We chat with journalist and author Masha Gessen, whose newest book explores the complicated family history behind bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
As decades of development and changing demographics have transformed large parts of Washington, crime in the District has also evolved. But even though homicide rates are down considerably from highs in the early 1990s, the nature of police work in D.C. remains a complex challenge. Police Chief Cathy Lanier joins Kojo in the studio to discuss her most pressing concerns about keeping District residents safe and the solutions she’s pursuing to further reduce crime in the city.
- Cathy Lanier Chief, Metropolitan Police Department (Washington, D.C.)
Cathy Lanier, chief of Metropolitan Police Department, addressed controversy over the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program. Lanier said it can be a “valuable tool,” but said the impact of the policy is unclear. “There is a legitimate and valid reason for stop and frisk,” Lanier said.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. For decades, summertime in Washington, D.C. was synonymous with spikes in violent crime. But the steep declines in the District's homicide rate in recent years are just some of the numbers that reflect the sweeping changes taking place in neighborhoods across the city.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIPolice Chief Cathy Lanier cut her teeth at the Metropolitan Police Department, walking a beat in Washington when it had a reputation as one of the most violent places in America. She's experimented with and taken heat for a lot of innovative approaches to help the District move past that reputation forever.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut crime reduction does not mean crime-free, as demonstrated by a string of crimes in seemingly safe neighborhoods and violence that's once again rattling vulnerable communities in the nation's capital. Cathy Lanier joins us in studio. She is the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in the District of Columbia. Cathy Lanier, welcome.
CHIEF CATHY LANIERThank you for having me. Seems like it's been forever since I've been here.
NNAMDIIt's been a long time since you've been here, and we said we would let you bask in your high approval ratings for a little while because homicides in the District are down more than 20 percent from where they were last year. So congratulations.
LANIERThank you. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIOne, two. That's enough time for basking.
LANIERThere's my two seconds. All right.
NNAMDIThat's enough time for basking. But we're coming to the point in the year where...
LANIERIt's more than I usually get. Thank you.
NNAMDI...where people are in high alert in the summer. There were four homicides in one week in June. What are your biggest concerns heading into the heart of the summer, and what strategies are you deploying because of those concerns?
LANIERWell, we're using a strategy that we have used for the past several -- four summers in a row now. It's a summer crime initiative. We have targeted particular areas and particular crimes, and we have the help, thanks to the mayor and deputy mayor, of all the other city agencies. So the last two summers, we've seen reductions of 60 and 71 percent in homicide based on, you know, the summer initiative. So we're hoping to see that again this year. And, you know -- I mean, we're getting the numbers down in the right direction. We still have a long way to go, though.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. What do you think should be the priorities of the District's police department as it looks to combat crime in the summer months ahead? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Or if you have questions or comments for Chief Lanier about anything, you could also send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet, @kojoshow.
NNAMDIThere are people in the District's LGBT communities who are gravely concerned about where summer crime trends are headed this year. There have been a total of six violent assaults in the LGBT community since June 21, but police say they are investigating only one of those as a possible hate crime. What kind of criteria must an incident fulfill in order to be considered a hate crime?
LANIEROh, that's a great question, and really a hate crime in the District is an enhanced penalty. So it really is not an actual charge that the police place. It is we investigate crimes if it appears that they are motivated by bias or hate. Even if that motivation is not based on any real fact, if we believe that the crime itself was motivated by bias or hate, then it is investigated that way. If it does turn out to be a crime that was motivated by bias or hate, then it will have an enhanced penalty once it's prosecuted.
NNAMDIWhat concerns do you have about any particular vulnerabilities that you might see in this community?
LANIERI mean, there's a few. I mean, the crimes that are -- that you referred to in the beginning, you know, we had five crimes in total. There was one homicide that was really not involved in the LGBT community per se. It was a robbery, actually a robbery that -- gone bad. And then we had two other cases where arrests were made that both were robberies as well. But one of those robberies we're investigating as a hate crime is a person on Eastern Avenue who -- there was an attempt robbery, and during the course of that robbery, the victim was shot.
LANIERBut we do believe that was -- we're looking at that particular case as a case that may have been motivated by hate because of some of the interactions between the suspect and the victim. But, you know, this is a summertime. There's a lot of people out. We have the largest LGBT communities in the country here, and like everybody else, street robberies is something that, you know, they're vulnerable to.
NNAMDIAnd if there are street robberies, it's difficult making a distinction -- especially if those robberies were accompanied by violence -- between whether the violence was because it was just a street robbery or whether it was particularly aimed at that person because that person happens to be LGBT.
LANIERThat's correct. That's correct. You have to be able to prove that to move forward.
NNAMDIEver since you moved to restructure the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit of the D.C. Police, it's been a point of contention with the LGBT community. Earlier this year, you stripped Sgt. Matthew Mahl, head of the unit, of his police powers. Can you explain to us how the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit has evolved -- because I'm assuming that you cannot explain why he was stripped of his police powers -- and what that unit's role is in ensuring safety for the community?
LANIERWell, I'll say this. It's oftentimes when we have to do -- investigate an allegation or investigate, you know, an allegation of misconduct or something like that where a person is put on administrative leave and they return to full duty once that investigation is done, it's done all the time as a precautionary measure. So, you know, I'll leave it at that. There was nothing to that particular sergeant.
