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Mark Beach loses his MPD command to a mix of politics, pressure, and a murky March incident.
The meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 5, was more than six months in the making. Every rank-and-file officer in the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) had anticipated it, and many had gossiped about it incessantly throughout the summer. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) had even started to grumble that it would never happen.
On Sept. 5, however, political pressure from within the department finally forced the long-awaited confab to take place. MPD Chief Charles H. Ramsey met with one of the department’s rising stars, 3rd District Cmdr. Mark Beach, and demoted him to captain. Beach was also transferred to a desk job at MPD headquarters.
Beach obviously hadn’t looked forward to the meeting, but Ramsey had never wanted to have it, either. Beach was one of the MPD’s most respected officialsa rare white shirt beloved by both command staff and patrol officers.
Since Ramsey first took over the MPD, three years ago, Beach had shown a talent for buying into the new program. He had turned Executive Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer’s pet project, Mobile Forcea tactical unit that roves the District’s hot crime spotsinto a steady success. As 3rd District commander, he had founded the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit and overseen significant drops in homicide (down 18.2 percent), sexual assaults (down 36.4 percent), and stolen autos (down 10.7 percent) thus far in 2001.
“I think he’s an excellent police commander who’s respected by his troops, works well with the community,” says Gainer. “And he’s very energetic.”
But it wasn’t Beach’s performance on the job that was at issue in the demotion. According to a high-ranking police official, the 3rd District’s former commander had been given a “conduct unbecoming” charge stemming from a March 6 incident in nearby Montgomery County.
On that day, the Montgomery County Police Department received a call at its Olney satellite station, at 17811 Georgia Ave. The call was for a possible “dispute in progress involving two adult females,” according to Capt. Bill O’Toole, a department spokesperson. “The officers made contact with the two females. One of the subjects was an MPD officer.”
According to several police officers and officials close to Beach, the argument was between Beach’s wife and MPD Officer Patricia Cox. As is routine in such incidents, Montgomery County police officials notified the MPD. No charges were filed, according to O’Toole.
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No one involved will comment on the nature of any relationship between Cox and Mark Beach. Cox has been on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation. “I don’t know who’s doing the investigation,” says Lt. Jeffrey Herold, her supervisor in the department’s canine unit. “I have not been contacted. Nobody’s spoken to me.” Cox also could not be reached for comment.
Beach’s involvement in the incident is unclear, although what got him his demotion is not. According to one police official close to the incident, Beach was less than forthcoming when approached by investigators.
Beach also has no comment for the Washington City Paper. “I really can’t comment right now,” he says. “I haven’t had the opportunity to explore all the issues. I just can’t comment right now. I’d love toI just can’t.”
“He was crushed,” says one official of Beach’s reaction to his dismissal from command at 3rd District. “He was just devastated. His family and his police department [are] his life, and there’s been a little discombobulation in both.”
In the thick air of MPD politics, Beach should have seen his demotion coming. Many police officials argue that what did Beach in was less his involvement in the March 6 incident than the political fury that his lack of punishment ignited within the FOP. In years past, embarrassing moments involving supervisors usually didn’t make it past the water cooler, but the union’s antipathy to Ramsey made Beach both a hot topic and a weapon in their ongoing battle with the chief.
“In the past, we’ve had commanders, chiefs get into trouble, and they have not been disciplined,” explains Renee Holden, vice chair of the FOP. “Of course, we use that. Classic. We would always do. Our job is to represent our members to the fullest extent.”
As the months ticked by with no punishment to Cox or Beach, officers came up with what they dubbed the “Mark Beach Rule.” In short, this coinage signaled a belief that any MPD officer slapped with a “conduct unbecoming” could use Mark Beach as Exhibit A in his or her defense. If nothing happened to Beach, went the logic, why should any officer be subject to a similar charge?
“I’ve heard it 99 times today,” Holden said in mid-August. “Our members are all talking about it.”
“In order to punish [other] officers, they had to punish Beach,” says one officer.
The MPD’s sacrifice of Beachdue, at least in part, to political pressure from the FOP comes at a price. Despite Beach’s entanglement in the March 6 incident, he was still a commander whom MPD officers respected.
Last Thursday afternoon, after word got out, officers weren’t celebrating. They were mourning a demotion that few of them wanted.
“I always liked the way he operated,” says Sgt. John Brennan, a veteran with the department’s Major Narcotics Branch. “He kept morale up. He was easy to talk to….I personally liked him as a commander and a person.” CP