only that there be a sound system that uses reliable data to assess risks. She’s got a point.