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Chief Lanier: “The criminal justice system in this city is broken, It is beyond broken.”

by Prince Of Petworth September 6, 2016 at 1:45 pm 54 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr.TinDC

Thanks to all who passed on links to this depressing article from the Washington Post:

“The criminal justice system in this city is broken,” Lanier said, citing what she sees as the lack of outrage over repeat offenders as a key reason for her decision to take a job as head of security for the National Football League. “It is beyond broken.”

D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of police, said that while he understands Lanier’s “frustration with [D.C. police] bearing the brunt of the public’s outrage over crime in the District, I wholeheartedly disagree with her characterization that our criminal justice system is broken beyond repair.”

Read the full story here.

  • ParkViewneighbor

    I can’t decide if she is trying to protect her legacy and shift the blame elsewhere or if she genuinely cared for her mission and was stuck with idiotic policies.

    At the end, I guess that doesn’t matter at all since she is gone and we have rising crime

    • dcd

      “I can’t decide if she is trying to protect her legacy and shift the blame elsewhere or if she genuinely cared for her mission and was stuck with idiotic policies.”
      I think it’s both. Her complaints about the catch and release aspect of the DC criminal justice system are infuriating for cops and citizens alike. That said, she’s far from blameless re the “broken system.” The well-documented practice of MPD in not filing reports for non-violent (or even violent!) offenses is infuriating. Her position on the vice squads reeks of someone more concerned about avoiding a scandal that protecting innocent citizens, and if crime has to rise so there aren’t protests directed at MPD, that’s fine by her. Also, the following paragraph made me see red:
      “But she said the community at large has to assume many of the tasks that over the years have become problems for police to resolve, such as responding to people with mental illness and minor violations of the rules. “A lot of the things we deal with right now, you don’t need a police officer,” she said. “And it is putting us in confrontational positions with people who are not criminals that are causing a lot of the turmoil we see right now.”
      Translation: “I am going to redefine “things you need a police officer for” so that it dramatically reduces the number of things cops are expected to do.” That is ass-covering of the highest order. “The community” should NOT be expected to deal with people with mental illnesses, and “minor violations of the rules” are often still criminal violations. Ignoring them isn’t in anyone’s interests except the perpetrators, and the people who like to be able to point to low crime statistics.

      • Anon

        All of the above

      • dc_anon

        I think she was using community as a catch all for civilian agencies rather than you or me. I’ve been to plenty of community meetings where DCRA says to call the police if you see illegal construction. What type of crap is that. Unless someone is building a house made out of stolen cars, stacking bricks of coke, or threatening the neighbors with a nail gun there’s NO reason this is a police matter. A city of 500,000+ can’t have a building inspector on call for a weekend shift?

        In DC there seems to be an overwhelming tendency to just hand off anything that involves non-ticket writing enforcement or quality of life issues to the police. The end result is a force stretched too thin and the increased likelihood of something horrible happening. The other failing agencies (dcra, behavorial health, etc) need to step up and do their job. Sure the police may be needed for security or in case there’s the potential for violence, however shouldn’t be expected to provide street-side counseling for an addict.

        • HaileUnlikely

          I agree with dcd’s general point, but agree with both your interpretation of her comment (in the context of the totality of her remarks) as well as the over-reliance on police for some things that really should be the responsibility of other specific agencies.
          Now admittedly going on a bit of a tangent unrelated to Lanier here, in DC, you’re supposed to call 911 for all police matters, and everything is defined to be a police matter. Can you believe that DC 911 continues to struggle with poor response time?

      • Agreed on the initial parts, however regarding the last bit, it all comes down to budgetary priorities doesn’t it? If your police force is already strapped, do you want them “wasting” their time on minor stuff that other agencies can handle, or on the bigger things? Her wording on the subject is certainly poor.

    • Rich

      Excerpt crime really isn’t going up. If you had lived here in the 90s or probably even more so, before then, you’d know better.

      • ParkViewneighbor

        OK Rich, great point

        I wasn’t here during the heydays of the wild west that was DC. Now we have taken that off the table, I’ve been here for quite some years and ask around here: yes crime went down. A lot. That’s awesome. Now, over the last few years, I’ve seen crime and petty incivilities go up again.
        Are we allowed to be concerned or do we have to wait until we go back to 90s levels ? You tell me since you appear to be a long-term DC resident with all the associated knowledge

      • HaileUnlikely

        It is possible for a quantity to be lower than it’s all-time high and also be increasing.