LANIERWe continue to expand the number of officers that we have that are part of the GLLU, which is the liaison unit for the LGBT community. And now we have much larger numbers of officers trained than we did in the past that -- you know, we try and hang on to that core central unit. It's not -- it doesn't have as many people. It's down a couple of people from what it used to be, but, you know, I think, overall, we're serving a much larger population around the clock now with the people we've trained.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, our guest is Cathy Lanier, chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. She'll take your calls at 800-433-8850. What do you believe should constitute a hate crime in the eyes of local law enforcement? What concerns do you have about the string of crimes involving members of the city's LGBT community? 800-433-8850. You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there.
NNAMDIWe're headed into the Fourth of July holiday tomorrow. It's one of the biggest, if not the biggest annual event in the District. This may be the first open public event of this scale in the District since the Boston Marathon bombings in April. What's your strategy going into the Fourth, and what would you say are the biggest things you took out of what happened in Boston?
LANIERThat's a great question. The Fourth of July is one of the largest gatherings we have here each year. It is an event that is headed by the United States Park Police. The majority of the events themselves are in Park Police territory. Obviously we have to get all those people into our city and down to Park Police territory and back out. So we are in a supporting role. All of the agencies here in Washington, D.C., pay very, very close attention with large special events here, both before Boston and following what happened in Boston and what we've learned.
LANIERI think you'll see very much what you normally see in terms of security around the events here. A lot of our enhanced vigilance is not very visible to the public, but there -- you know, there's going to be no additional inconveniences, I would say, based on some changes that we've made since Boston.
NNAMDIBut are you going to be looking for different kinds of things that you looked for in the past as a result of Boston?
LANIEROh, absolutely. And we do, as these events are ramping up and coming closer, we do try and encourage our public to report suspicious activity, which is one of the key things for us. And I know just after the Boston bombing, we had a -- several large events around the Holocaust Museum, and the public here is pretty good.
LANIERThey are very vigilant about reporting suspicious activity. In fact, we stopped a couple of reporters who happened to be carrying two backpacks down around the event that were actually very pleasant, considering we inconvenienced them. But -- so that's an important part of it is the public's vigilance here.
NNAMDIYou've served as chief of police during two of the biggest public gatherings in the history of this city, both of President Obama's inaugurations. You've been chief during marathons, parades, protest. What are the biggest challenges you confront when you're doing law enforcement in large events, in large, open spaces like that? What guidance do you give your officers who are in duty at those events?
LANIERIt was a lot harder when I used to be the SOD commander. I had to plan those events.
LANIERBut we -- well, we do, and we put out some bulletins last night. I mean, we put out very specific direction for our officers. And for us, the Fourth of July, the whole department is working. We're actually on 12-hour shifts, so you'll see lots of police out there. But they get very specific training for dealing with crowds, you know, not just crowd control in terms of civil disobedience, but moving crowds around.
LANIERAnd they're given some very specific things to look out for. So what you will see from MPD out there -- starting today, actually -- is a much higher visibility around particular areas, and then that increased vigilance is going to be very obvious, I think, for people coming in tomorrow.
NNAMDIA lot of people listened into the scanners during the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, and that debate was reopened about whether it's safer for police to encrypt their systems so that police can do sensitive work without tipping criminals off. The District was in early on the encryption trend. Why did you feel this was the right thing for police to do? Even though we in the media don't like it, it leaves crime reporters out in the cold. Talk about that.
LANIERWell, I tried to look out for the press because the press is a valuable partner to us. I mean, we need the press to get information out to the public. That's what helps us fight crime. So we try and accommodate the press once we encrypted our radios by using Twitter and some other means to do that, to put information out quickly. But it was important to me for my officers' safety.
LANIERWe had -- repeatedly, we had incidents where we were doing search warrants or trying to apprehend criminals involved in violent crimes like carjackings and found that they were listening to our police radios on iPhone apps, for example, and it just was not acceptable to me to put officers' lives in danger at that level any longer than necessary. So even though it was a little controversial, you know, we try to make sure that everybody is kept in the loop into a crime.
NNAMDIWhat kind of pushback did you get from reporters? Because when I first got into this business 40 years ago, every news department and every radio station had a police scanner in it, and we would listen to it and decide on our own what we wanted to pursue. Now, we don't have that freedom anymore. You kind of control it.
LANIERWell, I'll tell you, I got a lot of pushback. They went to my boss, and they told on me, and it was not very pleasant. But what I did do -- because, again, I do have a good relationship with them. I rely on the press a lot to help us. So what I tried to do is to accommodate them with making sure that any serious crime that normally they, you know, they would respond to, we push that out over Twitter into a mailing list to the news stations, you know, within 10 minutes of the -- you know, verifying that the crime did, in fact, occur.
LANIERWe've been pretty good with it. I mean, we also give them traffic updates. I'll tell you, the traffic reporters were the biggest angry mob. So we created -- I created a traffic desk in my ops center that now operates morning and afternoon traffic. And I don't know if you guys are in our list, but they actually will tweet out updates and photos and everything else about traffic. So, you know, we try our best. Believe me, if I missed something and there's been one or two that we have missed, the press finds out about it, and they are all over me.
