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D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey has had no bigger enemy in politics than mayor-to-be Adrian Fenty.
This summer, Fenty was one of only three D.C. councilmembers to vote against a $16,000 yearly increase in the chief’s pension. At a July 11 hearing, Fenty criticized the police department for having a poor presence in crime-filled neighborhoods. “If the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department are not doing the job that all of our residents expect,” he said, “then the police chief doesn’t deserve to get a pay compensation increase.”
Three years earlier, Fenty had voted against raising the chief’s pay from $150,000 to $175,000. “We are complicitly supporting mediocrity,” he said at a hearing.
And Fenty was the lone voice on the D.C. Council opposing Ramsey’s “crime emergency” declaration this summer. (Not even Ward 3 councilmember and longtime Ramsey foe Kathy Patterson went out on that limb.) At a July 19 hearing, an angry Fenty railed against “rubber-stamping” the executive branch’s “feel-good” crime-prevention measures.
“We should vote this down, and we should demand more from our police department. It’s our job,” Fenty said.
All this gave officers—many of whom have long disliked Ramsey—the impression that the chief would lose his job real fast under a Fenty mayoralty.
“Ramsey’s had eight years to put up or shut up. I think it’s time for him to shut up,” says Det. Alex Shepard, who believes Fenty has a good idea of what’s wrong at the department. “Fenty has connections with officers and police officials as well who tell him the truth.”
But after winning the Democratic primary, the soon-to-be mayor changed his tune. On Sept. 19, Fenty and Ramsey emerged from a Wilson Building meeting and told reporters outside there would be no decision about Ramsey’s job until after the general election.
Fenty had been careful not to explicitly promise Ramsey’s dismissal. In a March 26 Washington Times article about Ramsey’s tenure as chief, Fenty is quoted saying that if he were elected mayor, he would give Ramsey a specified amount of time to improve community policing—with an executive ax hanging over his head. If things don’t get better, Fenty said, “we will get a new chief.”
But Fenty’s caginess on the hustings didn’t change very many impressions among District officers. “He backtracked,” says Shepard, who is currently suing the city, Ramsey, and several subordinates for discrimination. He doesn’t think Fenty’s softened his attitude towards Ramsey—only that Fenty’s trying not to rock the boat before the general election.
Fenty hasn’t shied away from promising to sack other public-safety honchos. In June, after an Inspector General report criticized the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department for its fatal bungling of the David Rosenbaum 911 call, Fenty called for Fire Chief Adrian Thompson to be fired.
“This smacks of the old D.C. government, where no matter how bad someone messes up, they get to keep their job,” Fenty told the Washington Post. The councilmember’s stance on booting Thompson hasn’t wavered since the primary.
Police would like to see similar resolve when it comes to their chief.
Kris Baumann, head of the D.C. police union, says Ramsey’s chiefdom has been bad for the department “across the board.”
“He’s swelled the ranks of management and abandoned patrol,” he says. The patrol complaint—that officers aren’t visible enough in neighborhoods—is the one that Fenty himself always brings up when harping on the department.
“The soon-to-be mayor has a good grasp on what some of the problems are,” Baumann says. “The rank and file are big supporters of Fenty.”
Pooh-poohing the latest crime emergency endeared Fenty to lots of officers, says Shepard: “He was right on the money. Every officer knew it was a dog-and-pony show.” A major provision of the legislation gave Ramsey the ability to change schedules and force overtime shifts—one of the department’s most effective ways to piss off cops.
Baumann deems the crime emergencies a way for the city to get around contract provisions on work limits and vacation time. Many officers had to cancel previously scheduled vacations and have been working six days a week.
“It was awful,” says six-year veteran cop Edward Farris, about working under a crime-emergency declaration. “The past two or three summers, I couldn’t go anywhere.”
Ramsey did not respond to an request for comment sent through the police department’s media office.
At least one officer was an active supporter of the Fenty campaign because of the councilmember’s tough talk on Ramsey. The officer, who did not want to be identified, would feel “betrayed” if Ramsey didn’t go.
On Wednesday, Fenty reiterated his agnosticism: “We’re not making any decisions on any cabinet-level positions until after the general election,” he said.
Even after the election, firing Ramsey immediately would make little sense. A police-department overhaul would compete with other Fenty priorities—such as the fire department and the numerous underperforming social-service agencies he oversaw as a councilmember. The main question is whether Ramsey will be willing to indulge Fenty’s twin constabular obsessions: community policing and statistical analysis—ideas picked up from other mayors across the country Fenty has visited.
And even if Ramsey isn’t his man, getting a new police chief is no easy task. A search committee and exhaustive vetting process will likely be set up to screen candidates from across the country—a process that can take months at a minimum, meaning Ramsey is likely to be on the job for at least Fenty’s first 100 days.
“I have every confidence that once mayor Fenty takes a look at where this department should be, he’s going to make the right decision about not only the chief but what direction this department is going to go,” Baumann says.CP