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DC POLICE CHIEF RESIGNED A MONTH AFTER SETH RICH MURDER SAYING “THE CITY’S JUSTICE SYSTEM IS BROKEN BEYOND REPAIR.”

Police Chief Cathy Lanier celebrates last day on the force, tinged with controversy




Several District officials have denounced outgoing police Chief Cathy Lanier’s recent scathing comments that the city’s justice system is “broken” beyond repair. 

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, said that Chief Lanier is pointing fingers when everybody needs to be held accountable.

The evidence does not support Chief Lanier’s conclusion,” Ms. Norton told The Washington Times.

“There are inherent tensions among various elements of the criminal justice system in every jurisdiction.” Chief Lanier celebrated her last day on the force Thursday by pinning her badge on newly appointed Interim Chief Peter Newsham. 

She announced her retirement in mid-August, having served in the department for more than 26 years.

 While public officials and private citizens alike generally praised her tenure at the Metropolitan Police Department, the last few weeks of her stay were tinged with controversy after she told The Washington Post in an exit interview that the criminal justice system in the District is “broken.” In fact, she attributed her departure to the city’s refusal to deal with the problem. 

“The criminal justice system in this city is broken,” Chief Lanier told The Post, citing what she sees as the lack of outrage over repeat offenders as a key reason for her decision to take a job as head of security for the National Football League. “It is beyond broken.” 


Mayor Muriel Bowser stood by Chief Lanier’s comments, saying at a Sept. 7 press conference that it’s difficult for city officials to hold prosecutors accountable.

But that drew the ire of other city officials.

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who heads the Judiciary Committee, said he understands that police bear the brunt of the backlash when crime rises, but that the judicial system isn’t broken.

Mr. McDuffie, who has battled with Ms. Bowser and Chief Lanier over the need to integrate more mental health programs into law enforcement, told The Post, “I wholeheartedly disagree with her characterization that our criminal justice system is broken beyond repair.”

And D.C. Superior Chief Judge Lee F. Satterfield, in a letter released by Post columnist Colbert King, laid into Ms. Bowser for supporting the outgoing chief’s comments.

“I for one am exhausted hearing her mouth off politically about her hard-working partners not being accountable to her as if … the system would be better; and will start speaking out about it,” Judge Satterfield wrote.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine didn’t respond to requests for comment. But according to a story on the Borderstan website, he challenged Chief Lanier’s comments at a Wednesday night Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting in Dupont Circle.

Mr. Racine acknowledged that the District has little authority over parolees, but he said the agencies involved already do a very good job.

Though Chief Lanier’s nearly 10-year tenure saw a general reduction in crime and a better relationship with the community, it wasn’t without controversy.

In 2008 Chief Lanier instituted a checkpoint system in the Trinidad neighborhood of Northeast. Officers required identification from drivers entering the neighborhood verifying they lived there to be allowed entrance.

At the time, Trinidad was one of the highest-crime areas in the city. But a federal appeals court ruled the checkpoint unconstitutional, and the chief was forced to shut it down.

She also drew criticism from the D.C. police union for a 2007 program called “All Hands on Deck” that sought to quell summer crime spikes by having all available officers assigned to street patrols citywide for 48 hours.

 She claimed the program would help officers engage in one-on-one interactions with residents.

That wasn’t the only battle she faced with the union. They also called into question her staffing levels. The police department currently employs about 3,700 officers, but union leaders have said she wasn’t hiring enough officers to fend off a high attrition rate.

Chief Lanier is leaving at a time when crime is down overall but homicides are spiking.

 Violent crime is down 20 percent from 2007 levels, slayings fell to a record low of 88 in 2012, and the chief met her goals of no more than 100 homicides per year.

But that number crept back up in recent years. In 2015 the 162 homicides represented a 54 percent increase over the previous year.

 And though the 98 killings this year are 11 percent less than the same period in 2015, it’s already approaching the 2014 year-end total of 105 homicides.

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