Friday Question of the Day – What Questions Should Be Asked of MPD Chief Cathy Lanier and Others

Photo by PoPville flickr user AWard Tour

After Wednesday’s daytime shooting we noted that there is going to be a crime meeting Sat. morning Oct. 9 from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at St. Gabriel’s Church, School Hall, 510 Webster Street, NW with Cathy Lanier, Chief of Police; Kimberly Missouri, Commander, Fourth District and many others including Council Member Muriel Bowser who organized the event. Unfortunately I have a wedding to go to and I will be out of town. But I know I have some questions and I’m wondering if it might be helpful to prepare some questions before the event. So for the Friday Question of the Day let’s take this opportunity to come up with some good questions for the Chief and others.

Ed. Note: I have the utmost respect for many officers in MPD and understand that the problem can not be fixed by MPD alone but I’m curious how they see their role.

Personally, I’d like to know what the Chief’s vision of community policing is and whether or not she thinks it is working? If she thinks is it is working, then what specifically can/should be done with gang retaliatory attacks that we see every year all over the city?

How come in my over 13 years in DC I’ve only seen cops on foot a handful of times? Simply, why don’t we see regular patrols on foot?

A quick aside, when I was walking home Thurs. afternoon I saw fresh gang graffiti on a pole near a recent shooting. I saw an MPD patrol car drive by and I stopped it. While the officer was extremely kind and attentive, I asked if they realized that there was gang graffiti here? They did not. Like I said, they were very attentive in writing down the info but my point is, if you are only riding around in a patrol car you are going to miss a lot of details.

I would also be curious if bluntly asked – does she see the problem of youth gangs/crews getting better, staying the same or getting worse? If not getting better – what can MPD do in the long term that is a preventative measure rather than simply reactive measures?

What questions will you ask?

58 Comment

  • PoP totally agree the MPD need to get out and start walking instead of driving down streets at 30 mph. As an infantry platoon leader in Baghdad, my guys and I would always get out and walk the streets – it is the only way to truly connect with the people and figure out what is going on. It is sad that I have to compare Petworth to a warzone in Baghdad.

  • I would ask Lanier if she agrees with Muriel Bowser’s quote in today’s NW Current in reference to crime reduction efforts “The resources we’ve put in place have worked. We’ve had a rough month, but if you look at the last 12 months, we’ve had relative peace.”

    “Relative peace?!?” Compared to what, Kandahar? What planet is she living on? Can you be any more callous and out of touch? No wonder nothing has been done since last year, and I guess don’t expect anything new, because “…we’ve had relative peace.”

    • This is not a reply meant to be rude, but those who have only lived in the city 5 or less years this seems like the wild west.

      However, DC is not being compared to Kandahar. It is being compared to itself. Those police and residence that have lived in the city 10, 20, 30+ years remember the bad old days in the crack 1980’s and early 1990’s when 400+ murders per year were the norm. In 1990 the number of murders in the District was 472, in 2002 it was 262, and last year it was 143. This is not said to downplay what has happened in the last month or somehow say that murders are not important, but to tell people that things have gotten better.

      Now we just have to work to keeping that way.

      • +1, thanks for bringing some sense back. Some of the newcomers need to get over themselves, U st and H St. NE used to be an open air drug market, Chinatown was a breeding ground for heroin, crack addicts, and bums. Petworth, well has always been Petworth, so nothing surprising there. The city has come along way in terms of the drop in violent crime, and it is looking up. Within any city, you will always find an element of crime, and gangs. If no outlet is in place for young members of society, then they have no place to channel their anger, frustration, and creativity which comes from an impoverished upbringing. Unfortunatley meetings and foot patrols won’t do much.

        • Why should we content on basing our measures of what the district can be on what the district has been? How is it “sensible” to aim so low?

          • If you have noticed Tad, small crimes are accetable in our area, especially near the GA Metro.

            Littering, jaywalking, robbery, broken windows, graffiti, and gun battles where no one is hurt, to name a few, are just tossed aside as normal.

            We have had this discussion before. So it goes to follow that less crime now versus the 10, 20, or 30 years ago (talking about living in the past) is ok.

            Give me break.

  • @Anonymous 10:59:

    crime stats are down across the board for 2010. that means *relative peace*.

  • Of course my snarky question is…Do you think DC has legal liability for its failure to control its violent youth population?