        • textdoc


        • It’s also possible for the perception of crime to be higher, in certain areas or certain crimes, without being up as a whole. Every single year in posts about random crimes there’s someone speculating about an “uptick”, this magical unquantifiable feeling they have, without providing statistical basis.

      • madmonk28

        Yawn. I was here in the 90s and the 80s and I don’t want to go back. Why is that so hard for you to understand?

      • Ed

        The 90s are in the past. The notion that people should be ok with violence today because 20 years ago it was worst is just silly.

        If people don’t feel safe today, that is what matters.

        • stacksp

          I think people use the past as a way of indicating how things have gotten better and not that that they are ok with how things are today.

    • Brett M

      She’s been shifting the blame her whole career. She takes credit when things go well (longerterm decline in violent crime and homicide rate), never any blame for all the things going wrong (rising homicides, rising total crime, rising thefts, high officer turnover, low officer confidence in herself, numerous dept. scandals etc.). She’s as shifty as the most deceptive politicians.

  • neighbor

    If only she had been in a position to do something about it…

    • stacksp

      She doesnt prosecc

      • stacksp

        *she doesn’t prosecute or hand down sentencing*

        • Rich

          The example she gave of someone no longer being monitored probably is something where she could work with another agency to promote better communication (which would force better monitoring). I think she’s basically covering her butt and trying to deflect her image as someone who is considered “too political” (too nice to mayors) by the rank & file.

          • stacksp

            That is taking the assumption that she did not or has not tried to improve communication during her 10 year tenure and honestly isn’t this “communication” just doing your job. If a case worker has lost contact with a parolee, its on the case worker to notify, find, and monitor their parolee. He shouldnt just pop up at another crime scene or be out of contact for months with his parole officer for months.

          • Anon

            She has been trying for 10 years. And before that, Chief Ramsey tried. But several of the federal agencies will not provide information. Mayor Bowser included a legislative change in her proposals last fall, but Councilmember McDuffie would not move it out of his committee.

    • anon7

      That is not fair. To say something like she did while in office approaches political suicide. More importantly, it makes enemies of people and institutions MPD needs in order to effectively do police work. Imagine how pissed the mayor (her boss) and the courts are right now? She just undermined two branches of government… I commend her for speaking up. I also agree with her blaming communities for a lack of outrage. People in this city continually vote soft-on-crime politicians into office and then complain when these politicians are soft on crime. What do you expect?

      • Woodridge Res


      • neighbor

        BS. None of these criticisms are anything new. They’ve been coming from cops, the public, and local news outlets for years. She was in a position to work with the city to do something about it, but instead blindly sucked up to authority until she got her opportunity to cash in.
        Now she’s saying the system is broken? A good person in a position of authority doesn’t sit blithely by and prop up a system that’s leading (in some cases) to rape and murder of innocent people. The public put their trust in her and she f*cked us.

        • anon7

          I’m not sure what you mean by “blindly sucked up to authority.” However, I can tell you that stating to the press that the system is “beyond broken” would have gotten her fired. I mean could you send a company-wide email telling everyone that your boss is presiding over a “broken system”? Of course not.
          I also wonder what you mean when you say she stood by and propped up a failing system. She can’t make the prosecutors take the case if they refuse to. Moreover, MPD cannot force the judges to render more severe punishments. Both entities are totally independent of MPD.
          While your anger about the situation is justified, it is totally misplaced. Many of your fellow citizens support leaders that do not believe in harsh sentencing. If you want someone to blame, start there.

        • Anon

          You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. She has worked with the federal agencies and District agencies for 10 years. Some of the federal agencies were better under some leaders (for instance, the USAO was better before Machen took over). Others have never, ever played ball. The current mayor has made changes in how some of the other agencies operate to support police more. More help is needed, and hopefully that will come with the upcoming budget cycle.

    • Anonymous

      You mean in charge of the judges? I don’t think she’s anywhere near that position.

