In the wake of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s inauguration in January of 2015, “Meet the Press” ran a segment on the city’s leaders with the tag: “The Women Who Run Washington.”
It highlighted the fact that the District of Columbia had women in the top jobs: Mayor Muriel Bowser, Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier, which made D.C. the only city among the country’s 50 top municipalities to have this level of female leadership.
Now, it’s August of 2016. And then there was one.
By the end of September, only Mayor Bowser will be among the ruling elite. Only a few weeks ago, Kaya Henderson resigned as chancellor. This Tuesday, Lanier, who is the District’s first female chief of police, announced that she was resigning, ending her nearly ten-year tenure as chief and her 26-year career as a member of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.
The reason: she was taking a job — after turning down several offers to head major urban police departments elsewhere, including Chicago — as head of security for the National Football League.
The announcement was made official at a press conference at police department headquarters, where media, District government officials, including the mayor, and police department chiefs and officers gathered in a sultry room (the AC wasn’t properly functioning).
The news came as something of a surprise and had been fairly closely guarded until Tuesday, when it spilled out over the internet. “I hadn’t really made up my mind until yesterday,” Lanier said.
“I thought about it for three days. The offer came from them, I didn’t approach them. I’ve turned down other offers — I always felt I had the best job in the world — but this was something different. I just couldn’t turn it down. When I thought about it, well, the NFL is about America’s favorite sport, and what’s more important than making America’s favorite sport secure? But it’s always a way of showing women and young girls that they can aspire to anything, reach for anything.”
Lanier was the surprising choice of Adrian Fenty when he became mayor. Next to the selection of Michelle Rhee as chancellor, this was his most important and high-profile appointment.
Lanier, who was raised in a cop family, presented a Great American Dream story in her position as a single mother, becoming pregnant as a teenager, dropping out of school and moving from there to gaining a GED — and eventually two masters degrees. She rose in the ranks rapidly.
Under her tenure, the violent crime rate dropped dramatically, although last year and this year the homicide rate has gone up. As chief, she was popular with the public, and she made a point of showing up at crime scenes, and not just high-profile incidents.
“The thing that frustrates me the most, that bothered me more than anything, was when young people, children, were the victims of violent crime. I couldn’t help thinking of the parents, the grandparents, and talking with them was so difficult. It’s just frustrating to me that that sort of things continues to happen. I think our force has done everything possible to make sure that our city is safe, but you can’t stop everything.”
She said she was also particularly haunted by the Navy Yard shootings, but “I think we and the city handled that situation in the best way possible.“
Lanier has a gift as a people person. She was highly visible, her personal image was impressive and she was rarely seen in civilian clothes.
At the press conference, Mayor Bowser said that Lanier “epitomizes the best of police chiefs. She is smart, compassionate, tough, data-driven, accountable, accountable to those she protects, and a great leader of the brave women and men of MPD. Best of all, she believes in the power of building relationships with communities as the best way to deter and solve crime.“
Mayor Bowser also said that Chief Lanier’s legacy “is one of hard work, community and trust. During her tenure, violent crime dropped 23 percent. She implemented a body-worn camera program that is one of the most expansive and has the most progressive public access rules in the country. Throughout everything, she led by example in establishing the expectation that command staff be readily available to the public.”
Bowser also noted that Lanier was a gifted talent spotter, giving the department a corps of leadership.
The NFL “got a good one,” she said.
Popular with the public, she had her critics, and not a few people noted that she was often at odds with the union. On social media, several union officials expressed relief at her departure with comments like “It’s about time” and “At last our long nightmare is over.”
The mayor is now faced with the job of filling two major positions held by popular, intelligent and effective women.