NNAMDIAnd do you find that now that you're encrypting that your officers are, in your view, in fact, safer than they were before because people who have perpetrated crimes can't follow what you're doing?
LANIERYes. I know, in fact, that we are. The most dangerous -- one of the most dangerous things for a police officer is the service of a search warrant, especially in narcotics and gun cases. And we had repeated incidences when the officers got inside that the scanners were being monitored. So, yeah, I'm sure we are.
NNAMDIHere is Benjamin in Anacostia in Washington. Benjamin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BENJAMINHi, Kojo. Thanks Capt. Lanier -- Chief Lanier, excuse me -- for taking that comment. My question was -- comment and question -- and my question was, what is the criteria for deploying or staffing different wards? I live in Hillsdale in Anacostia, one of the most densely populated residential neighborhoods, and I want to know how you allocate police personnel. Is it by ward? Is it by precinct? Is it through -- by population? What's -- what is the standard, I guess, for deploying police?
LANIERWell, that's a great question. I get that a lot. We deploy it based on a workload analysis that we have, you know, that we do on a regular basis. So we look at the calls for service that come in, crimes that occur, our response times to calls, which is a really good measure, how long it takes officers to get to, you know, a Priority 1 911 call. We monitor that very closely. And then we're trying now -- in the last two years, we actually are trying to deploy ahead of some of the increases in population that we're seeing.
LANIERSo we know, for example, in Anacostia, we have the new Coast Guard facility that's going to be opening up with -- I think, 4,000 employees will start working there in August, and that's going to bring, you know, a new work -- daytime population there. So we'll deploy some extra officers to accommodate that, you know, to try and provide some additional policing there. But we do it with new housing developments and new retail that come into play also. But workload really is what it's all about.
BENJAMINWell, all right. Well, I guess that's -- well, I guess the other side of it is that -- so, you know, we have a very high unemployment rate as well, and I wonder if that plays into effect that a lot of our citizens and residents are ex-offenders and recidivists. So there's a potential that they may engage in -- they're more likely to be engaged in crimes in other areas. So I wonder if that could play a key role. And...
LANIERWe don't. We don't factor in ex-offenders. And here's the reason why: because a lot of ex-offenders come back to the community and they do just fine, and they don't re-offend and they go on and are productive. What we measure, really, is the volume of calls for service, which actually will capture some of the disorder and some of the other things that make residents uneasy and then the crime, the actual crimes that occur and then arrests that are made. All of those things factor.
LANIERAnd then, you know, our goal when we redrew the District boundaries almost a year and a half ago now was to make sure that every single neighborhood in Washington, D.C. gets exactly the same level of police service. And that means that no matter where you live, if you dial 911, it shouldn't take any longer for a police officer to get to your neighborhood than any other neighborhoods. And right now, we've balanced that out almost perfectly equal across the board. So those are the big things that matter to us.
NNAMDIBenjamin, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. But you can still call us, 800-433-8850. Do you pass speed cameras on your regular routes? Have you ever received a ticket from one of them? Tell us about your experience and your feelings about speed cameras. 800-433-8850, or send email to email@example.com. Our guest is Cathy Lanier, chief of the Metropolitan Police Department. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Cathy Lanier, chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you live in Petworth or similar developing neighborhoods? Do you feel safe? What kind of safety measures do you follow when you need to be out at night? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDISpeed cameras are one of the technologies deployed in the name of making road safer throughout the District. The city has an 82 percent reduction in those who speed more than 10 miles per hour above the speed limit. But there's still a lot of people who feel that cameras are just ATMs for the city. What would you say to those people about where you feel those cameras fit in to the city's public safety strategy?
LANIERMy job is to reduce the number of people who are injured or killed in the District of Columbia by any means necessary. And you cannot argue with the numbers. And traffic fatalities have been reduced 73 percent since we started deploying these cameras. And it's just really simple math, Kojo, if you think about it.
LANIERYou know, a vehicle traveling, you know, 30 miles an hour that strikes a pedestrian, the pedestrian has an 80 percent chance of survival. A vehicle traveling 40 miles an hour that strikes a pedestrian, they have an 80 percent chance of dying. So when you slow people down, the fatalities are reduced. And that is really what it's all about, making the street safer for everybody.
NNAMDIWell, how about money? You've previously said that a $50 fine is not enough money to motivate people to change their driving habits. Where do you see the right balance when it comes to the penalties as far as something that's both fair and could be a deterrent?
LANIERWell, I let the legislators make those decisions. But, you know, we have -- we actually increased our traffic fines a couple of years ago so that we would come in line with Maryland and Virginia. Ours were much lower. And what we saw especially in a lot of the, like, commercial motor vehicles and things like that, when the fines are so low, it was just like cost of doing business because people were just kind of ignoring some of those laws.
LANIERSo we really raised our traffic fines to meet that of our partner, you know, jurisdictions. And so I thought they were reasonable. But you know, like I say, whatever the legislators decide, we'll enforce.