  • John M

    Chief Lanier is absolutely right about the need for criminal reform in DC. Example after example of inept prosecutors, lenient judges, and ineffectual parole/CSOSA officers letting criminals get away with the same crimes time and time again.

    A lot has been done with MPD, but now we must turn our attention to the wheels of justice in DC. Some might say that cops in our city let too much criminal activity slide, but knowing that the person you just spent hours booking and writing up is just going to be out on the streets soon thereafter is a tremendous morale drain.

    • Linc Park SE

      Those are good points. The other thing we need is less time between a guilty verdict and sentencing. In Maryland it’s one week; in DC it is closer to three months.

  • shmoo

    “our system is broken, so im going to go work for the NFL instead of use my platform as one of the longest serving female police chiefs of a major metropolitan city as leverage to change anything”

    thanks boss. dont let the door hit your ass on the way out. the nfl deserves you and you deserve the nfl.

    • NH Ave Hiker

      The NFL…another glorious pillar of virtue.

    • spookiness

      I don’t exactly blame her. Having worked in government, I know the feeling that sometimes you have to do whats best for you, and you can’t be responsible for changing a system that is resistant to change.

    • dcd

      So she should stay, and continue the Sisyphean task of changing the DC criminal justice system, rather than go work for one of the richest, most successful enterprises in the country and (presumably) make a crap-ton of money? I mean, I don’t think she was great, but this seems like a pretty easy decision to me.

      • shmoo

        no, she could still leave MPD, but due to who she is, her voice would carry weight. If she really, truly wanted to change things, she has the pulpit to do it more then anyone else in the city except maybe the council and the mayor.

  • Yena

    I don’t understand why repeat offenders are always let out? who/what/why makes that decision?

    • dc_anon

      The US attorney general usually won’t prosecute unless its a slam-dunk case. Part of that may be that any felony drug, weapons possession, etc takes both a grand jury (5th amendment) and normal jury for a conviction. From grand jury duty, it appeared most of the prosecutors except for one or two were pretty young and probably trying to do anything to get out of working what in any state would be a local court matter. The incentive is therefore to rack up a high conviction rate and find a reason to toss out anything that there’s a slight chance they’ll lose so you don’t put that promotion out of this hellhole in jeopardy.

  • J.Con.

    Chief Lanier is absolutely right. Kenyan McDuffie is a pure apologist. Can’t wait for Karl Racine to beat him like a drum in the next mayoral race.

    • textdoc

      Wait, huh? Racine is going to beat McDuffie in the next mayoral primary? Does that assume Bowser isn’t going to run for re-election?

    • Anon

      Not going to happen. They are like peas in a pod. They are coordinating who will run for which office. Odds are that Karl runs for Mayor and McDuffie runs for Attorney General.

  • wdc

    I’d like to see some compilation of information about who the judges are. Like, how many of the cases they approved for pre-trial release went on to commit further crimes? How many of those people had prior convictions before they were approved for pre-trial release on a subsequent arrest?
    If there’s a pattern, it should be easy to identify, no?
    Ditto for USAs who decide who to charge and what to charge them with. (Do I have that right? Is it the US Attorney’s office that makes those decisions?)
    Please excuse my ignorance if I have that all wrong… I’ve never had occasion to need to know the various steps and levels of crime in DC.

  • Brookland mom

    I commend her for speaking out, but its not productive to say that a system is beyond repair. We need hard solutions – the electorate and the elected don’t want to believe/don’t want to say that something is beyond repair – we don’t want to think our system and city is completely broken. I wish she had offered a few solutions – like the EMS person who left office a few months ago.

    Also, I think there is an outrage over the crime in the city, but I personally was not aware that repeat offenders are a huge problem. I know there are too many crimes being committed, but it is not on me to know that its the same people doing it (although that’s not even terribly surprising). So while I commend her for speaking out, I don’t love what she had to say.

    • Rich

      It’s easy to “speak out” while you’re leaving. if she’d really cared, she would have looked for ways to promote better communication among the many law enforcement agencies in DC. She didn’t and she had a long time to to it.

