The Washington Post magazine profiles Washington, D.C.’s relatively new police chief, Cathy Lanier. The piece starts with a review of her “All Hands on Deck” walking-beat program. “We are not going to arrest our way out of this crime problem. This is not arrest-driven,” Lanier says. Rather, it is aimed at building street-level relationships. Witnesses to crimes usually don’t trust police to protect them. So, prosecution becomes futile, and criminals walk free. If people get to know and respect their neighborhood cops, they are much more likely to cooperate. Lanier acknowledges All Hands is primarily a PR tactic. “It’s really a shame we have police officers who don’t realize that public relations is a really important part of what we do. Absolutely, it’s a public relations stunt — and it works! People like it. So, if they like it, criticize me.”
Lanier faces huge challenges running a 4,000-member police force in a city plagued by poverty and inadequate social services, repeated crime waves, a frightening homicide rate, and several scandals within a police bureaucracy that has been seen as incapable, unresponsive and sometimes tolerant of corruption in the ranks. Says Lanier: “My one beef with law enforcement in general is I hate the top-down approach, that only people with rank can think.” She adds: “We are a department that is really good at making excuses. No more excuses! It’s your job.” Lanier wants to convert the department from a conventional military-style hierarchical culture into one driven from the bottom up. That means accountability and leadership need to come from all ranks, particularly from those at the bottom who play the most important role for citizens.