Over the past few weeks, The DC Police Union has been inundated with an overwhelming amount of community support regarding our willingness to take ownership of the responsibility to protect our city and its citizens.
While repeatedly trying but failing to get through to MPD and District leadership about how dire the current situation had become, we also reached out to the community to engage in productive conversations and to offer common sense suggestions and proposals about ways to create an immediate positive effect on the alarming rise in violent crime. The Union was a part of many open and positive discussions at ANC meetings, in the media, in casual interactions on the street, and a number of places online. While there were a few people opposed to some of our specific plans, by and large citizens have applauded our efforts to find solutions.
The Union made nearly a dozen suggestions for improvement regarding the ways that uniformed officers were deployed and purposed, but the topic that we championed as the quickest, and most efficient and effective tactic to abate violent crime and get guns out of the hands of criminals was the deployment of vice units. Because we knew that there were some skeptics about these units, primarily due to inaccurate information and sensationalized reporting, we factored in numerous safeguards to assure professional, responsible policing. We suggested a temporary 90 day detail, additional training, additional oversight, a repurposed mission to primarily target only violent felons—not mere users or those just possessing drugs, and we even suggested that all vice units be equipped with body cameras. The Union never has, and never will, suggest anything that is not within all applicable laws and executed in the most professional and respectable fashion.
The Union also wants to reiterate that vice units are not merely a function of locking up drug users or even dealers. Plain clothes vice units are tasked with developing informants, sources, and gathering intelligence on overarching criminal activity in specific neighborhoods. Because they are not a function of patrol, they are not tied to calls for service so they have time to build investigations and gather information that can be used to make significant arrests or be forwarded on to violent crime detectives in the Criminal Investigations Division, thereby helping to close cases that would normally have gone unsolved. While we can’t cite a direct correlation, we would surmise that the reason closure rates are down in these areas is due in part to this vacuum of street intelligence that in the recent past was collected by vice units.
None of our suggestions were met with even a hint of interest. Further, they were dismissed out of hand while we were told that “vice doesn’t work anymore”, “citizens demand these light towers”, and “no one is assigned to a fixed post”. But mostly, we were told that the status quo is working, and we should just go stand our posts.
Most frustrating is that while we are offering hard and fast actionable items, the leadership is grabbing at straws for excuses as to why the rise in violent crime is happening. Frankly, in the near term, the DC Police Union cares less about why, and more about how to stop it. We have a systemic, nebulous problem, and we don’t expect there to be one easy answer about the causations, nor can there be. However, we are unwilling to sit idly by while criminals make every corner of this city a danger zone.
The Union can only surmise that the leadership of the Department and the city is too afraid to make some reasonable decisions about how to move forward with public safety. It seems that in this current political climate (as is the case in many departments now), they are frightened to address crime in a way that’s even perceived as inappropriate, no matter how legal, responsible, and correct it may be. So even though we may be disappointed, we haven’t given up.
Referring back to our contact with the community, we were very encouraged to see PoPville, the very popular DC neighborhood blog, take on an informal poll on August 25th regarding how their readers felt about initiating some new district level vice units. The Union kept an eye on the poll and we were excited to see that as of 10am on the August 26th, there had been over 1,500 votes. An overwhelming 85% voted to either bring back vice or to bring them back temporarily, while only 15% voted against the return of vice (percentages rounded to the nearest whole number). Understanding this is not a scientific poll, we nonetheless were encouraged by these results.
The Union believes that this is an excellent barometer of how communities and police can work together to find honest, legitimate plans to solve problems in their community. We look forward to continuing the discussion of how our 3,600+ officers, detectives, and sergeants can work with you to create and preserve peace in our neighborhoods.
However, there was also an alarming part of this story. The reason the poll was initiated was in reply to Ward 1 DC Councilmember Brianne Nadeau’s response to her constituent’s requests for immediate action to combat violent crime, including requests for vice units. The Union was disturbed to hear an elected representative speak so boorishly and offensively about police officers, especially with absolutely no evidence other than sensationalized reporting. Here is the excerpt from her statement that most deeply concerned us:
“I have recently been asked to weigh in on proposals to temporarily bring back the MPD Vice Squad, also known as “jump out squads.” The practices employed by them, which involves officers pulling up to a location and arresting a group of people, have been retired by MPD, and have been widely criticized. I cannot support these proposals, and I do not think they help us achieve the long term, sustained outcome we truly want for the District. When violence and drug activity were at their worst what made the biggest difference was residents partnering with MPD, taking back their blocks and being part of the solution.”
MPD vice units have never been referred to as ‘jump out squads’ by anyone within the police department. This is akin to calling a food truck a ‘roach coach’, and it’s certainly no less offensive than if a mobile food kitchen was your livelihood and passion. The DC Police Union found it distasteful and we felt that if the Councilmember was using this term, she must be out-of-touch with policing.
While that may have been a minor misstep, she really left us scratching our heads with this sentence:
“The practices employed by them, which involves officers pulling up to a location and arresting a group of people, have been retired by MPD, and have been widely criticized.”
If Councilmember Nadeau is under the impression that THIS is what we’ve been requesting for the past six weeks, I’m more than appalled. Beyond that, does the Councilmember believe that for several decades, the police department engaged in just driving to an intersection and, without any evidence or probable cause, arresting whoever was standing there? I’m sure there are people who’d actually like to believe this, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. This would suggest that there is no oversight and no accountability, anywhere in the department, or the United States Attorney’s Office. It would also suggest that this rampant, citywide, criminal corruption was going on just four months ago in May, when the vice units were disbanded. If any of these allegations were remotely true, I would hope that Councilmember Nadeau would call for a full investigation, not just tell her constituents that “these practices have been retired”. As far as the tactic having been widely criticized, that’s nothing new for policing in general. The police department is criticized on nearly every aspect of its functions, everyday. Ironically, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past several months.
But let us take a look at the Councilmember’s suggestion. She wants you to police your own neighborhood with block captains and a neighborhood watch. Like the Mayor increasing rewards for gun tips, somehow it’s now become incumbent on the citizens of the District of Columbia to take control of their own public safety. Meanwhile, we 3,600+ capable and well-trained men and women with body armor and handcuffs will just sit quietly by this light tower, or maybe under this tent filled with flyers on how to police your own block and instructions on not getting robbed.
The leadership of this city seems to want you to feel safe, but that’s not enough for the DC Police Union, we want you to actually be safe. Those are two very different approaches, but you are the residents of this city, and the choice is yours. Let us do the policing, let us find the bad guys, and let us restore peace and safety to our communities, with your help of course. That is…unless you want to do it yourselves, because maybe the status quo is working.
Posted August 26 2015 at 2:31 PM by Gregg Pemberton | Permanent Link