DC Loses Another Good Cop

Charlie Hoetzel swore that he'd protect and serve the people of DC—but the department didn't swear it'd protect him. Now he's the latest example of a troubling trend: Good cops leaving DC because they feel they can't police.

By: Harry Jaffe

Charlie Hoetzel turned in his gun a few weeks ago after nearly four years as a DC cop. The clerk who took his weapon at the Metropolitan Police Department’s equipment center in Cheltenham, Maryland, asked him: “What—another termination or another resignation?”

Hoetzel said he was leaving the MPD to police for Anne Arundel County.

“Yep,” the clerk said, “another person resigning.”

Hoetzel joins an exodus from the DC police department. The police union says 30 cops leave every month. Some retire. Some are sick of confronting DC’s endless plague of street crime, domestic disputes, murder, and muggings. Some get better jobs.

But many quit because they believe the department does a lousy job of backing them up—and penalizes them for doing the basic police work of locking up bad guys. Harsh discipline, they say, is gutting the department.

Charlie Hoetzel, 26, fits into that category. He was a good cop who loved policing in DC but became a target of the disciplinary system for trying to save his partner’s life. I caught up with him Monday at DC Superior Court as he waited to testify in a drug case based a bust he made involving 10 pounds of marijuana.

“They don’t back their officers in the MPD,” he told me.

I met Hoetzel while reporting a Washingtonian article on discipline within the DC police department (“Don’t Shoot,” January issue). He and his two partners were checking out a potential drug dealer near Providence Hospital one night when the suspect tried to run over one of them. Hoetzel fired at the van. His two partners fired, too. The targeted partner was okay, and the van drove away. But the three cops were threatened with termination for violating a new rule against firing at a vehicle, even if the driver was trying to run you down.
Hoetzel is a graduate of American University. He was admitted to law school but chose to join the DC police. He became a vice cop in the 4th District, along Georgia Avenue. He relished riding the dark streets in a black Crown Victoria, bringing in guns and drugs. He was loving life and winning awards.

But when he fired his weapon—for the first time, to save his partner’s life—he had to hire a lawyer and fight for his job for five months. The police department eventually reduced his penalty from termination to a ten-day suspension, but the damage was done. In investigating Hoetzel’s case, I found harsh discipline policies throughout the department.

“Ever time officers try hard to do the right thing,” says Hoetzel, “they get in trouble. The message is, don’t make lockups. As soon as you put your hands on someone, you get in trouble.”

He adds: “I would fire again to save an officer’s life. If the chief of police walked out of this courthouse and someone tried to run her over, I would shoot to save her life.”

New DC police chief Cathy Lanier might live.

And Charlie Hoetzel might be headed for termination.

Instead he’s headed for Anne Arundel.