The DC Police Union wants to get vice squads back on the streets to combat a recent rash of violent crime in the city, but says political correctness at the top ranks is making that impossible.
Earlier this year, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier decided to disband the vice squads throughout all of the city’s seven police districts in favor of a centralized narcotics unit.
Police officers and their union started fighting that decision immediately and they say the city’s recent violent crime problem and huge increase in murders was caused in large part by the loss of those 20-30 dedicated cops in each district.
“It seems that in this current political climate (as is the case in many departments now), [city leaders] are frightened to address crime in a way that’s even perceived as inappropriate, no matter how legal, responsible, and correct it may be,” DC Police Union spokesman Gregg Pemberton said in a statement.
Officers across the country have spoken out against the “Ferguson Effect,” saying they don’t want to be the next Darren Wilson, who was investigated by a grand jury after he shot and killed Michael Brown while in the line of duty.
“I think cops are struggling now, saying look at what happened to this guy who fought with a larger teen for his weapon,” Ron Hosko, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund told The Daily Caller News Foundation back in March. “Everybody is running for a tree and a rope for this guy who at the end of the day is justified in his actions.”
It’s not the cops in D.C. who are afraid, according to Pemberton, but the politicians have a misconception about what exactly it is the vice squads do.
On Tuesday, freshman city council member Brianne Nadeau sent a letter to city residents referring to the vice squads as “jump out squads,” and saying she cannot support them because she doesn’t think they will help the district reach its long-term goals.
“The practices employed by them, which involves officers pulling up to a location and arresting a group of people, have been retired by MPD, and have been widely criticized,” Nadeau wrote.
Further, she says, what made the biggest difference in combating violence in the city, when it was at its worst, was the partnerships forged between the police department and members of the community.
According to Pemberton, the bonds Nadeau refers to were created by the vice units she cannot support, and she doesn’t understand the role of vice units.
“If Councilmember Nadeau is under the impression that THIS is what we’ve been requesting for the past six weeks, I’m more than appalled,” Pemberton said. “Beyond that, does the Councilmember believe that for several decades, the police department engaged in just driving to an intersection and, without any evidence or probable cause, arresting whoever was standing there?”
Vice units in the city didn’t just lock up drug users or randomly arrest people standing on street corners, Pemberton said. The officers were vital in developing informants and gathering community intelligence on criminal activity in specific neighborhoods.
In place of the vice squads, Nadeau suggests that city residents start their own neighborhood watch groups. She wants each neighborhood to set up block captains to police their own neighborhoods.
She said when she first got involved in her community it was through an “Orange Hat Patrol” that walked around the neighborhood each week looking for burnt out street lights or abandoned property that “allowed crime to thrive.”
“Together, we made the neighborhood safer,” she said.