This isn't the first time that the D.C. Council has introduced police reform legislation.

This isn't the first time that the D.C. Council has introduced police reform legislation.

After a back-and-forth with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, the D.C. Council passed a second version of its emergency police reform bill. The emergency legislation would ban chokeholds, speed up the release of body camera footage, prevent officers from using tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters, and more.

But D.C. Auditor and former Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson says that many of these reform measures are already on the books. She’ll sit down with Kojo to talk about D.C.’s history of police reform, and what it will take to make that reform stick.

Produced by Ingalisa Schrobsdorff and Cydney Grannan


  • Kathleen Patterson Auditor, District of Columbia; @ODCA_DC


  • 12:00:03

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast Maryland's Eastern Shore is home to large poultry plants where employees continue to work and where the coronavirus continues to spread. We look at how the pandemic is being managed.

  • 12:00:25

    KOJO NNAMDIBut first the District has responded to recent protests against police brutality with emergency police reform legislation. But the District has long grappled with officers' excessive use of force. It also has a long history of police reform, so why has the problem persisted? Joining us now is Kathy Patterson. She is the D.C. Auditor. Prior to that Kathy Patterson was a D.C. councilmember representing Ward 3. Kathy Patterson, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:52

    KATHLEEN PATTERSONAlways a pleasure, Kojo.

  • 12:00:53

    NNAMDIKathy Patterson as to what happened yesterday, the D.C. Council voted on the budget eliminating some tax breaks, but rejecting a small increase in tax rates for high income residents. What do you make of the Council's budget?

  • 12:01:07

    PATTERSONI just heard the mayor speak to the Council's budget and it was kind of interesting. She faulted them for not releasing it timely, which is a persistent concern on my part as well as everybody else in the community. I think I'm always sorry to see the Council raise taxes. I'm sorry to see the Council spend more money. I wish they'd focus more on the value we get for the dollars. But all of that said I think our elected officials have done a reasonable job given the fact that the revenues have taken a hit this year.

  • 12:01:37

    NNAMDIWhen the Council voted down Councilmember Charles Allen's proposal for a small increase in tax rates for high income residents, some councilmembers justified their votes against the measure by saying they wanted to approach changes in a more methodical way. What do you think explains those "No" votes?

  • 12:01:54

    PATTERSONI think what the Council is doing and possibly the executive as well is waiting until we have the new revenue estimates in the early fall. Jeff DeWitt will come back and say, okay, we've taken another hit. And at that point my guess is they will return to something very like what was presented to them yesterday. So I think some of them at least hinted at that in terms of, we're waiting for worse reports to come. So I think you may see something similar come back and you may see the votes change.

  • 12:02:25

    NNAMDIOkay. Before we get to police reform, tell us about the role of the D.C. Auditor. How are you approaching the position in a way that may be different from past D.C. auditors? Do you think your experience as a councilmember helps you in this role?

  • 12:02:38

    PATTERSONAbsolutely. I think it gives me an appreciation for the work that they do and the work that they can do in terms of their committee oversight. So I think I have a sense of the kinds of reports, the kinds of recommendations that legislative oversight can really make use of. It also having served for 12 years on a City Council County Board and State Legislature I think I have a kind of a grasp of the range of issues that have to be dealt with. So yeah, I think that experience absolutely informs me in terms of the work I'm doing now.

  • 12:03:11

    NNAMDIYesterday the Council passed a second version of its emergency police reform bill with some changes made in coordination with the mayor's office. The Council had passed the original version last month. You've noted that when it comes to the current reform most if not all of these measures were already on the books. What do you mean by that? What is already law?

  • 12:03:34

    PATTERSONA lot of the use of force rules are part of the -- what was a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Justice in the early 2000s. So those things are policy. They're not currently law. So some of them are now being put into the code. But what I was really referring to is we get a series of bills when I served as Judiciary Chair, one of which was the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act, which put rules around what police can do during demonstrations and cannot do. And that's followed a year-long investigation that the Judiciary Committee did on some of the actions that the MPD had taken, wrongful arrests and certain incidents during the 2000 inauguration.

  • 12:04:17

    PATTERSONAnyway, so that major piece of legislation had a lot of provisions in it. A couple of which were essentially repeated in the new emergency. I think this is a matter of a committee trying to tighten up some of the language, trying to give a little bit more direction, maybe trying to come up with some firmer more stringent penalties. So, for example, chokeholds were banned by the District in 1985. And this new legislation with different language, new language, bans chokeholds, but built in some additional penalties.