      • I. Rex

        She didn’t just wait to speak out until she was out of office. Lanier has been saying for over a year that repeat violent offenders being released by the judicial system is a big part of the crime spike. Part of the problem is that there is no accountability for lenient sentencing judges and for federal AUSAs who cut easy deals to clear their dockets. Since we have no control over Judges and AUSAs, we at least need action by the Mayor and City Council to pass legislation that strengthens monitoring repeat offenders and for gods sake improve the response time when someone cuts their monitoring bracelets. I would also wish for pre-trial bonding (which DC doesn’t have) but good luck getting that passed by this city council. it would take political pressure from their constituents.

        • Anon

          Thank you, I. Rex, for paying attention! It is maddening for these folks to say she is just saying it just because they haven’t been paying attention. She has said to the community, to the Council, to the media, and to the feds. Granted, the press coverage has been limited and often skewed, but even so, this has been covered.

  • SW,DC

    The criminal justice system IS broken – not just in DC, but in America in general. The entire system is broken – financial, religious, etc…

    • ParkViewneighbor

      We need to make it great again ! and have taco trucks at every corner too
      best of both worlds

  • Anonymouse

    How many Council hearings did Kenny McDuffie and Tommy Wells hold on MPD over the past 4 years?
    Compare that with the number of Council hearings they held on the city’s parole and probation agencies.

  • FedUpDC

    Remember last year when people were up in arms about the man who served only 4 months in jail after pleading guilty to shooting a boy, and then was arresting for another shooting on a Metrobus? (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/man-charged-in-metrobus-shooting-claims-he-did-not-fire/2015/09/19/ae24b0fa-5d65-11e5-b38e-06883aacba64_story.html).

    Well, I’m pleased to report that if you check DC’s public court records system, he plead guilty in that second case too, and was sentenced to a whopping one year in jail. Apparently he got out even earlier, because in August he was arrested and charged in connection with a carjacking after leading the police on a pursuit (and he is now released to a halfway house…aka he is back in our community yet again).

  • Rez

    Chief Lanier deserves huge credit for such an incredible run of public service. And she speaks from experience, so let’s take her perspective seriously. If nothing else, her sympathy with the victims of the “beyond broken system” shines through.

    Didn’t she say – “beyond broken”, not “broken beyond repair”? Kind of like SNL’s Joe Biden parody comment that “if you went to the lowest circle of hell, you’d still be 30 minutes outside of Scranton?” In other words – the DC criminal justice system is not broke, it is totally and completely f&^ed up! Like, dope level f&^ed up. Perhaps not third world Mugabe ISIS, but my god, really over the top violent insanity that residents in the Nation’s Capital endure weekly (and in many cases without good cause or reason if there could even be?).

    The CM’s response seems to be a typical DC official response, deflect blame, let it roll off the thick skin that is the DC politic. As a resident I wish that instead of — “I disagree with her assessment that it is broken beyond repair” (which twisted her words?!), I heard the CM say: “Chief Lanier makes some very good points and we should listen to her sage advice after 26 years in public service, there are things we can do on the City Council and throughout the District Government to make a difference, especially as it relates to repeat offenders and the failure of the government system to protect citizens from repeat violent offenders. I’ll start with emergency legislation to _____.” But alas, things here in DC don’t work that way do they?

    Without leadership changes that really address gun violence and criminal absurdities we endure weekly, what can we expect with regard to community outrage and the loyal and dedicated persistence of our public servants? More giving up and glossing over it all? America’s and our City’s future at stake. Is there No Hope?

  • Ed

    My understanding is that activist and academic liberals want even less punishment being that criminal justice impacts blacks more. Fun times ahead.

    • stacksp

      Less or punishment commensurate with the crime and consistent across the board. For instance the varying sentencing among marijuana, cocaine and crack sentences. There are also varying degrees among sentencing among rape, DV, and other serious crimes ie Brock Turner and his 3 months vs 40 years for shooting a police dog.

    • wdc

      Your understanding is simpleminded and flawed.

  • Ashy Oldlady

    So how do we go about getting rid of these corrupt/incompetent/worthless judges and prosecutors?

  • ExWalbridgeGuy

    Late to this thread, but just wanted to say that I more or less shared the sentiments of many people here until I served on a DC jury and had a front row view of how things move through the criminal justice system… there’s some real systemic issues that cannot be fixed by the police chief alone.


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