Concerns about shrinking DC police force

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There are concerns about the shrinking D.C. police force.

Police Chief Cathy Lanier told the D.C. City Council this week that the department is losing officers faster than they can be replaced. Meanwhile, the city continues to grow.

According to Lanier, 309 officers left the force in fiscal year 2014. 163 of them retired. In fiscal year 2015, Lanier says 400 or more officers will leave the force. That's more than double the rate in the last 13 years. The chief says she needs more civilians.

"One of the best ways to deal with the impending shortage of officers is by reassigning functions that do not require police authority--some options include how the city handles security alarms--expanding the mission of civilian regulatory inspectors. In fact, hiring more civilians is how to address this shortage. In MPD and other agencies, civilians can do many of the jobs that officers right now are doing," said Lanier.

The head of the D.C. Police Union, Delroy Burton, says the problem goes much deeper than just training and retaining officers. Burton says pay, benefits, morale, and working conditions must improve if the city is going to attract recruits who will stay.

"So, of those 396 officers who have left the MPD since January of 2014, 150 of them resigned. They weren't retirements, they weren't terminations, they weren't medical retirements or deaths. They were resignations and that speaks to what is going on inside the police department," said Burton.

Burton says officers began leaving in droves after the city won a contract arbitration that left the rank and file with a bitter taste in their mouths. The department's reputation suffered, he says.

As for Mayor Muriel Bowser, we asked her about the shrinking force and plans for the future.

"Our plan is to make sure we are fully funding the police department at levels that are going to keep our neighborhoods safe. It is important where we have civilians or where we have officers doing a job civilians can do we are going to make sure civilians are doing them and that the police are out on the streets, and then we are going to work with the chief on a plan to responsibly bring on new officers," said Bowser.

In 2011, Lanier memorably said the District would be in trouble if the force fell below 3,800 officers. By the union's count, the full duty sworn force now stands at around 3,500. We asked the MPD for the exact number, but we have not received a response.

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