Police in the District are showing continuous reductions in the use of unnecessary force, said the department’s longtime independent monitor.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson joined D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson and D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier Thursday to present the findings of an independent study on city police force since federal oversight on the department ended in 2008.
The over 300-page report shows that the use of force by District police officers as well as Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) policies and procedures are consistent with the best practices recommended by the Department of Justice. The review team concluded that the District’s police do not have a systematic use of force problem.
The District of Columbia’s auditor’s office hired former monitor Michael Bromwich to analyze whether the MPD’s reforms are having the desired effect after seven years without federal oversight. The MPD voluntarily agreed to the Justice Department oversight in 2001 after it was labeled the deadliest big-city police force in the country. The oversight ended in 2008 and led to a multitude of reforms.
According to the report released on Thursday, there has been “no evidence that the excessive use of force has re-emerged as a problem” in the District.
“So often analysis or review of police incidents are done on a reactive basis. That’s not the case here. 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,” said Chairman Mendelson.
Shootings by District police have dropped significantly, the report found. Officers fired their guns intentionally 28 times in 2001, 30 in 2004 and 31 in 2007. Officers opened fire seven times in 2010, nine times in 2012 and 15 times last year. The number of fatal police-involved shootings "has consistently been in the range of three to eight per year" in the District, which has 658,000 residents and about 3,800 sworn officers, the report found.
“I don't think there are that many people nationwide that know that this department went through this, much earlier than most did,” Bromwich said. “Seven-plus years after oversight ended, things are still pretty good here.”
However, the report did find that some problems have emerged within the department. The problems are largely based on investigations of the officers’ use of force and less-deadly force. These include take-downs, which is when a suspect is tackled by one or more officers, and other physical techniques.
Out of 38 recommendations the audit has for the department, it agreed to follow 28 either fully or partially, Bromwich said.
One recommendation that the department will not follow is to appoint internal investigators whose sole focus will be on the use of force by officers. The department had a unit dedicated to this while it was under oversight but it has since turned it into a larger department.
The department also will not follow recommendations to investigate all take-downs or to collect data on lesser uses of force, such as when an officer grabs someone’s arm. Currently, the department only investigates take-downs when the suspect complains of pain.
The report also recommended that the department restrict the use of police dogs to people believed to be violent and warn people at least three times, instead of one, before unleashing dogs. The department disagreed with limiting canine use to violent suspects but agreed to issue more warnings “when tactically sound.”