    But really, there is only one. What actions should the DC Council take to amend the laws that govern privacy policy related extreme youth violence?

    Any day now people. As PoPs post suggests, the cops don’t even get out of their cars in some neighborhoods for fear of retaliation, what are we supposed to do?

  • PoP it should be noted that community policing, which in my opinion has had its heyday, was Chief Ramsey’s baby.

    Chief Lanier has moved towards intelligence led policing.

    Which is a good thing imo.

    Not that they are necessarily mutually exclusive.

  • I would ask Chief Lanier what laws should be enacted by the DC Council to help the police protect the citizens of DC.

  • I would like to know what we can do to help the police. Should we be in regular contact with local patrols? What kind of information are they interested in receiving from us? If we don’t see crimes being committed, but we see suspicious activity or individuals, should we pass that info along? I want to help, but I don’t want to be an irritating clown who calls the police every time I see someone littering.

    • Agreed! We all have a roll to play. I’ll be out of town too, but would be good to hear reports from those that are able to attend.

    • Good question. Will you be there to ask it, or should I?

    • people in groups of two, with a radio. They will walk the peak crime areas at peak crime hours and simply report suspicious or dangerous activity to a dispatcher.

      They can walk the beat in their own neighborhoods and switch off with another pair of volunteers.

      Police who work that area can roll-by and ask for help in certain ways…or tell these volunteers what areas need to be watched.

      I would gladly wake up and walk my neighborhood for 2 hours a couple nights a week if it brought crime down meaningfully. I’ve been robbed 3 times now and this morning saw that someone was trying to cut my lock again… the madness needs to stop, and we all need to be ready to help.

      • Note the Guardian Angels did something similar in the Petworth to Brightwood area until recently, they may have had to stop due to lack of support/resources/interest. You can check out their pages here:

        Their head honcho, John Ayala, is an inspirational guy. Also, there’s Orange Hat Patrols which are a little more homegrown and do more walking and reporting than interventions.

        Anyways, avoid starting fresh if you can…

  • Will Mendo be there? If not, he should be.

  • I would ask what the city is doing about drug nuisance properties. If any of these shootings are related to drug nuisance houses there is a LOT the city and feds can do to help. Problem is that DC has 2,000 of them…and how do you get the one on your block to be a priority? We had one on our block that did make it to the priority list–it was finally sold after lots of undercover work and arrests and the city took the heirs of the deceased owner to court. They paid >$75,000 in vacant property taxes when the house was sold, too.

  • There is a petition online to express your support for having more cops walking the streets. Please show your support here:

    Names will not be displayed on the site (as you can see when you click on the list of signatures), but they are counted and added to a database that can be presented to officials.

  • If the local crews and their members are so well known to police, why isn’t MPD more aggressively using its powers of search and seizure to get evidence about murders/shootings when these events occur? The probable cause for a warrant is not the most demanding standard, and searches can be authorized for any evidence of a crime (not just, say, the smoking gun), yet rarely do we here about raids on the homes of known crew members believed to be connected to these crimes.

    • There is something called probable cause. Probable cause is not “because we know that something bad is going on because we are the police and we know” but “we have a someone who has said X and such is going to be there at Y time.” To get a warrant they need more.

      • I’m well aware of the need for probable cause, ET, and even specifically mention it in my comment. As my post notes, however, it’s not the most demanding standard. My suggestion may be based on a false premise that there is enough information to establish PC. But as a casual observer, it seems to me that we often know plenty to establish probable cause that we’d find evidence of a crime at a specific residence, and depending on the magistrate, could employ more aggressive policing standards.

        So to clarify the question, it is whether she thinks we don’t have adequate information to establish PC, or whether she doesn’t think it’s effective policing, or whether she doesn’t have the resources to commit to drafting the affidavits/conducting the raids, etc..

  • police walking the beat is not necessarily helpful – it means they are not quickly available to respond to calls.

  • I don’t live in the neighborhood so I won’t be attending, but I’d ask in what parts of the city they feel they’ve been successful in reducing gun violence (for example, no homicides in the Navy Yard area since 2005) and what techniques they can use from there in Petworth.

    I’d also ask whether they can put a ShotSpotter somewhere in Petworth like they have in Shaw, and who people should call when they see cops asleep in their car or otherwise being unhelpful (and to commend the good cops!)

