Credit: Illustration by Shannon Brady

By the time Police Chief Cathy Lanier rose to address an April 23 public-safety meeting at the Ward Memorial AME Church—to a chorus of boos—the rumors passed around town over the weekend had spread throughout the audience.

All they knew was that the week before, Lanier had knocked 6th District Commander Robin Hoey down to captain, sent him to run the central cell block, and put a rising star, Robert Contee, in his place. Supremely popular with residents, Hoey had developed strong ties to the community in a district where major crimes have dropped by more than 25 percent since 2003.

With no explanation for the move, residents of the 6th District grasped for any explanation. The prevailing theory, as recounted in chatter before, during, and after the meeting, was that the chief had canned Hoey after he called her a name following a conference call, unaware the line was still open.

During the meeting, Lanier acknowledged the rumors and tossed them out as fibs. Then she told the audience that she wasn’t about to reconsider Hoey’s demotion. “I’ve made a decision,” she said, “and it won’t be changed.” She said she had a right to build her own team.

Though Lanier would not go into further detail about the demotion, interviews with Hoey and officers he worked with make it clear he isn’t as revered inside the department as he is outside of it.

From his home in Maryland, Hoey also denies the conference-call scenario. But he says the choice to remove him had everything to do with personal issues and nothing to do with performance. He says he forced his officers to work, which brought crime down but made him unpopular with the rank and file.

“The bottom line is, I made people get out on the street and do their jobs,” he says. “You’re not going to get popular with that.”

According to interviews with several department members, Hoey had a serious reputation as a bully, especially among women. It’s a rap the former commander doesn’t deny.

“I’m not going to apologize for my style,” Hoey says. He also says that unlike some commanders, he wouldn’t allow officers to attend college classes while on duty. One woman filed a complaint against him, he says, after he transferred her from a desk job to a foot beat.

Hoey offered several e-mails as proof of his blunt style. In one, he gave his team two options for how to schedule rotations. He wrote, “The below listed options are all you have. Isn’t democracy fun?” After listing two choices, he signed off like this: “Please do not add any additional options because they will not be considered.…The number assigned to each tour will be decided by dictatorship.”

The former commander sees his tone as “to the point.” But some of his underlings saw it as harassment, and they’re thankful to the chief for the change of the guard. No current officers were willing to talk about Hoey on the record. One 6th District sergeant’s comment was typical: “It’s a lot more peaceful place to work now.”

Residents are not so sanguine.

“This community was really devastated, the entire community,” says Yvonne Moore, chair of the advisory neighborhood commission for an area including Hillcrest and Penn Branch. “I think he reached out to every community in the 6th District. We were basically outraged. And I don’t understand it.”

According to residents who spoke at the pubic safety meeting and several others who posted on a 6th District Internet group, Hoey had a reputation for responsiveness, always writing detailed answers to e-mailed queries about specific crimes and neighborhood problems. The commander created a nonemergency telephone line specifically for the district. Residents say someone always picked up the phone.

Moore believes Lanier acted as though her constituents east of the river didn’t warrant consultation. “It’s like this great white hope stepped into this arena, and she had a problem with Hoey, and she put him down to size,” she says.

At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who oversees the police department as chair of the judiciary committee, says the chief should have done a little more talking before, and after, she made her decision.

“I think that the residents in the 6th District deserve a better explanation than they’ve gotten,” Mendelson says. “They may not like the explanation, but too little was said.” Lanier did not respond to requests for comment.

Although the chief is limited in how much she can divulge about personnel matters, Mendelson says, Lanier could have offered a little enlightenment on the problems the commander had with his own staff.

“What I see is that you’ve got two faces to Robin Hoey,” Mendelson says. “One is the public face, and the other is the inside face, how he relates to others in the 6th District and the rest of the command staff. The public isn’t going to see that internal face.”

Hoey was placed on sick leave after his blood pressure scored “off the charts” in tests at the department clinic the day after his demotion. (Hoey denies rumors about that doctor’s visit—that it was ordered after he made threats against the chief and an assistant chief.) He was taken off sick leave on April 27 but hasn’t started his new job yet.

He says his frustration won’t affect his work. “I’m gonna go in there and do my new job,” he says.