District of Columbia Police Chief Cathy Lanier said Friday that the department is working to implement an on-body camera system for officers to "establish a record of police conduct.''
Lanier briefly mentioned the technology to the D.C. Council while addressing concerns over police misconduct, a problem that attracted public attention last month with the arrests of three officers accused in unrelated investigations involving child pornography, attempted murder and running a prostitution operation involving teenage girls.
Police department figures show that more than 100 officers have been arrested in the past five years, but Lanier said she didn't believe the problem was any worse than in other big-city police departments. She said many of the charges that have been filed involve alcohol-related traffic offenses and domestic violence and that many of the cases are not prosecuted and do not end with a conviction.
"I want to reassure the residents of the District that they have a police force that is ethical,'' Lanier said. "Those few officers' actions dishonor the oath that we all swore to uphold.''
She attributed the misconduct problems, in part, to an arbitration process that she says has resulted in the reinstatement of officers the department had previously tried to fire. In one case, she said, an officer involved in domestic violence got drunk, threatened suicide and fired his weapon in the air but was ordered reinstated.
She said the department's recruitment standards are the strongest in decades, with only 1 in 25 applicants being hired and a mandated polygraph for all applicants. The department has outreach programs aimed at preventing alcohol abuse but sometimes officers with otherwise clean records "may cross the line and engage in misconduct late in their career because of a traumatic event in their personal lives.''
Lanier did not speak in detail about the proposed body-camera system, but said it was necessary to "establish a record of police conduct.'' Other departments have been experimenting with body cameras to record videos of police activity. Police officers assigned to foot patrols of downtown Los Angeles began wearing on-body cameras on Wednesday as the city evaluates different models to include in its policing.
Councilmember Tommy Wells, who chairs the public safety committee and convened the hearing, called the arrests "shocking'' and sought information on hiring and supervision standards.
"These revelations have quite rightly caused great concern in our community,'' Wells said in his opening statement. "The police wield immense power and responsibility, and we count on them to keep us safe. The abuse of that power by even one officer hurts the reputation of all of our officers.''
Kris Baumann, head of the police officers' union, called the arrest numbers "indefensible'' and said the union has long sought changes, including in hiring and retention standards.
"If there is one bright spot that District residents can take away from this unforgiveable series of arrests and convictions, it is that the rank-and-file police officers are outraged by it and they will not tolerate it,'' Baumann said in a statement. "There is no wall of silence; there is no effort to minimize the seriousness of these problems.''