    • There havent been any homicides in the navy yard since 2005 because that was the year the Capper / Carrollsburg public housing complexes were closed down in order to be redeveloped as mixed use housing. funny how that works, huh?

  • What purpose do the laptops installed in patrol cars play, and what – if anything – is being done about using them to surf the web and watch movies. Many times when I walk by a patrol car officers are staring at the things and paying no attention what so ever to what’s happenning around them.

    • I’m not a police officer but in my experience working with the police in court, the laptops are used to run tags on cars, access information about people during traffic stops and potentially stops on foot as well. They run names to see if there are outstanding warrants, etc. I’ve definitely seen cops in my ‘hood (14th and Fairmont) sitting in the car, looking at the screen, but I’ve never seen them surfing the web or watching movies (though I can’t say that I stand htere peering in the window either).

      I’ve read all the comments above and believe that a combination of cops in cars (so they can quickly respond), cops walking the streets (to build community repoire which is sourly lacking in much of DC and a huge part of the problem getting information), and intelligence gathering is probably a good way to begin to deal with these recent problems.

      That being said, my question would be: Does MPD have the resources to take this multi-faceted approach and if not, what is the priority in terms of methods of policing? If it is intelligence gathering as one commenter said above, what is being done to increase community trust in MPD? It seems to me that if we don’t trust the cops, there is no intelligence gathering.

      A sidenote: at 7:30 this morning, mid-shower, an MPD policewoman and an FBI agent came to my door asking if I knew anything about the shooting that happened last week on U St. When I said no, they asked me if I knew anyone who would have information. I said no. Because I don’t and I don’t. Wondering if others in this area have had anyone come to their door?

  • I’m really surprised at all this…. Petworth newcomers pay PG county prices for their homes but expect Georgetown/U Street protection and services; that’s just not how life works! Get over yourselves! Welcome to the hood!

  • I’m not big on foot patrols. This isn’t 1940s Brooklyn with everybody out on the street all the time and the “beat cop” knows them all. If I see a bunch of kids spoiling for a fight or harassing someone I want to call 911 and not wait for a cop to run a few blocks to his car before driving over.

    The police could however, be lots more pro-active as far as recognizing gang activity and anticipating confrontations (as in the SE funeral shooting.)

    Also, there are lots of natural gathering of kids & young men where the right sort of officers could be hanging out and getting to know them. Most afternoons there 20-30 young boys (10-15) playing football or “war” on one strip of grass by the apts. in Columbia Heights village. What if a couple of younger officers just showed up to play now and then?

    • Foot patrols give neighbors an opportunity to interact with police directly and not in the midst of a stressful crime scene. This helps break down the barriers and distrust that are created by corrupt cops and also lying residents which is then amplified by the media.

    • It isn’t an either or. If MPD lacks the resources to properly police then the council needs to lay out the $$$ to get it done. If that means raising taxes, so be it. There isn’t anything more fundamental to a functioning city than proper policing. Cut some bike lane funds and hire some damn cops.

      • “Walking” a beat don’t have to be on foot. Bicycles are an excellent way to quickly get around many of our neighborhoods. In the hilly areas, Segways can carry the load. Either one is 10 times better than a cop just sitting in a car. You can see a lot more and more easily patrol through the alleys on bikes and Segways.

  • I want to know why DC is so resistant to the Broken Windows method of law enforcement, when it has been shown to be so effective in other seeminly-intractable communities? What is the objection to improving quality of life while cutting down on petty crime? And does Lanier not “believe” in the results, that less petty crime eventually equals less major crime?

    • I have been to a few of the PSA meetings and things that are part of the “broken windows” philosophy are discussed and do matter.

    • +++ Worked/s in NYC, certainly it can work here.

      • Can’t work here because that’s not what the city council wants.

        • Didn’t “we” the people want Mr. Gray?

          It is not up to the City Council.

          • Its up to both really. The council writes the laws which are the source of a lot of out problems. The mayor can propose laws but they ultimately are decided by the council. Last year there was a crime bill submitted by the mayor and shot down by the council, that bill had some good stuff in it but was not even honestly discussed. Fenty didn’t push it very hard, and the council already hated Fenty for their usual pettiness.

  • +1

    Please bring this up at the meeting (I’m unable to attend, unfortunately).

  • What efforts are being made to have cross-jurisdictional enforcement of the laws with the many, many police agencies in town? I’m talking Metro Police, NPS, etc..

