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Chief Cathy L. Lanier and Her Counterparts Need Autonomy in Policing By Karen L. Bune

Being a police chief is by no means an easy job. It is a position replete with highly important and multitudinous responsibilities. The chief is ultimately held accountable for the actions and results of the troops. Though most chiefs prefer to determine their own destiny and have the latitude to lead as they choose, their autonomy is oftentimes restricted by the political interests that abound in their jurisdictions. In some instances, particularly in large metropolitan cities, police chiefs frequently cannot make a free standing decision without first consulting the political leaders to whom they report. They may also be persuaded towards specific measures that adhere to legislative decisions of local governing bodies.

Cathy L. Lanier, Washington D. C.’s Metropolitan Police Chief, has a demanding job. Like her colleagues in other cities, she works long hours and works hard, but she is confronted with challenges that don’t always lead to smooth sailing for her to meet her desired goals. Though she has in the past and continues to face obstacles at various times, she unrelentingly forges ahead and keeps her chin up holding her determination in the forefront.

With her efforts to abate crime, Chief Lanier embraced the concept of the Secure Communities Program in which arrest data and fingerprint information could be forwarded to U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “Not only could the program help remove serious criminals from our streets, but law enforcement members across the nation who know the communities they serve are in the best position to detect and investigate criminal activity that might be connected to terrorism and potentially avert a terrorist incident,” Chief Lanier said.

However, the D. C. City Council is attempting to thwart her efforts and has introduced a bill to prevent this from occurring. After the measure is reviewed by the public safety and judiciary committees, the full council will vote on it.

With a rapidly paced spate of violence that struck the nation’s capitol with eruption of gunfire very recently resulting in carnage on the streets, Chief Lanier responded to the scene with her troops to assess the damage and victim impact like she has done other times in the past. It is not unusual to observe her comforting grieving family members and shocked bystanders who are stunned by events they have witnessed. In less than a 24-hour period, three people were killed and nine were injured. One of the innocent victims was a juvenile, Brishell Jefferies. Brishell was very close to her mother, Nardyne Jefferies, who has reacted with profound anger and monumental grief over the shocking loss of her beloved daughter.

Chief Lanier has not stopped thinking about the young victim since the incident.

She immediately extended herself to Brishell’s mother and felt a compelling need to follow up with her personally and provide comfort to whatever degree she could. “I feel an incredible connection with her, Chief Lanier said. She sent Ms. Jefferies text messages, went to her house to check on her, and listened to her angry reactions fueled by resounding grief over her deep loss. Not only in this instance but in others as well, Chief Lanier has demonstrated her compassion and sensitivity for victims of crime.

Jackie Winborne, the mother of Shaquita Bell, who went missing in the city and was later found dead, has high praise for Chief Lanier. The case had become a cold one and when Chief Lanier took command of the department, she connected with Ms. Winborne and vowed to reignite the investigation. She followed through on her word, had grounds excavated, and encouraged her detectives to continue to dig for new leads. After a series of twists and turns combined with fate and circumstance, the tragic but end result was accomplished. The remains of Ms. Bell were finally discovered, and the perpetrator was ultimately apprehended. Ms. Winborne credits Chief Lanier with accolades, and she believes the case would have remained cold if it were not for her renewed interest in it under her leadership.

Chief Lanier, as well as her counterparts throughout the country, should be allowed to lead their departments with substantial autonomy. They do not need to be micromanaged with interference by politicians or special interest groups who do not, for the most part, possess the public safety knowledge, skills, and expertise that law enforcement officials have achieved and accomplished through their formal education, specialized training, and hands on experience.

As Paul McCartney would sing, “Let it Be.”

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