  • 12:04:49

    PATTERSONOn some of the things in terms of demonstrations, they again, banned use of pepper spray against peaceful demonstrators, which we had written into the 2004 legislation. And I think again, it was a matter of trying to tighten the language. But the new language and the old language point out that in police reform it's not just what you put on paper, but it's what happens in practice and what happens in the streets. So old language, new language, both say you can't use pepper spray on peaceful demonstrators. But in the real world the issue becomes my demonstrator might be your rioter, and in a real world situation, the officer and the officials at the scene can say, yes, we used pepper spray. That was not a peaceful demonstration.

  • 12:05:36

    PATTERSONAnd that's what happened in the inauguration in 2015 when the police arrested people to come to trial. And then the first case that went to trial found against the police position, because of the tenuousness of labeling someone a rioter when they said they were peacefully demonstrating. So there's a lot you have to come back around and look at in the real world.

  • 12:05:56

    NNAMDIWell, you come back around and look at it, because it would appear that the police invariably find ways of getting around the law. So the Council is currently trying to tighten laws that were already on the books that were apparently either not being enforced or being interpreted by police in a way that allowed them to do what they basically wanted to do. It feels a little bit like a merry go round, is it?

  • 12:06:23

    PATTERSONBut in -- in a sense it's a merry go round in the sense that you have to keep coming back to these issues. You have to be coming back to training. And one of the things that's important in reform of police or any other reform is building in the accountability tools to make sure that what you put in policy happens in practice. So for example, in the 2004 legislation on demonstrations we said, okay, the Office of Police Complaints has a responsibility of monitoring demonstrations. So they were out in the streets in 2015 at the inaugural demonstrations. They did a report. They found fault with some of the things that MPD did.

  • 12:06:59

    PATTERSONAnd then in an ideal world that then gets factored back into the training. You remind people of what the rules are. You give refresher courses to the officials who are going to be in charge on the scene. And so it's a matter of sort of coming back around over and over again. That's the reason we have civilian oversight of our police department so that the Office of Police Complaints, the D.C. Council's Judiciary Committee can keep asking those questions and making sure that when there is a mistake made that it gets addressed.

  • 12:07:29

    NNAMDIKathy Patterson, what do you make of the fact that Council introduced this as emergency legislation instead of permanent legislation?

  • 12:07:37

    PATTERSONWell, they will have to do it as permanent legislation. And I think that's sort of -- that will be the next step and that will be a much bigger endeavor because that will require public hearings and be able to get more information before them, get more fact finding. Do these proposals reflected in the emergency really reflect what we're seeing out there in the world? Is this best practice? Does this meet the needs? So I think the real heavy lifting is yet to come in doing the permanent legislation.

  • 12:08:05

    NNAMDIYou were on the Council -- I mentioned earlier. You were there from 1995 to 2007 representing Ward 3 and you worked on previous police reform legislation. Remind us of where we were then and what prompted earlier reform efforts.

  • 12:08:21

    PATTERSONI think there were a number of things. But one of the most unusual steps I would say came by Chief Ramsey after a 1999 series of articles in The Washington Post said that MPD was one of the most -- biggest users of force across the country in terms of urban departments. He in fact invited the Department of Justice to come into MPD and take a look, which they did over a couple of years. They said, yes, you do have a series problem. And that's what led to this agreement with justice.

  • 12:08:54

    PATTERSONIt brought in a monitor who's worked with the department from 2001 to 2008 developing use of force policies, developing the training, developing the roles of the road for the police, developing the general orders. And that was a long and expensive process. But what it meant by the end of the day was that the District I think probably was best in class nationally on use of force. So that's one of the things that I was engaged in as the Judiciary Chair during the start of that time.

  • 12:09:27

    PATTERSONAnd then Phil Mendelson took over as Chair for the remaining part of that exercise. But one thing we did when I took my current job was to come back around in 2015 and say, okay, here's where we left this in 2008. Are we still where we were then? And I hired Michael Prom, who had been the monitor. And he and his team took a very comprehensive look at MPD and use of force, and came out with a report that we then published in 2016. And found pretty much an adherence to the policies developed then, but a lot of room for improvement.

  • 12:10:03

    PATTERSONAnd I think in some of the issues like the one of the recommendations we made in that report was MPD needs to look at its use of force policies every two years and update them. And there have been some changes since then. So, again, this is a kind of issue where you do have to keep coming back around at it. In fact, we're looking at possibly doing another look at that particular issue with a very narrow focus now. And that's something that we have on the drawing board.

