From food stamps to Washington DC police chief
Cathy Lanier rose from poverty to become a popular chief of police in the US capital
She says that, personally, “in 24 years here, I’ve never had an issue with race – ever. I think people in general don’t really care what your race or gender is if they feel like you are legitimate.” Last year, DC had the lowest number of homicides on record since 1961; juvenile victims of homicides decreased by 85 per cent in the last four years, according to the chief’s office. She presides over about 4,000 officers and 450 civilians.
“She’s done a phenomenal job,” says Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. Lanier has never shot a person, just a rampaging pit bull.
She says she “can take a punch”, and did so once from someone she was busting for drugs. She affectionately recalls being taught how to by her two older brothers, who she says were “bullies” and “still are”. One is a Maryland police officer, the other a retired firefighter, like her dad.
“I think that the physical demands of firefighting are much greater than the physical demands of policing,” she says. “A lot of police work does not require brute strength. In fact, I’d say, really good communications skills are probably every bit, if not more, important as brute strength.”
While “some women can meet the physical challenge” for superior upper-body strength, she is sceptical about having one carry her down a ladder out of a burning building, given that “I’m 6ft tall and I’m not petite.” The chief is a workaholic who rarely vacations, works out twice a day and sleeps “in short bursts”. Her friends have urged her to use concealer on the dark circles under her eyes and, she says, “my mother and grandmother both used to say when they saw me on TV, ‘Can you just put some lipstick on?’”
Asked what she does to relax, she replies, “the chores” and yardwork. She doesn’t watch cop shows and hasn’t seen the two recent movies about terrorists taking over the White House. She prefers animated films like The Croods and Despicable Me to blow-’em-ups.
The Washington Post’s Allison Klein checked out the chief’s closet in her townhouse and found 30 police uniforms. “That can be an issue sometimes,” the single Lanier tells me, grimacing, “when I want to go out and I don’t have anything to wear.” Where does she wear her gun when she gets dressed up for a dinner date with her boyfriend? “I find ways,” she says, smiling mischievously.