NNAMDIBecause Councilmember Tommy Wells suggests high fines might be the reason for the merging competition in D.C. legislation to phase out speed cameras. House member Vincent Orange plans to present a bill that will set a two-year moratorium on new speed cameras, while Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan, a freshman Republican, proposes a safer street act that prohibits the use of automated traffic enforcement systems. What do you make of this pushback?
LANIERWell, you know, I'm not going to get into the politics of it because it seems like there's a lot of that around the speed cameras. Again, I -- you can't argue with the numbers. I think that the safety improvements have been tremendous in Washington, D.C. And if we're going to continue to make our streets safer as our population grows and our bike-share rides grow and our pedestrian traffic control, I think we should keep the traffic enforcement in place, plus it's safer for my police officers.
NNAMDIHere's Chris in Washington, D.C., on that issue. Hi, Chris.
CHRISHi. I had a question. Is there a reduction -- thank you so much for taking my call rather. Is there a reduction in the incidence of live stops versus stop cameras or the deployment where speed cameras are positioned in the city? What I've noticed as a pedestrian is that people are running stoplights, stop signs and speeding in areas where they know they are not stoplights -- stoplight cameras and speed cameras. They -- and people who are aware of those comply temporarily with the control device, just that I wondered if there's a comment on that.
NNAMDIChris, you think they might want to attach some cameras to the stop signs?
CHRISNo. It was -- it -- this was an outgrowth of my initial question, which is live stops versus where they are stopped, speed cameras and red light cameras.
NNAMDIOK. Here's Chief Lanier.
LANIERWell, it's a great point, and this is a point that some people often overlooked. And when people say to me, oh, you know, you've got this camera at this place, and people slow down just to go by the camera and then they speed back up, we select those locations because those are the locations where the crashes are the highest and where the potential for crashes to become lethal or deadly are the highest.
LANIERSo if we slow them down in that stretch of roadway, typically, like if you look at some of the long, straight roadways that we have these cameras on, even if we slow them down in that stretch of roadway, we reduce the number of fatalities. And just like the -- we select the intersections where the crash fatality is the highest and putting those cameras there reduces the fatality. So there is some sense that people know the camera is there. We tell them they're there. We advertise it. They're on our website.
LANIERYou know, we don't care if they have apps that tell them where they're at as long as they slow down, and they don't create that collision that's going to cost somebody their life. That's the goal. It's not -- the goal is not to give them tickets. The goal is to have them slow down. So if they're slowing down, that's what we want.
NNAMDIChris, thank you very much for your call. Here is John in Bowie, Md. Hi, John.
JOHNHi, Kojo. I'm a teacher in Prince George's County. And I want to say that in the last two years, that in this county, we've beefed up the use of the cameras in front of schools, and I think it's made a big difference. I do dive -- drive in the district. We have a problem is -- let's say on a road like 295. I'm a pretty slow driver, and I've gotten, you know, a ticket on 295 for 56 miles an hour.
JOHNWhat I don't like about the process is that I can't identify aggressive drivers behind me who were trying to get around me and that it's a road where various of people even do 55. And I wonder if one road like that where the speed limit is not posted very often, is that just generating just revenue or is it really making that - a road like that safer? And I'll take your answer offline.
NNAMDIOK, John. Thank you for your call.
LANIERWell, actually, I like to answer that question. One is one of the things that the administration did do last year when the debate was really heavy about the enforcement -- we made recommendations along with DDOT -- there were certain runways, 295 being one of them, where we felt that the roadway improvements over the past several years justified raising the speed limit. So the speed limit was 45, and so the 56-mile-an-hour ticket probably was generated when the speed limit was a little lower.
LANIERIt has been raised and new signs have been posted now to 50 miles an hour. So, you know, the tickets, you know, the threshold is a little higher and the fines are lower for those tickets that are issued there. But, you know, again, we've seen many fatalities come down on 295, which is an area where, as you pointed out, tend to be very deadly. And just you know, the -- these cameras actually aren't just taking photos.
LANIERWe actually have those images reviewed. And it's digital video, so they can look. They reviewed the tickets to make sure that the vehicle that is being issued, the citation is, in fact, the vehicle that is speeding. So in your scenario, you gave the aggressive driver coming around behind you. The reviewer will look at that video and make sure that it's issued to the right person.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, John. Here's Maria in Petworth in D.C. Maria, your turn.
MARIAYes, yes. Good afternoon. How are you, Chief? I am a police officer, and I live in the Petworth area in -- of course, pertaining to Petworth. And I know the chief has done a great job. She gets this alert out to the citizens in regards to paying attention. But what I've noticed -- I do shift work, come home late at night 1:00, two o'clock in the morning.
MARIAAnd what I've noticed with the influx of new neighbors, everyone is out late at night, single males and females alone with their head down texting on their cellphones. Late at night, not a good idea. So I just think that the chief could continue to get the word out to the citizens. They have to take precautions, and the cellphone is what's getting a lot of people into trouble and becoming victims.
MARIASo thank you, Chief. You're doing a great job. Kojo, you know you're doing a great job. So (unintelligible).
LANIERWell, we love Maria, don't we, Kojo?
NNAMDIWe sure do love Maria.
LANIERThank you. Thank you, Maria. That's, you know, I say it all the time, you know, it's hard. It's a bad habit to walk down the street anytime of the day, but especially at night, looking at your phone, your smartphone, your Blackberry, whatever it is you have, because it is something that, right now, we're still struggling with the black market.