  • 12:10:32

    NNAMDIAfter your office put out that report, in 2016 and that report said quoting here, "The D.C. Police Department is a very different and much better law enforcement agency and there's no evidence that the MPD has an excessive use of force problem." A lot of people would disagree that things were that good in 2016. How do you explain these opposing or contradictory perceptions?

  • 12:10:56

    PATTERSONI think they're all right. I think they're all correct. There is a young woman of Black Lives Matter demonstrator, who testified in front of Councilmember Allen at a budget hearing last month. And she sort of was rolling her eyes and she said, if the MPD is the best police department in the country, then we have a really long way to go. And I was struck by that because I think we are better than most urban departments and we have a long way to go.

  • 12:11:21

    PATTERSONI think the use of force continues to be a persistent issue. One of the other pieces of accountability that was built into another law that I had nothing to do with the NEAR Act, the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act, said, okay, the Office of Police Complaints will compile a report on use of force every year. The last one of those reports found a two year 83 percent increase in use of force. These were not lethal uses of force. These were not, you know, the most serious uses of force, but that's still an issue to be looked at.

  • 12:11:56

    PATTERSONAnd I'm not sure what the outcome is of that look. I think it's a good question to be asking, though. So I think there continues to be -- and again, you've got to do the training. You've got to do screening. You've got to do the writing up people, who don't obey the policies. This is just a continuing -- you referred it as a merry go round. I wouldn't call it a merry go round. I'd call it a continuous improvement loop.

  • 12:12:21

    NNAMDIOkay. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Kathy Patterson, D.C. Auditor. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:49

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with former D.C. Councilmember and now D.C. Auditor, Kathy Patterson about police reform in D.C. And Kathy Patterson one Tweeter user asks, "So if these rules were already in place, what happens for what officers who broke it?" Well, one potential sticking point, Kathy Patterson, is the collective bargaining agreement between MPD and the police union. This agreement outlines the disciplinary procedures for an accused officer. Does the Council have any influence over the collective bargaining agreement?

  • 12:13:20

    PATTERSONEvery collective bargaining agreement that includes those rules has been approved by the D.C. Council as well as by the mayor. So to the extent that anyone takes exception with anything that is in a collective bargaining agreement, it has been blessed by elected officials. So, in fact, I heard former Chief Ramsey make that point in a recent broadcast. So if anyone wants to fault the seed of the collective bargaining agreements it's the public officials to start with.

  • 12:13:52

    PATTERSONOne of the things in the emergency bill that was approved yesterday is a provision that Phil Mendelson authored, which would say that the department may no longer discuss discipline in the collective bargaining negotiations. Now I'm not quite sure what that will mean. Discipline has been a management right for a very long time in the District. And it's been management that's put it on the bargaining table.

  • 12:14:21

    PATTERSONSo I'm not quite sure what that's going to mean. But I think that the whole issue of discipline is one that could use a lot more review. I know there are concerns with officers who perhaps should not be police officers continuing to serve on the force. And those are other issues for oversight by the Council's Judiciary Committee, DIG, my office, the Office of Police Complaints. There's no shortage of things to be looking at.

  • 12:14:50

    NNAMDIA number of jurisdictions have instituted civilian review boards for their police forces. What kind of oversight is there when it comes to the MPD? And how influential is it?

  • 12:15:04

    PATTERSONWe do have a police review board. And they have been in existence since around 2000. An earlier iteration was sort of went away during the financial crisis and then brought back that function. And that's been operating I think very successfully. They do investigations. Citizens can bring their complaints to the Office of Police Complaints. There's a board that makes final determinations. They can make recommendations. One of the things that the emergency bill does is it gives the Office of Police Complaints the ability to initiate investigations. Not just to wait for them to come through the door.

  • 12:15:42

    PATTERSONI think there are boards around the country that may have a little bit more power than ours does. There may be some resource issues if we continue to give them additional responsibilities for oversight of the department. That may be something that the Council and the mayor will need to look at whether they have adequate resources. But we do have a Complaints Review Board and the Office of Police Complaints. And it is functioning. And I think functioning reasonably well.

  • 12:16:10

    NNAMDIHere's Jose in Annandale, Virginia. Jose, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:16:14

    JOSEHello, Mr. Kojo. So I had an idea about the Black Lives Matter and the police brutality. So it's a text message system, where, you know you have dispatch when you call 911 or the police station they have a dispatcher. So you would just add one more dispatcher online for a text messages. And so the idea works like this. You have -- let's say you see police brutality in Washington D.C. specifically Dupont Circle. So the text code for police brutality would be 03 and Dupont Circle would be 04 the location where you see it. And so you text the dedicated dispatch line like 911 too. And you tell them 03 for police brutality and 04 for Dupont Circle.

