WASHINGTON — D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier is retiring from her post next month after nearly 10 years as the nation’s capital top cop, the D.C. police department announced Tuesday.
Lanier is joining the NFL as the league’s senior vice president of security, according to an NFL news release.
Lanier, the first woman to hold the job, is one of the longest-serving big-city police chiefs in the U.S., having served as the head of the department since 2007. Overall, Lanier has been with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department for 26 years.
At a 2 p.m. news conference at police headquarters, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Lanier’s last day with the department would be Sept. 17. Bowser said she would name an interim chief in the coming days and that she would consider internal candidates as well as department outsiders for a permanent replacement.
Lanier, a D.C.-area native, starts at the NFL in New York City next month. She will oversee the league’s security department and supervise coordination between the league and NFL teams and will be the “primary supervisor” of event security, including the Super Bowl, according to the NFL.
At the news conference, Bowser praised Lanier’s “tremendous legacy” as police chief, citing the chief’s focus on community policing initiatives and “one of the most robust” body-worn camera programs in the U.S.
“She has overseen one of the most dramatic investments in a police force that we have seen, professionalizing our force, investing in training and opportunities for our officers, and really building up police and community relations that we should all be proud of, ” Bowser said.
Tensions with the union, uptick in crime
Lanier has long been popular with D.C. residents. However, in a 2015 Washington Post opinion poll, Lanier’s public standing slide by 10 percentage points — to 61 percent — fueled, in part, by a recent uptick in violent crime.
During the early part of her tenure, Lanier oversaw a historic drop in violent crime in D.C. before a more recent rise in homicides and robberies — and concerns about understaffing at the department.
Overall, violent crime fell 23 percent during Lanier’s tenure, Bowser said.
Disagreements over staffing, sudden schedule changes and Lanier’s approach to tackling violent crime has been a source of tension at times between department leadership and its labor union.
Earlier this year, Lanier said staffing at the department was on track to hit its lowest levels since 2004 — about 3,750 officers.
On Tuesday, Gregg Pemberton, treasurer for the D.C. police union, tweeted his members were “fanatically excited” over Lanier’s departure.
My phone is blowing up with members fanatically excited! People are thrilled that this nightmare is over.
— Gregg Pemberton (@G_Pem) August 16, 2016
At the Tuesday afternoon news conference, Lanier said she has received hundreds of messages of support from members of the department since she announced her departure.
“You can’t be the boss and do a job with 5,000 employees and think that there’s not going to be people that are going to be unhappy,” she said. “Every decision I make, I get a bunch of people that say, ‘Thank you,’ and a bunch of people that say, ‘Why are you doing this?'”
Lanier, 49, started her career with the police department as a patrol officer and rose through the ranks. She said she had received many offers to lead other big-city police departments, but had never seriously considered them.
“This city gave me an opportunity when many would not have,” she said. “And, when I started here in 1990, I had a ninth grade education and a GED. And over the past 26 years, I was able to work hard … get promoted and I now have two master’s degrees. So, I owe my life to this city, to the residents and to the department.”
Why the move now?
She said the NFL position appeals to her skills set, working with multiple agencies to protect the nation’s capital.
“There are multiple teams and multiple owners and stadiums — there’s a lot to go along with making sure that America’s favorite sport is America’s safest sport,” she said.
The highs and lows
In an interview last week with WTOP National Security Correspondent JJ Green before she announced plans to retire, Lanier reflected on highs and lows points in her two-decade career.
“There are a lot of low points,” she said, citing the “incredible tragedy” of a 2010 drive-by shooting on South Capitol Street, in which five people were killed, and the mass shooting at the Navy Yard in 2013, in which 12 people were shot and killed in a workplace shooting in Southwest D.C.
“To see tragedy and loss is one thing,” she told WTOP. “That’s part of our job. We see it all the time. To see mass tragedy and loss … so many hearts broken, so many lives lost senselessly, so many people that you know their loved one didn’t come home today, those are the ones that are the most troublesome but also the ones that reinforce the commitment to get up out of my bed in the middle of the night and come back.”
As for the high point, Lanier pointed to her department’s role in helping secure President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, in which 2 million people packed the National Mall and police reported no arrests and no major injuries.
When asked by reporters Tuesday about her legacy, Lanier pointed to her efforts to change the public perception of the police department.
Police are more engaged in the communities they serve and residents are more willing to share information with officers, she said.
“I would like to think that the image of our police department has changed some in the past 10 years in that we are engaged in our community,” she said.
WTOP’s Megan Cloherty and The Associated Press contributed to this report
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