I want to alert my constituents about the alarming decline in sworn officers in the District’s Metropolitan Police Department. As of earlier this week, the force was down to 3,818 officers, very near the 3,800 number that Chief Cathy Lanier identified as the threshold for real trouble. With an attrition rate of around 15 officers per month, we could be in the neighborhood of 3,750 sworn officers by the end of the year. How did this happen?
I introduced a bill in April that would require the District to maintain a minimum staffing level of 4,000 sworn officers at all times. This was not meant to be a statement that 4,000 is some magic number that will eliminate all our public safety concerns. Rather, it would force the Mayor and the Council to fully fund 4,000 officers and not play around with the money. As we went through the 2012 budget process, I advocated for budgeting a dollar amount for MPD that would allow the Department to increase officers at a rate to get us above 4,000 by the end of 2013, which would enable Chief Lanier and MPD to continue to fight crime and meet the community’s expectations for service.
While the Mayor had asked for 120 new officers in his 2012 budget request, the equivalent of ten per month, these do not even account for the total number of officers who leave every month. Further, there is a substantial lag time of six to seven months between when a new recruit is hired and when he or she is on the street. To make matters worse, 1,100 officers will be eligible for retirement in the next four years. Many of these officers will leave as a result of proposals to cut police officer pensions. This will effectively double the current rate of attrition, but the budget does not contemplate this dramatic shift. Numbers are too low already, and for the foreseeable future we will only be hiring one new officer for every two who leave. I don’t use this word lightly, but I think it is fair to call this situation a crisis.
At one time, MPD had over 5,000 officers. When I first joined the City Council in 1991, we had 4,500 officers. I have seen a decline in officers year after year and have attempted to slow or stop this situation from continuing. There were supposed to be 30 officers in the police academy beginning in June. Currently, there are none.
While the Council added $10.8 million to the 2012 MPD budget, ostensibly to fund new officers, these numbers fail to take into account this acceleration of attrition and historic unrealistic budgeting by the Mayor and the Council. $10.8 million in new funding doesn’t go very far if there is a $7.9 million “spending pressure” in 2012, as there was in 2011. Spending priorities must be established and in my opinion, hiring more policemen and women should be the top priority.
If decisive action is not taken when the Council returns from recess, our worst projections will become reality. My goal is to raise awareness of the dire situation facing the residents of the District while we can still correct it. My hope is to motivate the Mayor and the Council to develop a plan to fund the Department adequately. With an appropriate budget in place, MPD can reverse the trend of dwindling numbers and reach a staffing level of over 4,000 sworn officers by the end of next year.