  • 12:17:05

    JOSEAnd then they receive it and then they voice radio all the police in Dupont Circle and they tell them, if you're doing police brutality stop. And so if you have a higher authority figure, I think that will convince them to not -- to think twice at least.

  • 12:17:20

    NNAMDIWell, who would be the higher authority figure, Jose? You seem to be sending an anonymous text to several police officers at a general vicinity. Dispatchers is not the higher authority.

  • 12:17:36

    JOSERight, right. But what I mean is you'll have the text message that goes to a dispatcher. And then the dispatcher tell the Chief of Police there at the station like through voice radio all the police in Dupont Circle.

  • 12:17:52

    NNAMDII don't know that's going through a lot of channels, because by the time that all gets done, the person who is the victim of police brutality might be in really bad shape. So I'm not going to go there any further, but good luck with your new idea. Kathy Patterson, well, you've mentioned training for MPD officers quite a bit. Are there any specific things you'd like to see included in training for D.C. police officers?

  • 12:18:18

    PATTERSONWell, again, one of the things mentioned in the new emergency bill is resuscitating the police training and standards board. That was something that came out of a reform effort than actually Councilmember Evans and I and a law firm's representative did in 1998. We created a Police Training and Standards Board to make sure that the police department is up to best practices on training. And apparently that board hasn't met for a couple of years. I'm not quite sure why.

  • 12:18:44

    PATTERSONBut there's language in the emergency bill to add some additional members, I guess, in the hope that with additional members maybe it would start meeting again. I don't have anything to fault our training on. I know it is supposed to cover all of these areas that we've been talking about, the whole use of force general order, all of the training around First Amendment assemblies, all of those things are parts of the training.

  • 12:19:08

    PATTERSONI think the whole point of having a Training Board was again, to have that additional look. What are we doing? What are other jurisdictions doing? Are we doing best in class? Is there anything we need to be adding? So I think making sure that that board begins to meet again and helps to oversee the police training I think would be a very good idea.

  • 12:19:29

    NNAMDIHere is Susan in Washington D.C. Susan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:19:33

    SUSAN (CALLER0Thank you. I was a member of the first elected board of anything in the District of Columbia in modern times. After the riots of 1968 it was decided that they needed to have an elected board to supervise and professionalize the police department. I am now one of the only two or three members who are still alive.

  • 12:20:05

    NNAMDIWhat was that board called?

  • 12:20:07

    (CALLER0The Pilot District Project. And Marion Barry was elected to that. Dave Clark was elected to that. That was before Home Rule. Home Rule occurred during the time that the Pilot District Project was in effect.

  • 12:20:26

    NNAMDIWhat was that board able to accomplish?

  • 12:20:29

    (CALLER0It truly turned around the police department, which was a very low class board at that time. Department reporting basically to southern congressmen. We setup a variety of tests for entry. We brought back the returning Vietnam veterans and gave them training to get into there. We ensured that there were black --

  • 12:21:09

    NNAMDIWe don't have a lot of time left, Susan. But of the things, Kathy Patterson, Susan is pointing out is that we've been about the business of police reform since 1968 and we're still about the business of police reform. It seems like we're going to be about the business of police reform indefinitely and forever.

  • 12:21:26

    PATTERSONAbsolutely. It's never one and done. And, Susan, let me just say, thank you for your service. You're probably one of the people responsible for what were in fact good policies on handling demonstrations that we found MPD had coming out of the 1970 incidents. And we found in 2000 they were not necessarily following them. So thank you for that service. And I think you're absolutely right, Kojo. We need to keep coming back to these issues because the use of force having that authorization to carry a gun, those are incredibly serious privileges and it's important that the elected officials and those in the community make sure that they're doing their jobs well, and that means coming back around again and again to have those hard questions.

  • 12:22:17

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have in this segment. For those of you who are now calling, I started at the beginning inviting you to call, because I know that what happens. If you wait until too late to call and then there is some level of frustration over not being able to get on. So when we come to our next segment on another issue, start calling early. Kathy Patterson, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:22:40

    PATTERSONThank you, Kojo.

  • 12:22:41

    NNAMDIKathy Patterson is the D.C. Auditor and a former councilmember representing Ward 3. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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