LANIERThey're still being fenced in very large numbers. I will say that we did, just in this past week, take down another fencing operation up in that area, so I' m happy about that, that was fencing these stolen phones. But Maria is exactly right. I can't tell you. I see three or four robberies a day that are exactly the scenario she just described.
NNAMDIWell, after the -- an individual was apprehended as a result of a series of violent incidents in Petworth, the chief said, I think the danger has passed. People can relax. I never heard the chief say the word relax before ever in life. So I guess she means relax but nevertheless be vigilant, OK, when you're walking down the street.
LANIERGood catch, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou've also promoted the use of technology in combating cellphone theft. It's a problem in every major city but recently has been driven by the increased prevalence of ecoATMs, which let people deposit old cellphones into kiosks that reimburse them on the spot for cash. In response to phone thefts, you've advocated for a website called brickit.dc.gov. Please elaborate on that project.
LANIERSo we worked for about a year with not only the cell industry, the cell carriers, the major carriers in the cell industry and also the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission to put some things in place to help stop the fencing of these stolen cell -- smartphones in particular. So the Brick It site is really the first phase of that. Two of the major carriers in the United States now, if your phone is stolen and you report it stolen, will shut that phone down, and it cannot be re-serviced.
LANIERSo it is essentially a brick. It's not resalable. The other five major carriers are coming onboard in November this year, and that will help significantly with the black market. A lot of these phones are being sold overseas. And what we're seeing now with the ecoATMs, great use of technology, great way to recycle phones.
LANIERProblem is is we're seeing a significant increase in street robberies and street crimes because the quick cash is so easy for the person who's looking to, you know, commit these crimes. So we try to work with ecoATM to have them put a few things in place to help reduce those crimes and, you know, we had little success with that.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, I went to the brickit.dc.gov website this morning. There, you can get instructions about how to contact your carrier so that if your phone is stolen, it can be disabled immediately before hopefully that person can get it to an ecoATM.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. City Councilmember Tommy Wells has proposed a bill that would give you permission to shut down businesses that are linked to selling stolen mobile phones similar to your power to close down clubs and bars that are not able to manage their own safety. Shop and club owners argue, on the other hand, that they experience financial losses as a result of merely being located in unsafe parts of town. How do you respond to that argument?
LANIERIf you're not selling stolen stuff, you're not going to get shut down. I don't know. It doesn't matter where you're located. I think the bill has hit the mark. I mean, really, you know, you get -- the first time, we literally shut down -- we had 36 different businesses in the city that we did operations on where we walked in and told them we had a stolen phone, and they bought that stolen phone knowing it was stolen and resold it for profit in their store.
LANIERAnd these were not even electronic stores. These were nail salons and, you know, variety stores and battery stores. It was crazy. I mean, you had all these different businesses that were making money off stolen phones. So the bill hits the mark. The first time we come in and you've got stolen property in there, we're going to, you know, hit you with a fine, and now you're on notice.
LANIERWe come in again and you've got stolen property in there, we're going to shut you down. We're going to hit you with a heavy fine. And third time, you lose your license, you know? So I think it's reasonable. You know, you follow the rules and the laws and don't fence stolen property, you're going to be fine.
NNAMDIJoyce in Southeast Washington, your turn.
JOYCEGood morning -- or good afternoon from Southeast Washington.
NNAMDIIt is afternoon, Joyce. Wake up.
JOYCEI'm from Southeast Washington. I'm enjoying your program there.
JOYCEChief Lanier, I'd like to commend you on some changes you've made on the Good Hope Road Corridor where you have 6D and 7D out there all hours of the night.
JOYCEThat has made -- a light bulb went off and somebody's here to do that.
LANIERYes, the foot patrols.
JOYCEAnd I'm glad.
LANIERFoot patrols, too, yes.
JOYCEFoot patrol. Yeah, I'm glad because it's long overdue. You have that methadone clinic down there, and all kinds of things were happening out there. But I've noticed a huge difference, and I hope you don't take those cars away.
LANIERNo, we're not going anywhere. And the foot beats are there as well during the day, so thank you for calling to let us know that you're seeing them.
JOYCEI hate to say this, but I do not like those red light cameras. And I hope somebody is setting them so they can't make a lot of money off of them. I know that they're preventing accidents, but it's hitting our pocketbooks also. And I'm not speeding that much.
NNAMDIJoyce, I can tell you...
JOYCEI'm trying to abide by the law. And then I want to say one last thing: Please go somewhere and get some state-of-the-art ideas about how to fix up your police satellite -- your police departments. They do not look good. Some of them don't.
NNAMDIYou mean, the...
NNAMDIWhat do you mean...
LANIEROur facilities, actually. She's talking about our police stations.
NNAMDIOh, the facilities.
LANIERWe have one brand new station. And the 6th district, by the way, is going to be -- they're going to have a brand new police station coming in 2014 as well. But the 1st district was the first one we redid, and it was an old school that was renovated and it is -- I tell you, it is state of the art. It is beautiful. So we're working and 6D is next.
