If Lanier ever does fulfill the armchair strategists’ fantasies and run for office, she’ll find her professional career has at least one thing in common with her peers. All successful pols are lucky in their friends—and luckier in their enemies.
In Lanier’s case, an example of the former starts with Groomes, who she met at the academy. The two were fast friends as well as competitors. When they met in the parking lot during a shift change, they compared the quality and quantity of the arrests they’d made that day. “We got a gun, did you get a gun?” Groomes remembers the banter going. In 1992, Lanier, Groomes, and two other female officers awed the higher-ups by collectively making more arrests than several entire police districts. The two would move through the ranks together, and share an approach to grass-roots policing.
It wasn’t always good. In 1994, Lanier, then a sergeant, crossed paths with a sexually harassing lieutenant. She sued in 1995, along with another officer. They both pulled down $75,000 judgments.
By 2000, she was back in the Fourth District as a commander. There she made another ally: the local councilmember, Fenty. Nickles says Lanier made a “good impression.” It was so good that when Fenty became mayor in 2006, he made her his police chief. At 39, Lanier became the city’s first permanent female head cop.
Lanier’s also been lucky in some of her enemies. Most notable: Fraternal Order of Police head Kris Baumann, a regular fixture in D.C. politics, and a regular Lanier nemesis. No procedural quibble is too minor for Baumann to fire off an angry quote about.
When the department announced that it would be inviting university police to respond to “campus affiliated” 911 calls, Baumann couldn’t fathom it. “I can’t imagine trying to defend (or even explain) this policy in a civil suit before a jury,” he was quoted telling The Current newspapers. Baumann regularly inveighs against what he calls “the corruption of high-ranking officials” in the department.
Baumann says his animus dates to 2007, when negotiations for a police union contract broke down. “We took them to war,” he says, explaining that it’s his duty as a union leader.
Baumann’s broadsides make news, like when he criticized the department for sending officers who were new mothers into the field where the lactating cops had to wear “uncomfortable” flak jackets. The constant criticism might also explain why Lanier’s department is so focused on stamping out negative stories. But his gripes are also focused all too often on workplace process issues distracting attention from some of the more legit complaints about Lanier’s tenure.
For instance, American Civil Liberties Union leader Johnny Barnes pronounces himself troubled by the checkpoints MPD set up in the Trinidad neighborhood in 2008. Following a series of shootings, passersby were screened; those who couldn’t prove they were from the community were turned back. A colleague of Barnes’ dubbed the effort “Baghdad D.C.” In 2009, a federal court deemed the checkpoints unconstitutional.
Pols and civil libertarians also disliked the Safe Homes Initiative, in which police planned to go door to door asking District residents if they could search their homes for guns. Barnes said that although residents could have refused the search, the sight of police officers at their doors would have likely intimidated them into submitting. The D.C. Council jumped on it, and the controversial plan never got off the ground. Opposition also stymied a gang-injunction program, which would have sought civil injunctions against suspected gang members, making it automatically illegal for them to, say, congregate or dress in certain attire.
But despite the multiple instances of civil-liberties conflicts, Lanier never acquired the reputation for rights-trampling that haunts some other police chiefs. Barnes wonders whether she deserves one. “She’s the chief of police,” he says. “She could have said ‘no.’”
In a previous magazine interview, Lanier made it clear that she sees things differently. “The press portrayed this military-style checkpoint as if we were jerking people out of their cars, searching them,” she told More about the Trinidad checkpoint fiasco. All we asked was, ‘Where are you going?’”
But against a drumbeat of anonymous and not-so-anonymous complaints about how the police chief is dictatorial—as if any chief of a hierarchical paramilitary organization couldn’t be called that—it’s easy to dismiss even the fair quarrels with her leadership as motivated by the base sexism that lies behind some of the gripes. In a department that remains 77 percent male, subordinates who complain about her don’t usually disparage her for being a woman. But I’ve heard at least five officers refer to her as a “bitch.” (One of them, however, was a woman herself.)
Durham, an ex-marine who has been at Lanier’s side throughout her administration, believes she’s just defending herself. People gang up on his boss because she’s a woman. When he talks about it, his voice gets lower, as if he shouldn’t say such much about something so awful. “People just can’t stand a woman in power,” he says.
With January approaching, the mayor’s team says they want Lanier to stay. “The mayor is pleased with Chief Lanier,” Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander says. “He’s pleased with the way she’s done her job and looks forward to working with her in the future. Crime is dropping in the District of Columbia… We feel good about where we are.”
D.C. might as well. In a city often overshadowed by an aloof federal Washington, a down-home cop who’s always willing to return an email, or a call, or a hug is a huge asset.
On a cool June evening in the Park View Elementary School on Warder Street NW, about 30 people sat in scratched wooden auditorium chairs. Lanier was on hand to describe her realignment plan again. The scene was a bit different from the one off Benning Road. Though Park View is still a predominantly black neighborhood, most of those gathered in the cavernous space, its seating sectioned by aisles of cherry red carpet, were white.
At the end of Lanier’s presentation, an older black woman who identified herself as Delores Tucker brought up the shoddy policing of the past. Things had gotten better, she said. But—unlike the newcomers in the room—she was afraid of things slipping back, especially if the neighborhood were shifted to a different district, as Lanier was proposing. “What do you know, you’ve been here all of 20 minutes,” Tucker said.
Lanier smiled. “Ma’am,” she said. “This is a very different police department.”