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The sordid tale of a corrupt D.C. police class

Chief Cathy Lanier announced last week that the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department soon would face the loss of hundreds of officers to retirement or jobs in other departments.

Many of them, like Chief Lanier, joined the force in 1989-90 during an affirmative action recruitment push under crack-smoking Mayor Marion Barry.

Lanier told The Washington Post that she would never “compromise standards” in filling the ranks with new police cadets.

The irony is that lower standards likely benefited Lanier, who dropped out of junior high school in the ninth grade, 15 years old and pregnant. She was 22 and had been on public welfare when she joined the police department for training. Aside from Lanier, the class of 1989-90 was a human train wreck.

About one-third of the 1,500 recruits brought firsthand experience to their new jobs because they were criminals.

Some of the recruits could barely read or write and many had lengthy felony records. Most of them were graduated from the police academy anyway, sworn in as officers and handed personal power and a gun. There were people in Lanier’s class who never learned how to handcuff a suspect or even how the cuffs worked. One officer appeared in court to testify at a jury trial wearing baggy shorts, hanging low in the back, a T-shirt, untied tennis shoes and a half-dozen gold chains.

Other officers refused to remove their designer sunglasses on the witness stand. More than 200 members of the class of 1989-90 were arrested. Among the charges — homicide, robbery, rape, theft and perjury. The Metropolitan Police were known as the Blue Circus.

More than 100 officers were not allowed to make arrests. They couldn’t write a sufficiently intelligible report for court. They were not fired but given meaningless jobs.

An example of this municipal lunacy was finally reported by The Washington Post, but not until 1994. By that time, Washington was being called the “Murder Capital of America.” Many people were afraid to leave their homes in some mostly black neighborhoods or to use public transportation.

Some of the new police officers belonged to the “R Street Crew” led by the infamous crack dealer Rayful Edmonds, who employed his mother and 150 other black Washingtonians. They were selling about 2,000 kilos of cocaine a week to street dealers.

The gang allegedly murdered about 400 people in two years and attempted to kill a local pastor, who had the guts to lead an anti-drug, anti-R Street Crew march through his neighborhood. The minister barely survived after being shot 12 times with various handguns.

The first paragraph in The Washington Post story grabbed the reader’s attention:

“Two ambitions drove Charles Smith in the summer of 1989. The first was to up his income as a member of the R Street Crew, a murderous drug gang. The second was to join the police force. By fall, Smith had achieved both.”

Smith was in a Prince George’s County jail when he received the letter accepting him to the Washington Metropolitan Police Academy. Smith lasted about a year after graduation. He was still selling PCP but was caught and fired from the police department.

Richard W. Carlson is a former U.S. ambassador to the Seychelles and the former director of the Voice of America.


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