    It seems to be that a failure to communicate or falling into institutional territoriality is a failure of leadership.

  • FYI If you want to start receiving notifications from MPD for your ward/district, you can get on the specific mailing lists by going here:,a,1242,q,565764.asp

    If you want things to change, you need to get involved.

    I want to do a neighborhood watch in our area.

  • I’d ask, how many known juveniles are on the street today who were released from DYRS after being caught for violent crimes? Of those how many are located in Anacostia, SW, Shaw, Columbia Heights, Petworth, and Bloomingdale?

    How many officers are assigned to the youth gang task force? How many known or suspected juvenile crew members are there in each of the above neighborhoods?

    • None of that info can be discussed publicly under DC law. Juveniles are handled entirely differently and we generally have no right to know anything about juvenile law enforcement. The source of this is DC law, so you’d need to focus on the Council, specifically Mendelson. Lanier and Bowser are generally powerless on the issue. Bowser is powerless on most anything and Lanier can only play the hand she’s dealt. She’d love to change it but cannot make public statements about that without risking a dust up.

  • “Chief Lanier, How do you get up every day and go to work with the knowledge that this could be a safer and more prosperous city for all it’s residents, if the elected members of the city council would park their civil rights era prejudices and their 40 year old unresolved personal grievances and pass the normal constitutionally accepted laws that other cities operate under?”

    • What specific laws can the city council overturn or pass that would make your force more effective?

      • thumbs up to this ^

        Lanier has been a brave personality thus far…and has focused on raising the quality of the force. Still there are barriers to police getting their job done right. For instance. I would LOVE to hear her say outright, what the force needs to serve the district better. Beyond what most brass needs “More resources and better supporting services from the labs to the court rooms.”

  • I can’t be there, but I’ve sent these questions, most of which I already know the answer to and know that the council members and police will not address. But these are the issues that any honest society would be able to get answers on.

    With regard to how kids get off the rails in the first place, can we talk about truancy? The attendance and drop-out rate at DCPS is disgraceful, yet I see school-aged kids in Chinatown all day and they are never approached by the numerous police. Do police need additional authority to question likely truants? Does DCPS need more truant officers? How many dedicated truant officers are there?

    Is the council willing to support legislation to establish parental liability for minors with regard to truancy and property crimes?

    If there is an emphasis on “community policing,” why do I CONTINUALLY see officers sitting in their cars, or simply driving around, within sight of groups of unruly teenagers? Without regard to whether there is any reason to suspect actual crime, why aren’t the police regularly approaching these groups to say hello, ask friendly questions, and attempt to establish some basic semblance of community order?

    Moving on to actual juvenile criminals, there is a place for juvenile justice: young people don’t have fully developed brains or impulse control, and they do deserve a second chance after getting caught with some booze or dope, stealing a pair of shoes, smashing a planter box, graffiti-ing a wall, even theft from auto, etc. However, possession of an illegal handgun, robbery, discharging a weapon, attempted murder, etc., are adult crimes, and perpetrators do not deserve to have the slate wiped clean at 18 or 21. Our personal safety is at stake.

    First, with regard to the many juveniles who are already involved in violent crime, is the council prepared to support legislation to establish a public juvenile repeat violent offender registry, to include violent crimes as well as attempted violent crimes and weapons violations?

    Second, is the council prepared to support legislation to create mandatory minimum sentences for unlawful possession of a handgun, and to require juveniles in possession of handguns to be prosecuted as adults? Possession of in illegal handgun is not being taken seriously in this city, as compared to other major cities such as New York, where a first violation will GUARANTEE prison time.

    Third, with regard to the complete failure that is DYRS, will the council, police, and any prosecutorial staff, please address any barriers to charging all violent juvenile offenders as adults? Would the council support legislation to require juvenile violent criminals to be prosecuted as adults?

  • First question, re: crime: “Are you f’ing kidding me????”

    Second question: “Chief Lanier, do you date younger men?”

  • There is an open drug market on Sheppard but police has been ignoring it for YEARS… It is either corruption or incompetence. I what to ask – which is it?

  • A lot of the legal questions need to be answered by Mendelson. Why not have mandatory sentences for certain crimes? Why not have a juvenille registry? Why not have “broken windows” laws like NY used to clean up Time Square?

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