Metro Transit Police failed to investigate thousands of criminal complaints, report says

Metro’s watchdog agency on Thursday released a report accusing Metro Transit Police of failing to investigate thousands of claims of criminal offenses, including robberies, sexual offenses, kidnappings and assaults.

Metro’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) sent the report to General Manger Paul Wiedefeld on May 13 and posted it on Twitter Thursday. WTOP’s news partner NBC Washington first broke news of the report.

The report said Metro Transit Police failed to investigate about 3,110 victim and general complaints, including an array of felony and misdemeanor offenses, between 2010 and 2017.

This failure “could affect past prosecutions and appeals and loss of public confidence in WMATA’s police department,” the report said.

It added that without knowing what happened to these investigations, there’s no way of knowing whether the people who allegedly committed these crimes were ever caught.

The inspector general’s office said that because the Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) has yet to conclude an internal audit of investigative case files that it began roughly two years ago, the agency decided to move ahead and provide its own detailed account of what it uncovered, along with recommendations.

OIG launched its investigation in August 2020. Since then, it said, it has made “multiple attempts” to get information on the 3,110 case files held by the transit police’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID). But to date, the agency has only received “minimal documentation for 1,445 of the complaints,” according to the report.

“After six months, multiple suspense deadlines, and given the significant decrease in the volume of investigative case files being produce by MTPD, the OIG closed its investigation with MTPD’s limited production of investigative files,” the report said.

No investigative documents

Based on the information it did receive, OIG concluded that nearly 85% of what Metro police described as case files didn’t have any actual investigative documentation, such as victim interviews, criminal record checks or crime scene photos. This was despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of these cases (96%) involved allegations of serious crimes such as armed robberies, sexual offenses, kidnapping and assaults.

More than 80% of case files did contain a one-page closing document, although it didn’t have any proof that an actual investigation took place. But this closing document allowed CID to change the status of an investigation from open to suspended, effectively shutting it down.

“Most closing documents were signed by CID management officials who justified the suspension status … based solely on a written claim that the statute of limitations to bring charges against a suspect had passed, along with a statement indicating they were unable to locate the original report and case file,” the report alleged, noting that managers didn’t even speak to detectives assigned to a case before suspending it.

The OIG said MTPD’s failure to provide it with the information it requested made it impossible to determine if detectives ignored victim complaints during the 2010-17 timeframe.

Moreover, in 2012, OIG received an allegation that CID falsified investigations. The agency did find discrepancies between what the CID documented and what victims in those cases told OIG. But the report said Metro Transit Police yet again did not provide the requested case files so it couldn’t figure out what actually happened.

At the time, MTPD said it would implement changes to fix the problems, but the OIG claims they were never fully implemented.

A number of problems

OIG interviewed current and former CID supervisors from 2010 through 2020. According to the report, they all expressed concern about the issue and attributed the lack of accountability and oversight to a variety of factors, including:

  • Lack of supervisory knowledge of CID’s duties and responsibilities;
  • Insufficient supervisory staff;
  • Lack of administrative case oversight;
  • High caseloads;
  • Nonexistence of policies and procedures;
  • Lack of a case tracking system.

Interviewees also noted that performance evaluations focused only on closure rates, not the number of cases that had been suspended.

Metro Transit Police rebuts the accusations

According to the report, Metro Transit Police Chief Ronald A. Pavlik Jr. said he would prioritize management oversight of CID and launch the internal audit that remains ongoing.

Metro police also issued its own memorandum on April 27 defending itself against the OIG accusations.

It noted that the department has implemented a number of fixes, including:

  • Switching from paper-based case files to an electronic filing system;
  • Developing a comprehensive standard operating procedures manual;
  • Biweekly and monthly case reviews;
  • And a change in CID leadership, acknowledging that “prior CID managers were ineffective.”

MTPD countered other OIG claims as well.

It said the “overwhelming majority” of cases under review are for misdemeanor offenses. It also said the department does not make any claims about statutes of limitations and that performance reviews have never been based solely on case closure rates.

In addition, it said those single-page closing documents were not intended to close a case but rather act as “placeholders” pending an individual review that would include interviewing the detective and searching court records.

As for OIG’s recommendations, MTPD said in its memo that it’s already been implementing them over the last several years. That includes improving training, investigative standards, accountability and case tracking.

And it pointed out that it’s conducting a full audit of all cases from 2010 to today.

Not good enough

But that hasn’t satisfied the inspector general office. In response, it issued its own memo on May 21 dismissing many of the points MTPD made, including that the majority of offenses were misdemeanors (OIG said 40% of the cases under review were in fact felonies).

It also demanded that MTPD provides specific evidence of staff training, including dates and the names of people who attended these trainings, and other documentation proving that the department is actually doing what it says it’s doing to address the problem.

‘Shocking’

One local lawmaker has weighed in on the controversy, saying he is glad the OIG report is “seeing the light of day.”

“These are shocking findings by the WMATA IG that undermine faith in the Metro Transit Police Department to respond to credible rider complaints about criminal and unsafe behavior,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), said in a statement. “The safety of riders is paramount, and the MTPD is either seized by that mission or they are not.”

But Connolly, who is chairman of the House Government Operations subcommittee, added that “the MTPD does acknowledge that it has yet to complete its long-running internal audit of these undocumented and open cases. I welcome the commitment by the MTPD to finally complete its report on the matter and urge them to act with the utmost urgency to follow through on potentially unaddressed complaints.”

Anna Gawel

Anna Gawel joined WTOP in 2020 and works in both the radio and digital departments. Anna Gawel has spent much of her career as the managing editor of The Washington Diplomat, which has been the flagship publication of D.C.’s diplomatic community for over 25 years.

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