CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, LAW AND ORDER
[from March 1998 issue]




The real crime around here that ought to be punished, the real absence of law and order as we see it, is the astounding heaps of layer upon layer of second- guessers and of politicians mouthing off for cheap gain.

It's bad enough that we now have an incredibly bloated Congressionally-mandated public safety supervisory bureaucracy with more chiefs than the Police Chief has deputy chiefs, but we now are subject to all these satrapies spinning off with seemingly wild abandon in myriad directions.

Here we have the odd arrangement whereby the Acting Police Chief, Sonya Proctor, was clearly vested with full authority to run the department--not a mere caretaker, but with a mandate to do things. Yet, when she exercises that authority all these strange little people pop up and say she acted improperly because, after all, she's not really the real boss.

Well, we don't agree. She was told to do whatever she thought best to shape up the department. What makes us angry is that when she does what she's supposed to do certain city council members--read, candidates for mayor--denounce her. Councilmember Kevin Chavous, the not particularly effective chairman of the council's education committee (he's the one who didn't get his committee galvanized to worry about last year's school fiasco until after the situation was too far gone for there to have been any meaningful city council oversight), just jumped in, totally uninformed--at least to the extent that his criticism about relieving the Third District commander was concerned.

How could Mr. Chavous, not a major player in matters involving public safety policy that we know of, pretend to know what's what over in the parts of Wards 2 and 3 served by the Third District? The fact is that Commander Stanley, while maybe a decent fellow, never seemed to have caught on to what was being done on his watch. Or, if he did, he didn't seem to be doing much about it. Our impression--and this has been confirmed by numerous community leaders throughout the Third District area--is that Stanley was, in a word, disengaged. That's exactly what we don't need if the police department is to rebuild itself. Sonya Proctor understands this and we in this part of the city who knew her when she commanded the Third District know she understands.

If Commander Stanley was such a superb district chief, as apparently all sorts of folks over in Northeast and Southeast would have us believe, how do they explain the apparent absence of control over so many officers under his command last summer and fall who perpetrated so much of the citizen angst around here? Did he ever wonder about this newspaper's accounts about officers who insisted on handcuffing and arresting the rose man for selling without a vendor's license when the law does not classify him as a vendor? Did he ever respond to the outrage perpetrated on the "Chardonnay Lady," as she was dubbed by this newspaper, or did he ever express any concern for the major bust of the grad students having a beer up on their covered porch inside their front yard on 18th Street? Even in light of the quoted policy statement issued by then Police Chief Soulsby on June 25, 1998 and even after we quoted reaction from Sonya Proctor when she was Deputy Chief in charge of personnel and training, there didn't seem to be any reaction from the Third District other than, referring to the press, "there they go again!"

If the police chief is going to solve structural problems in the department she must ensure that the leadership in the field shares her vision and the vision of the taxpayers for true reform. It's an attitude thing and the troops will not respond, and morale will continue to suffer, so long as their field leadership is inadequate and not working as a team with the chief.

We (meaning this editor), and we believe substantial numbers of informed members of the community, have faith in Chief Proctor. Unfortunately, too many community leaders have not publicly expressed their support following this latest brouhaha, even though some of those same leaders had made it clear to the council's judiciary committee chairman and Ward 2 councilmember, Jack Evans, and to control board member Harlan, who's responsible for the police function, that they were down on Commander Stanley.

And the mayor has not been much help here either. To him, it's all politics as usual. Frankly, we don't think we will be better served by an "outsider." This is not to suggest that we favor "insider" crony types. But we do not consider Proctor to be that kind of person, at least we have no credible evidence that she is of that ilk. We experienced during her tenure as commander of the Third District a commitment to first-rate police service and an appreciation for the civil rights of citizens; she always demonstrated an appreciation for practical solutions in favor of doctrinaire adherence to outmoded and rigid ideas. We believe she has vision and if given the opportunity would serve us well. We think we know Sonya Proctor better than the high-priced outside consultants and Southern senators and so many others who have been blabbing on about what's good for the very city they wouldn't dream of living in.

One other thing: No matter how good the police department may yet become, all its efforts will be wasted unless the city is able to provide a full range of quality criminal and civil justice, to administer all the laws effectively, and to be free of corruption and dishonest political wheeling and dealing. For these reasons, unlike our esteemed colleague who pens the "Perspective" column in this newspaper, we support at-large Councilmember David Catania's proposal for the establishment of the position of an elected Attorney General for the District of Columbia. Just because the voters elected Marion Barry as mayor doesn't mean they/we will elect some ex-con or otherwise shady character for the highest law enforcement position.

What an elected attorney general can do a corporation counsel who is part of the mayor's cabinet cannot do. Fifty states have had this position all along and many of those states have had corrupt governors, but that was never thought a reason to eliminate the AG position; in fact, often the AG in such situations has been the one to save things for the taxpayers of the state. We think such a position, independent from the mayor, with the political mandate that can come about only though popular election, will be an asset and will add importantly to the needed enhancement of our local system of checks and balances. We urge our readers to keep an open mind and to follow closely the hearings that will be conducted by the City Council. Mr. Catania is to be commended for looking beyond the usual same old tired excuses; a creative politician with vision is unusual here in DC, but we ought to support such a phenomenon when it occurs.


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