A Broader Use-of-Force Strategy
A Force Investigation Team (FIT) was created within MPD's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). Ramsey assembled this specialized 12-member squad to research legal concerns and observe the preparation and training programs of other local agencies such as Fairfax County (Va.) Police, Montgomery County (Md.) Police and Arlington County (Va.) Police regarding use-of-force issues.
One of the key components of the new D.C. use-of-force program was a concentration on hand-control and less-lethal tactics.
Its goal was to adapt these model programs to the requirements of the department. The objective was to structure and implement a working organizational strategy concerning the application of force. This was only one part of the team's pivotal three-fold mission.
Another area of focus was on-scene response to all incidents of deadly force involving MPD officers and assistance with the on-scene investigation. The final, and most critical, task was to utilize the assembled data to enhance and improve upon tactics, training and equipment.
One method of accomplishing this task remains hotly debated between MPD's union, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and management. A Personnel Performance Management System is now in development, despite union objections, to track both exemplary and troublesome conduct on the part of individual officers. This database, shared with the Department of Justice, permanently records and red flags alleged officer misconduct concerning the deployment of force.
MPD officials emphasize it is a necessary component for cultivating enhanced officer safety and reducing use-of-force incidents. This monitoring structure creates an endless feedback loop of information for taking corrective action and refining policy needs.
Results and Peer Kudos
Controversy notwithstanding, the initiative has yielded extraordinary results. Within one year of implementation, the number of shootings involving officers declined by 78 percent compared to 1998 FBI statistics. Also, OPR internal statistics reported incidents of alleged use of force and citizens' complaints diminished substantially.
As a matter of course, this accomplishment was swiftly rebuffed by the local news media who stated that the favorable economy was the driving force behind the crime drop, not an increase in law enforcement efficiency.
In late 2000, MPD proved them wrong. The FIT program was chosen as one of the top 10 programs of excellence in the police field. The prestigious Webber Seavey Award for Quality in Law Enforcement singled out the team for its commitment and vision in reducing use-of-force incidents. It has become the exemplary model for other agencies seeking to design use of force programs.
Chief Ramsey says, "The Department's past problems with use of force - in particular, use of deadly force - have been problems with policies, training, equipment and supervision, not problems with the quality of our officers." He continues, "We have worked very hard to provide our members with clear policies on the use of force, and to support those policies with better equipment, training and supervisory oversight. These latest statistics indicate our approach is beginning to have an impact."
Firearms training for D.C. officers now includes judgment exercises as well as range time.
By arming the street-level officer with the weapons of knowledge and judgment, along with continually upgrading equipment, policies and training, it is possible to safely maintain law and order in a densely populated urban environment. This provides a quantum leap in our response to dangerous situations, provided it is backed by reasonable, flexible and ever-evolving guidelines. The end result is a vast improvement in officer safety and the quality of life for the communities we serve.
David J. Terestre is a nationally published freelance writer on topics involving police work and the criminal justice system. Officer Terestre has 13 years of police experience and is currently assigned to the Second District of the Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, D.C. This is his second contribution to POLICE.