NNAMDIMaybe you should hire Ginnie Cooper, the head of the D.C. library system who got all the libraries renovated so beautifully, to work on the police stations. But Joyce, thank you very much for your call. I can't tell you how many people have joined the discussion when we on The Politics Hour or any place else discussed speed cameras because nobody likes getting a ticket from a speed or red light camera.
NNAMDIBut it looks like we're losing that argument, Joyce, because the statistics seem to indicate that people are driving more carefully as a result of those cameras. Public safety on the metropolitan branch trail was on the agenda of a March ANC 5E meeting in response to repairing damaged fences that line that trail. You said the holes would not be fixed because criminals would just cut them again.
NNAMDIIn June, a cyclist on his way home from work was severely beaten on that trail. It's frequented by many local cyclists, runners. Has anything been done to increase the safety of the trail since the recent attack?
LANIERI didn't say that, did I, Kojo?
NNAMDIOh, one of your representatives did.
LANIEROh, OK, OK. All right. OK.
NNAMDIYou didn't say it personally.
LANIERThat doesn't sound like Chief Lanier.
NNAMDIIt wasn't you personally, no.
LANIEROK. So, yeah, I mean, we have -- actually have some of the best mountain bike officers over in that district that not only ride that trail, but also participate on not only our listservs but some of the bike-related listservs in the neighborhood. Sgt. Drew (sp?) and some of the others over there are fantastic.
LANIERAnd that incident, as horrible as it was, happened at a time when there were several other incidents that happened out in Virginia on a bike trail as well. So we don't know what the motivation was for just a senseless attack and beating like that on these bike trails and whether there is some connection at this point. There's been some progress in the investigation with the investigators. But it really is, I mean, we do have a pretty good presence on those trails.
NNAMDIIs it possible to have, like, an emergency alert system on a trail like the blue light post that you can see on college campuses sometimes?
LANIERSure, sure. There are a lot of systems out there. We're -- and we're looking in a lot of different things right now in terms of camera deployments and, you know, alert systems like that, making sure those, you know, we worked hard to try and get mile marker posts, so people can -- when they do call, they can report where on the trail they are or you imagine if you dial 911 and there's no postings to describe where you are. So we're working on all of that.
LANIERAnd we're seeing more and more bike trails. There's another one coming down in Anacostia. So those bike trails and making them safe is a priority for the city. So we're working with DDOT and others to make sure we have that technology.
NNAMDIIf you have called, stay on the line because we're going to take a short break. But we'll be returning very shortly to our conversation with Chief Cathy Lanier of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. The number is 800-433-8850. Are you a victim of cellphone theft? How did you go about addressing the issue? Would you report it stolen to the police? Would you utilize a website like brickit.dc.gov? Give us a call, 800-433-8850, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIOur guest is Chief Cathy Lanier, chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in the District of Columbia who gets a very high favorability rating in the polls here. So give her some tough questions. Let's see that favorability...
NNAMDIWe got an email from Rebecca in Mount Pleasant, who said, "Some time ago, D.C. police killed a mentally ill man who lived at the corner of Irving and Mount Pleasant Street. I thought there should be a hearing on the use of force in this case. The man did not have a gun and could have been shot to maim, but he was killed. Did anything happen on this case? Was there any type of inquiry or hearing?"
LANIERThere -- obviously, I'm limited to what I can say because there is civil litigation pending. But, yes, every use of force is fully investigated. I can't get into the details of that again because of the civil litigation. But, Rebecca, rest assured, there is, you know, full inquiry, and all of those things will come out at the end of the litigation. I'm sure.
NNAMDIHere is Patrick in Arlington, Va. Patrick, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
PATRICKHello. Very quickly, just to follow up on the case involving the Silver Spring man who was attacked on the bike trail. The perpetrators were juveniles, I understand, from media reports. And I understand -- I was robbed in D.C. last year by juveniles as well with a snatch and grab, typical thing that happens all the time.
PATRICKJuveniles get a pass. Their names are not published in the papers. The media will not report the name of the juvenile. So we can't track them on VINELink, which is where you can find out who's in the prison from not. So that when they're released, we know. But there is something about juvenile justice which isn't right. Because they can be arrested, they don't prioritize juvenile cases because they know they'll be released, or they'll be put into like the home or wherever they go. And it's not fair to the victims.
LANIERThank you, Patrick. You know, there are people that are very passionate on both sides on that issue. And we do have a lot of folks in Washington, D.C., who have been vocal about both sides of that and raised it with City Council. So, obviously, the laws -- the legislature has to determine where the laws are in the courts and how those things will be handled. But we do have, you know, some different systems in place for, you know, for oversight here with the City Council and the juvenile justice system. But again, there's an awful lot real passion on both sides behind that issue.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Patrick. There were -- the department had received some criticism for how it handled marijuana-related arrest, particularly concerning the racial distribution of those arrests. The ACLU has noted that nine out of 10 people arrested for marijuana possession are black. You responded by writing in The Washington Post that those numbers are unfortunate, but that the ACLU also does not understand the District very well.
NNAMDIWhat is it about the city that you feel that they don't get? I can answer part of that question because I know a part of that has to do with how you respond to callers and people who complain in various areas about people who are apparently using marijuana so that -- I know that a part of your answer is that you are responding to callers. You can provide the rest.
