District con­fronts po­lice short­age as many to re­tire from force.

At­tri­tion of of­fi­cers out­paces re­cruit­ment as city’s homi­cide rate in­creases

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY RYAN MCDER­MOTT

Al­ready fac­ing a short­age of po­lice of­fi­cers and a wor­ry­ing in­crease in homi­cides, the District is scram­bling to at­tract new of­fi­cers even as it faces a wave of re­tire­ments from the force in the next few years.

The D.C. Coun­cil and Mayor Muriel Bowser have been wring­ing their hands over how to stem the flow of of­fi­cers ei­ther re­tir­ing or mov­ing to bet­ter pay­ing and less dan­ger­ous ju­ris­dic­tions. At­tri­tion out­paced re­cruit­ment last year, re­flect­ing the num­ber of of­fi­cers re­cruited in a mas­sive hir­ing binge a quar­ter-cen­tury ago who are now reach­ing re­tire­ment age.

A bevy of mea­sures have made their way to dais this year, and Miss Bowser has in­cluded fund­ing to en­cour­age of­fi­cers to stay on the job in her fis­cal 2018 pro­posed bud­get pre­sented to the coun­cil last week.

With the bud­get ap­proval process in full swing, the bat­tle over the fu­ture of the Metropoli­tan Po­lice Depart­ment largely comes to find­ing ways to fund any re­ten­tion pro­grams and how the coun­cil balances money for the po­lice with other crime re­duc­tion mea­sures re­lated to so­cial ser­vices.

“We’re lead­ing down the right path,” MPD Sgt. Matthew Mahl, who heads the D.C. po­lice union, said Mon­day at a coun­cil com­mit­tee hear­ing. He said the big­gest fac­tor in re­tain­ing tal­ent boiled down to money.

“Start­ing salary needs to be a lit­tle bit higher,” he said. “We should make our salaries some of the [most com­pet­i­tive] in the coun­try.”

Sgt. Mahl noted that about 43 per­cent of MPD of­fi­cers who have left the force so far this year have re­signed and not sought late-career re­tire­ments. That means of­fi­cers are often leav­ing for bet­ter pay and safer con­di­tions. Cur­rent staffing is around 3,800 of­fi­cers, and of­fi­cials have said the depart­ment needs at least 4,000 to safely pa­trol the District.

“It seems the path to the Prince Ge­orge’s County po­lice runs right through the MPD academy,” D.C. po­lice Lt. Gary Du­rand said at the joint Ju­di­ciary and Hous­ing com­mit­tees hear­ing, re­fer­ring to of­fi­cers who get their ex­pe­ri­ence in the city and then take jobs in the sub­urbs.

Lt. Col. Du­rand, who has pro­jected more than 800 re­tire­ments over the next three years, said that the MPD deals with a lot more than do other big-city po­lice de­part­ments, in­clud­ing ma­jor protests, pres­i­den­tial move­ments through­out the city and visiting for­eign dig­ni­taries. Po­lice pay, he said, needs to be com­men­su­rate with that ex­tra work.

Crit­i­cism from Gray

The mayor and the coun­cil do not seem far apart. Miss Bowser, a Demo­crat, al­lot­ted $11.7 mil­lion in her $13.8 bil­lion bud­get pro­posal for re­cruit­ing and re­tain­ing po­lice of­fi­cers. That in­cludes $1.8 mil­lion to in­crease the po­lice cadet pro­gram from 35 to 70 par­tic­i­pants and $3.7 mil­lion for a stu­dent loan for­give­ness and hous­ing pro­gram for of­fi­cers.

Coun­cil mem­ber Anita Bonds, the at-large Demo­crat who heads the Hous­ing Com­mit­tee, of­fered a bill with Charles Allen, the Ward 6 Demo­crat who leads the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, that would help first re­spon­ders buy houses in the District. Only about 620 of the 3,800 MPD of­fi­cers live in the city.

The mea­sure would give $10,000 grants to MPD of­fi­cers will­ing to buy houses in the District. Be­yond that, the city would hand out $1,500 for ev­ery $2,500 the of­fi­cer sets aside up to an­other $10,000.

But coun­cil mem­ber Vin­cent C. Gray, Ward 7 Demo­crat, warned at Mon­day’s hear­ing that Miss Bowser’s fis­cal 2018 bud­get does not set out nearly enough money to ad­dress ris­ing crime and the num­ber of of­fi­cers leav­ing the force.

Mr. Gray, the for­mer mayor who lost his re-elec­tion bid to Miss Bowser in 2014, said the mayor’s pro­posal falls about $60 mil­lion short of the money needed to bol­ster the po­lice force to rec­om­mended staffing lev­els.

He pointed to a ris­ing num­ber of homi­cides in Ward 7 over the past two years: 32 in 2015 and 39 last year. Ward 7 had 22 re­ported homi­cides in 2013 and 26 in 2014 — the last two years of the Gray ad­min­is­tra­tion.

City­wide, the fig­ures are not much bet­ter. Homi­cides over the past two years have ticked up and are at the high­est lev­els since 2010. In 2016 and 2015, the city re­ported 135 and 162 homi­cides, re­spec­tively.

That is sig­nif­i­cantly higher than in pre­vi­ous years, when the num­ber of homi­cides hov­ered closer to 100 and dipped as low as 88 in 2012. Although vi­o­lent crime over­all is down by 25 per­cent so far this year, the homi­cide rate is up 14 per­cent over the same pe­riod last year.

Mr. Gray is propos­ing a bill to give in­cen­tives to of­fi­cers to stay past re­tire­ment age. The bill of­fers po­lice of­fi­cers who have reached re­tire­ment age a five-year con­tract ex­ten­sion, with dou­ble salary in the fifth year.

Crit­ics say Mr. Gray isn’t im­mune to blame. In fis­cal 2011, the Gray ad­min­is­tra­tion hired only eight of­fi­cers in a pe­riod in which 168 of­fi­cers re­tired or left the force, ac­cord­ing to an MPD an­nual re­port.

But Eric Goulet, who was bud­get di­rec­tor for Mr. Gray at the time, said the then-mayor was deal­ing with a bud­get he in­her­ited from for­mer Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who all but shut down the city’s train­ing academy. The eight new of­fi­cers that year were ac­tu­ally trans­fers from other de­part­ments, Mr. Goulet said.

The D.C. Coun­cil’s bud­get bat­tle over the fu­ture of the Metropoli­tan Po­lice Depart­ment largely comes down to find­ing ways to fund any re­ten­tion pro­grams and bal­anc­ing money with other crime re­duc­tion mea­sures.

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