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Monday, January 20, 2014

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier lured by tuition benefits

Washington, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Jan. 15, 2014/Patricia Leslie

Cathy Lanier was a single mom and working as a secretary and a waitress, enjoying her jobs but wanting to go back to school. Once she "got common sense" after her "turbulent" teen years, her mother told her daughter that if she wanted to get ahead, to get an education.  

Chief Lanier took her mama's advice.

Last week at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette SquareD.C.'s popular police chief talked about her past and the changes at the police department for the church's Lafayette Fellowship.  One man said he came from New York City to hear her talk.

Her motives for joining the police force were not totally altruistic, she said, and she didn't think she'd stay too long when she was hired in 1990, but the tuition benefits the department offered were mighty attractive, and she was anxious to get back in school.

Washington, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Jan. 15, 2014/Patricia Leslie
Now, a few years later, she has a B.S., two master's degrees, and is a graduate of the FBI's National Academy.

In the department over the years she advanced up the ranks until 2007 when Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed her police chief. She was 39. (Her present five-year contract ends in 2017.)

Speaking "off the cuff" without notes, she paced back and forth in front of the audience of about 100 who sat quietly in the pews and later asked questions. She talked quickly and enthusiastically. It is quite obvious she loves her job.

She spoke proudly of the reduction in the number of homicides in the District which fell 53% between 2008 and 2012. The lowest number of murder cases in recent history was recorded in 2012 (88) after a high of almost 500 a year.

She hated that Washington was known as the murder capital of the world and has tried to inspire the force with "can do" thinking and and show "what we can accomplish" instead of perceptions of what can't be done.

Before she became chief, she was bothered by the department's attitude about murders. Within the ranks some homicides were considered more important than others, but to the chief: "personally, I think they all [murders] are important….every murder really matters," a belief she has fought to instill within the force.

Critical to her are closing old murder cases which are now happening at the rate of 18 to 20 "cold cases" a year, some going back to the 1990s.

The department has been aided by the addition of new technologies and tools, making Washington "the most technically advanced police department in the country," she said. "We've come a long way."

She noted that Washington's nighttime and daytime populations are now about the same. The District is one of the fastest growing cities in America, meaning there's lots more work for law enforcement.

The district force works closely with Homeland Security and Capitol Hill police, in addition to police and troopers in Maryland and Virginia. It's essential to be able to get along well with others and have a positive attitude if you want to achieve common goals, she said.

Since she's on the news so much, seemingly for every major crime story, does she have any free time? Answer: yes, but no hint about what she does with it.

Has she ever considered or been asked to run for public office? Demurely, Chief Lanier said she didn’t think she had the temperament. Some might say she speaks too truthfully and tells it too much like it really is.

When asked for good advice for citizens, she said: "Please don't walk around with your mobile device in your hand. They sell quickly." Property crimes are the vast majority of crimes in the District.

She answered questions about gun control, race v. class divisions within the District, the influx of millennials moving back to the area and how it affects crime, and promoting more women within the police department.

The chief comes from a family of public servants: one brother is a police officer and another brother is a firefighter like her dad was. Her mother acts as consultant for her daughter, dispensing advice. Mothers are always right.

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