During the recent debate over the budget cuts to city services, Examiner columnist Harry Jaffe replaced his pen with an ax, proposing to eliminate the Office of Police Complaints. That’s right. Cut the whole damn office out of existence. Jaffe wrote:
“At a time when the District government is $500 million in the hole, allow me to suggest a quick way to slash $.2.6 million: 86 the OPC.
Born in the day when police were often accused of roughing up citizens, OPC is now redundant in an age of excessive scrutiny of cops.”
Jaffe’s column, written on May 12, essentially parrots the complaints forwarded from Kristopher Baumann, the D.C. Police union chief. It’s Baumann’s job to advocate for the rank and file; he does great work on behalf of his fellow officers. But Jaffe’s job is to actually report accurately the facts, and formulate an independent opinion based on those facts. In this case, Jaffe didn’t even bother to interview anyone at the OPC. Instead, he actually writes that the police do a good job of investigating their own.
Fortunately, the OPC’s budget had zero chance of being eliminated. While Mayor Adrian Fenty had proposed cuts to the OPC, Councilmember Phil Mendelson restored the funds.
The OPC’s standing was such that it didn’t matter that the Examiner’s columnist got his facts wrong.
In a letter-to-the-editor, OPC Executive Director Phil Eure writes in the May 26 Examiner:
“The next time that Harry Jaffe wants to propose that the D.C. Office of Police Complaints be eliminated, he should get his facts straight. Mr. Jaffe claims that the office issued only ‘zero decisions’ so far this year. The correct number is 172. He claims that last year, the office issued six decisions. The correct number is 338.
He further claims that the office is ‘redundant’ because it only gets a case after the Metropolitan Police Department has investigated and federal prosecutors have declined to prosecute. Actually, the police department does not investigate citizen complaints filed with our agency, and federal prosecutors only review complaints involving excessive force allegations — a very small fraction of the total number we receive.
Mr. Jaffe credits the Fraternal Order of Police’s ‘well-argued’ letter to judiciary committee Chairman Phil Mendelson for making the case to ‘ax’ the office. Assuming that he is relying on the union’s letter for the wrong statistics he cites, neither he nor the FOP has made a very good case to do away with independent police review in Washington, D.C.”