LANIERRight. Well, the first -- the more important thing about the report that was, you know, what I wanted to get on the record and corrected was they reported the numbers incorrectly. They said 87 percent that were charged solely with possession, which means that that was the only thing they were charged with indicating that that may have been, you know, motivated by some sort of bias, that number was inaccurate. And actually, that figure is 54 percent back in 2010, and it's dropped to 50 in 2012 and a 47 in 2013.
LANIERSo anybody who knows, you know, my philosophy and my strategy for fighting crime in Washington, D.C., my goal has been from the beginning: less crime and less arrest. So arrest is not part of, you know, my strategy to reduce crime here. It is a necessary thing that the police department does, but arrests are actually an indication of failure if you ask me. Our job is to prevent the crimes from happening to begin with. Once the arrest is made, we failed. A crime has occurred. But you're right.
LANIERThe other thing that I tried to point out in here is that the comparison they used was a very unfair comparison. Typically, marijuana possession cases are made when we receive a complaint from the community, or we observe one of our own use. And they compared Woodley Park up in Northwest with Anacostia. And if you look at just the volume of calls for drug complaints in those two areas, 518 calls in Anacostia for drug complaints compared to 12 in Woodley Park.
LANIERThat shows you the difference in the number of complaints that come in. So I think they made this broad-sweeping, you know, analysis, and they didn't have the right figures. And they also didn't factor in that we're not the only police department in Washington, D.C. Nine percent of all our adult arrests were made by other agencies.
NNAMDIWashington Post ran an editorial this morning about New York City, another big city where crime is at record low. Officials there credit the controversial stop and frisk policy for much of their decline. But that policy has triggered a federal class action lawsuit because so many of the people stopped under that program are people of color. What do you make of what's going on in New York, and how do you feel about the whole idea of a stop and frisk program?
LANIERWell, you know, I've been trying to follow all of the reporting on and, you know, looking at some of the -- I actually read some of the report that came out about it. I think there is some legitimacy to the fact that the lack of detail provided, simply because they were using a form that is check the box, has created so much ambiguity. It has allowed this program to be more of a problem.
LANIERBut there is a legitimate and valid reason for a stop and frisk, and there is a case law that supports a stop and frisk. And if you document that and document it well, I think it is a valuable tool, whether it's had an impact on the crime there. I mean, I can't say. I don't know all of the strategies that they use there and how much each strategy has...
NNAMDIBut it's not a strategy that you have chosen to employ here in the District of Columbia.
LANIERNo. I mean, and we actually document our stop and frisk through a police report that requires a narrative. And we stopped, you know, roughly 2,000 in the time period, you know, we looked at is a much lower number. But I think part of the problem is the way that it was captured on the report.
NNAMDIFrom New York to Baltimore, which is going through a wave of violence that has people throughout that city on edge, in a one week stretch in June, 40 people were shot, 16 killed. What do you see when you look up the road of what's taking place in Baltimore, and what advice would you have to offer if they decided to hire you as a consultant to the people who are trying to contain that violence?
LANIERThey have a very good chief up there. He's not been there very long. Chief Batts, he's a friend of mine. He's a very, very good chief. I am sure he is doing all he can to try and, you know, put strategy in place to reduce those murders. And when I see spikes like that, my experience has been retaliation. You know, the two big things for spikes like that is the illegal firearms out there make it too easy.
LANIERThey're too lethal, so you really have to target those illegal firearms with everything you got and gangs. Because retaliation, a lot of times when you have spikes like that, rivals are shooting at just anybody and everybody that's in the area of where the rival gang, you know, is or may be, and that's when you get those high numbers. So like I said, I know that the new chief up there is working hard to try and put some things in place to get that under control.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Tina G, "How aggressively is MPD going after identity thieves and the aggressive panhandlers and bicycles not following rules of the road?" I'll take them one at a time.
LANIERIdentity theft is a huge, huge problem. Obviously, we do have an identity theft unit. We have a very small staff assigned there. They do a fantastic job. But that is a crime that is growing exponentially.
LANIERAggressive panhandlers, you know, again, is not one of the crimes that we spent a lot of time on. If it's a problem particularly in business areas, we do address it, and we will make arrests for it. It's just not one that we make a lot of arrests for. And the last one...
NNAMDIBicyclists not following the rules of the road.
LANIERAll right. See, I already know the answer to this one 'cause I get this one every time I go on air. It's almost like the speed cameras. People are passionate about enforcing rules not only on motorists but pedestrians and bicycles. We write somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 12,000 citations a year for bicycles that are not following the rules. So we do enforce -- and same for pedestrians. So we do enforce, you know, on all three sides.
NNAMDIDoes that answer your question, Joan, in Washington?
JOANHello. Thank you for taking my call. I'm fuzzing up unfortunately on the previous question. I have a concern also about pedestrians and bicyclists. Pedestrians are paying attention to their text phones, et cetera. They step in the street without looking, and they endanger themselves, and they endanger everyone around them. I live on Capitol Hill, corner of 2nd and F. It's a major intersection where people just walk on out. Bicyclists do the same. They go the long way on one way streets, take turns in front of you. They are inviting tragedy. Is there a way to educate bicyclists and pedestrians?
