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Panelists analyze policing strategies in law school roundtable

Katie Causey | Photo Editor
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier. Katie Causey | Photo Editor
City leaders and experts met at GW Law School on Tuesday afternoon to talk through White House recommendations on community policing.

The roundtable, which included Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier and was led by Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie, reviewed recommendations from a White House task force, and covered topics ranging from police training and assessment to militarization and the use of body cameras, which MPD piloted in October. Analysis of policing strategies has been an ongoing national conversation following police brutality in cities like Ferguson, Mo. and New York City.

Roger Fairfax, an associate dean at the law school, also participated in the round table. The group reviewed more than 150 recommendations about modernizing policing from a President Barack Obama-appointed White House task force, some of which Obama mentioned in a speech to the N.A.A.C.P. on Tuesday.

Lanier, who is in her eighth year as police chief, said that in order for the 18,000 police departments around the country to reform, there would have to be a shift not just in programs, but in philosophy.

Ward 5 Council member Kenyan Duffie led a roundtable about policing strategies at GW on Tuesday Katie Causey | Photo Editor
Ward 5 Council member Kenyan Duffie led a roundtable about policing strategies at GW on Tuesday. Katie Causey | Photo Editor
“Really, the agency is responsible for a philosophy and a policy,” Lanier said. “[That] means that citizens of the community feel like they matter, that police officers are being fair [and] that information that’s important to public safety is made public.”

Lanier cited opportunities for police officers to show community members that they are engaged and accountable, like officers’ following up with phone calls after a crime is reported. She also said the department could work on acknowledging community members’ involvement in solving or reporting crimes. MPD officers also often attend community meetings in Foggy Bottom and other neighborhoods across the city to give crime updates and field residents’ concerns.

In a push to be more transparent, departments can also explain what’s happening behind the scenes without divulging classified details of crimes being investigated, she said.

“We’re kind of guilty in our profession of saying, ‘That’s under investigation’ or ‘I can’t discuss that.’ Some of those things are protected under grand jury rules,” she said. “But there’s always something we can say. If crimes are being committed and you’re not very open with public disclosure…the community thinks you’re hiding something,” she said.

Delroy Burton, chairman of the D.C. Police Union and other panelists, like Michael Tobin, the executive director of the Office of Police Complaints, agreed that reforms to make police officers more like guardians and less like warriors – an analogy used more than once during the meeting – would require an overhaul in training and more money.

Overall, the D.C. Police Department received high praise from the panelists, most of whom were D.C. natives, for its stringent analysis of effective crime reduction, its efforts to diversify the department and Lanier’s leadership.

Laura Hankins, a public defender, said she became “a fan” of Lanier after she heard the chief admit that the a police department strategy “didn’t work.” The admittance, Hankins said, is an example of how honesty can help bridge the gap between communities and police departments.

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