D.C.’s Lanier Secret to Success: Getting Officers to Develop Sources


Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier discouraged “zero tolerance” policing in favor of directing her officers to develop sources, and it seems to work, says Governing magazine. “How do you develop sources?” she asks. “You get to know people. You treat people with respect. You establish relationships. You know who knows what, and you have to know everybody to get information.” It was a big change. Previously, cultivating sources had been something detectives did. Designating someone as a “confidential informant” involved paperwork and payments. Patrol officers walking the beat responded enthusiastically. At the end of last year, 85 percent of active informants originated with beat officers. Lanier embraced technology, getting in-car computers and BlackBerrys to officers. She expects them to “give their cellphone number to the old lady sitting on her porch drinking her beer at 9 o'clock in the morning instead of making her dump her beer.”

In 2008, an anonymous text tip line got 292 tips. By the end of 2011, that number had jumped to 1,200. Rewards paid for information leading to arrests have jumped sharply, from $200,000 a year when Lanier took office to more than $400,000 today. As the homicide rate fell — down 40 percent over three years — the homicide clearance rate soared. In the process, Lanier's approval ratings reached 80 percent. Last month, she inked a five-year contract that could pay her up to $250,000 a year, fourth-highest paid police chief in the U.S. Kris Baumann, who heads D.C.'s police union, has clashed repeatedly with the chief. He notes that while homicides have fallen significantly over the past five years, between 2006 and 2010, other types of crime such as rape, robbery burglary and theft increased slightly. The claim zero-tolerance policing ended? He doesn't see it.

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