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After 10 years running the Metropolitan Police Department, Chief Cathy Lanier is trading the streets of the District for football fields. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Lanier confirmed Tuesday that the chief is resigning next month to direct security for the National Football League, a move first announced on MPD’s Twitter feed.
With D.C. Public Schools chancellor Kaya Henderson also on her way out, Lanier’s exit leaves Bowser‘s administration looking to fill two high-profile positions. Bowser initially used Lanier and Henderson to tout the role of three prominent women in her mayoralty. On top of these departures, Christopher Weaverstepped down as head of D.C.’s Department of General Services last week. He’s been replaced on an interim basis by Greer Gillis, an ex-District Department of Transportation official.
Lanier has enjoyed an unusual level of popularity for most of her term—especially for someone in such a closely watched position—although the end of her tenure at MPD was marred by 2015’s spike in homicides. Killings surged more than 50 percent last year as compared with 2014, a jump seen in a few other major cities. This year, they’re down 10 percent to date, while overall violent crime is down 2 percent. Still, at 62 percent, MPD’s homicide clearance rate in 2015 had returned to where it was roughly a decade ago. Bowser said violent crime has dropped 23 percent since Lanier took over MPD in 2007.
At a press conference, Lanier noted that her contract was coming up for renewal early next year and that she’s “enjoyed every minute” of working for three D.C. mayors. She said it would be “selfish” of her to continue in her current role when others within MPD could fill her shoes. Lanier added that the NFL approached her about the job, but she declined to specify what her salary will be.
“[Football] is America’s favorite sport,” Lanier said, explaining that she made her final decision yesterday. “It also deserves the same sense of safety [as D.C.] It’s bittersweet.”
Bowser said Lanier’s last day will be Sept. 17, and that she will name an interim chief “in the coming days.” The mayor said she did not have “an immediate plan” for succession.
In the wake of the announcement, public officials praised Lanier’s service to the city. At least some rank and file, though, appearedpleased that she’s leaving. Lanier effectively said there are always going to be people who are unhappy.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who previously served as chair of the legislature’s judiciary committee, said in a statement that he was “surprised” about Lanier’s resignation “like everyone else.” He added that the “stability” the chief provided during her 10-year term has led to reduced crime, better police training, and fewer use-of-force issues. But “challenges remain, they are not easy, and are exacerbated now by the need to find a successor,” Mendelson concluded.
Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Matthew Mahl, who’s led the union since April, tells City Paper that Lanier’s departure is “definitely a surprise.” Though he says he’s enjoyed a “very professional relationship” with the chief, and that his members have benefited from increased communication with MPD’s leadership as well as new safety equipment, he notes there are “some 480” outstanding arbitration cases between the department and the union.
“I’m hoping the next chief coming in realizes where we are as an agency: at a critical level,” he says, when asked about MPD’s staffing problems. “We’re losing officers on a daily basis almost. Although the retirement bubble is a big issue”—one Lanier has repeatedly highlighted in public appearances—“the morale in the department is at one of the lowest levels I’ve ever seen.”
A “slew of factors” have contributed to attrition at MPD, Mahl qualifies, and “to blame this solely on the chief would be irresponsible.” He says he hopes Bowser will ask the FOP to provide input in selecting a new permanent chief.
“I think we have to keep an open mind and look at the talent and resources we have in the agency,” Mahl says. “But we have to focus outside as well,” like when Chief Charles Ramsey, whom Lanier replaced, arrived from the Chicago Police Department in 1998.
Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who currently chairs the Council’s judiciary committee, agrees the city should cast a wide net for the next police chief. Though he and Lanier “haven’t always agreed on everything,” McDuffie praises Lanier’s professionalism and more than 25 years of service. In particular, he describes the chief’s incorporation of technology into policing, from body-worn cameras to gunfire detectors, as a centerpiece of Lanier’s tenure. Still, McDuffie says, “there’s always room for improvement” in terms of holding officers who abuse their policing powers accountable.
“It’s going to be important, given the intense national focus on police-community relations as well as the unique position that MPD is in with respect to law enforcement in the District of Columbia—being one of several—for the next chief to come with a breadth of experience and also an understanding of how to coordinate among multiple agencies,” the councilmember says. “[Lanier] has been a stable presence whether you agree with things she’s done or not…It’s going to be a noticeable loss in that respect.”
This post has been updated.