All hail the Chief?

After 26 years with the MPD, Chief Cathy Lanier will retire from the force in September and assume her new role as the head of security for the NFL. This is a move to greener pastures for Lanier, as she is stepping down at a time when many of the nation’s police forces are under intense scrutiny after the very public, fatal police shootings of unarmed black men. To Lanier’s credit, in the ten years she has served as Chief, there have been few high profile incidents of police violence and a pivot away from arrests for low-level non-violent crimes. She is also responsible for: implementing a community policing program that serves as a model to other police forces, stopping the use of “jump outs” and overseeing the recent roll-out of body camera technology for patrol officers (though not a single MPD patrol vehicle has a dashboard camera, which is widely accepted as one of the most effective police training tools).

However, Chief Lanier’s tenure has not been free from controversy. In 2008, Lanier initiated the “Neighborhood Safety Zone” initiative, which set up military style road blocks in the Trinidad neighborhood of Northeast D.C. The initiative was heavily criticized by the ACLU and other civil rights groups, and the practice was later declared unconstitutional by a Federal judge. Lanier has also been criticized for her “Gun Recovery” program, which called for police to go door to door in “high crime” neighborhoods and ask residents if they could enter their home to search for guns. The MPD is also frequently criticized for racially biased policing and the extremely high level of incarceration rates among the District’s black residents.

Lanier has defended the militarization of police, failed to aggressively pursue officers who have had multiple citations for excessive force, shrouded the discipline process in secrecy and made it more difficult to file a citizen complaint against an officer. The District’s next Chief must continue to work toward building a more professionalized police force that is held accountable to the communities these officers “protect and serve.”