The Office of the District of Columbia Auditor and the Bromwich Consulting Group released a report on the Metropolitan Police Department practices Jan. 28, finding that the MPD is largely compliant with best practices but has several inadequacies.
The report is based upon monitoring of the department from 2008 to 2015 to see if it is still compliant with the stated reforms of a 2001 agreement between the MPD, the District and the United States Department of Justice.
The MPD has worked to improve since serious allegations of excessive force and police shootings arose in the 1990s. The Washington Post published a series in 1998 reporting that MPD officers fired their weapons at more than double the rate of other major police departments.
In 2001, the MPD announced the Memorandum of Agreement in which it agreed to an independent review by a monitoring team jointly appointed by the Department and the DOJ.
The Bromwich Group offers crisis management, consulting and public affairs services. Managing Principal Michael Bromwich, who formerly served as the DOJ Inspector General, said that the report revealed that the reforms implemented at the behest of the DOJ in 2001 continue to be in effect at a press conference Jan. 28.
“There’s no evidence that the MPD has an excessive use of force problem,” Bromwich said. “The bottom line is the reforms are still in place and they continue to be managed by people that care about them.”
The report found that notable improvements have been made to the MPD since 2001. The intentional use of firearms has declined significantly, and the serious use of force by officers, which includes chokeholds and the use of canines, has also decreased. Allegations against MPD officers for excessive force declined from 23 in 2005 to 6 in 2015.
D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson, the report author, said that the improvements made since 2001 have been sustained in the department.
However, the report also found several discrepancies in MPD practices and made 38 recommendations for improvement. Of the recommendations, the Department agreed in whole or in part to 28 of them, including changing a law where resisting arrest results in an Assaulting an Officer Misdemeanor charge and requiring the MPD to teach proper chokehold techniques to officers.
One discrepancy is in the legal process in place for investigations and reviews of officer conduct. Usually, when an officer is suspected of abusing his powers or excessively using force, the Internal Affairs Department is the first to investigate the incident, before sending its findings to the United States’ Attorney’s Office.
According to the report, the main inadequacy with this process is the time it takes to review an officer’s conduct. Currently, the USAO can take up to 19 months to review a case involving excessive force. The Bromwich Group recommended this process to take no longer than six months.
“MPD and USAO should establish a goal of completing the USAO review of serious use of force cases within six months, with that period to be extended only by explicit agreement between the US Attorney and the Chief of Police, and with specific reasons provided that justify the need for additional time,” the report reads.
In an official response to the report, the MPD stated that it agreed with the Bromwich Group’s recommendation for reducing delays in reviewing excessive use of force cases.
MPD Chief of Police Cathy Lanier wrote in her response to the report that U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips is working closely with the MPD and that she believes they can decrease delays by working together.
“USAO Phillips and his staff are important partners, and we are confident based on the commitment he has shown that some of the delays in USAO reviews can be reduced,” Patterson wrote.
Despite the MPD’s improvements, there are still instances of excessive police violence. An MPD officer shot and killed a man holding a BB gun near 53rd Street Southeast on Feb. 1.
Patterson attributed the shooting to an individual case of misjudgment rather than department-wide deficiency. However, she mentioned that changes to the entire department, including force training, could potentially help prevent the MPD from repeating the same mistakes.
“I think that some of the situations we hear about from time to time, including in MPD are the individual officers making mistakes,” Patterson said. “And that’s where the use of force reporting and the use of force training and the use of force investigations can be very, very helpful in making it clear when mistakes are made and how people can learn from them.”
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) praised the D.C. Auditor’s office and the MPD for reviewing the department’s practices in a press conference Jan. 28.
“So often analysis or review of police incidents are done on a reactive basis. There’s a report of police abuse or corruption and there’s an investigation… That’s not the case here,” Mendelson said. “At a time when cities across the country are confronting this issue, the D.C. Auditor’s report is proactive and is a function of checking and rechecking ourselves on how we are doing.”
Georgetown University Police Department Chief Jay Gruber emphasized the need to understand the complexities involved in implementing policy changes in the MPD.
“I believe the recommendations come from one viewpoint and they have to be looked at from several other viewpoints. People can make recommendations for changes but those recommendations now have to be worked through the legal process, they have to be worked through the MPD process,” Gruber said. “There are just a lot of pieces of that puzzle. It’s not that cut and dry.”
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