LANIERYou know, well, the key to all of these, really, is education, enforcement and engineering. Those are the three things that ourselves and the traffic engineers all focus on. Traffic engineers look at the way the, you know, the streets and markings and signage and stuff are laid out. We look at the education and enforcement. And so we try and do that.
LANIERAnd we have the help of, you know, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, WABA, and some others. But you are -- you're absolutely right. And I see it all the time, not just in Capitol Hill. And I've seen -- from CCTV views, I have seen pedestrians that were struck because they were doing exactly that.
NNAMDIOn to the -- Joanne, thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Lauren in Washington. "Working on 14th Street, I've noticed that aggressive behavior, purse snatchings and public drinking have all increased since we've become a destination spot. I wonder about keeping myself and my customer safe, especially late at night. The businesses in the neighborhood would appreciate a visible police presence. Is it in the works?" And how do you compare it -- and this part of the question is mine, how do you compare this with what's been going on?
LANIERAre we talking about Columbia Heights area, 14th?
NNAMDIWe talked -- just as 14th Street, but it's, I guess, the area of 14th and U Street.
LANIEROh, 14th and U Street. OK. Yeah. Well, actually, that's part of our economic development. We did a five-year strategy for deployment and policing, not just deployment but strategies around the developing areas. And obviously U Street is a huge, bustling area. So we have added additional police officers there.
LANIERThose police officers are working the overnight shift. There will be additional officers that are added over the next six months to that area as our recruits start coming out of the academy. So you will continue to see additional officers come to the area. But this is a very, very busy area, Kojo. I don't know if you've been out there on Fridays.
NNAMDII have been out there, and we had a show last week on a proposal for a cap on liquor licenses in that area. And I know there's also a cap on liquor licenses on 18th Street. But you have identified a one block on which there were 34 liquor-licensed establishments. Would you support on liquor license clap -- cap similarly on the 14th and U Street area?
LANIERYou know, I have to say from a public safety only standpoint, we have done the analysis and we can tell you that if there's less than 10 liquor-licensed establishments in a single block, everything's good. Once you cross that 10 in a single city block, our workload goes up four times, you know, fourfold. And so I think I certainly understand the neighborhood's perspective about trying to limit the number of those types of establishments, you know, clustered in a single area.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Catherine, who said, "Every 4th of July weekend kids set off illegal projectile fireworks in the New Hill East. There's so much smoke, it looks like a warzone. However, I never see police officers walking around the neighborhood trying to stop this." It is that time of year, Cathy Lanier.
LANIERIt is. We have a task force that we put together every year. They started, I believe, two or three days ago. And we're trying to hit this from all angles. There's a lot of cops' work. And I got every member of the department working tomorrow, and they're working 12-hour shifts. So there's plenty out there to address it.
LANIERBut we are also going after the illegal distributors of these fireworks. I can tell you, I hear them in my neighborhood, too. And some of this stuff we have confiscated already. And that we will confiscate is extremely dangerous illegal fireworks. I mean, they sound like cannons going off out there.
NNAMDIA friend of mine in the Columbia Heights neighborhood had one explode in the alley next to his home this past Sunday night...
LANIERHe sent me an email, I think.
NNAMDII'm sure he did send you an email.
NNAMDIShe got it, B.J. Blew out the windows of his house...
LANIERHe did, he did.
NNAMDI...and shifted all kinds of stuff in the neighborhood. So, yes, people are concerned about that. We're running out of time very quickly, but Tom Sherwood of NBC 4 emailed us a question. "How long do you plan to do this job? Are you not one of the longest-serving chiefs of D.C.?"
LANIERWell, as I told you earlier, Kojo, I still love my job. As long as I love my job and, you know, feel like I can do it effectively, I'll stay. And so I don't have any plans to go anywhere, Tom. And, you know, I think Chuck Ramsey was here almost eight years. I think I'm the first one to cross administrations, but I'm coming up -- I'm coming close to Chuck. And I talked to him yesterday so...
NNAMDIBut, Tom Sherwood, she has, at this point, no plans to leave so you're going to have to look somewhere else for a story. Finally, here is Jen in Washington, D.C. Jen, you're on the air. You only have about 30 seconds. Go ahead, please.
JENOK. As a victim of seven bicycle thefts and also having encountered officers who laughed at me when I asked if there was a chance of getting my bicycle back, I would like to hear what the statistics are on actual solving and return of bicycles and what (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIOK. Before the chief answers...
LANIERJen, stay on the line, and I'll have my staff talk to you. We're going to find out who that officer was.
NNAMDIJen, I will keep you on the line, but you will want to hear from Ronald in Washington, D.C. Ronald, you got about 15 seconds.
RONALDOK. Thanks, Kojo. Chief Lanier, I wanted you to commend the Crime Suppression Unit out of District 2 for retrieving my bicycle. I found it on Craigslist, verified that it was mine, went to them, they went above and beyond to get...
LANIERThey did. I know the case you're talking about. We talked about it on our crime brief. They actually did several that way. Thank you.
NNAMDIRonald, thank you very much for your call. Jen, you are still on the line and the chief's people will be getting back with you. Chief Lanier, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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