News & Politics

What Made Me: DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier

DC’s police chief on being a teen mom, not making excuses, and what she does that drives her colleagues crazy.

Cathy Lanier. Photograph by Douglas Sonders.

The Setback: After becoming pregnant at age 14, I dropped out of high school. That could have been something I didn’t recover from, but having my son is what has driven everything I’ve done for the 30 years that he has been alive. It has all been about making sure he had opportunities.

The Piece of advice: My grandmother’s philosophy was “Don’t ever make excuses.” It would be easy for me as the police chief to say, “I can’t prevent domestic homicides; I can’t be in people’s living rooms to stop them.” But that’s an excuse. My job is to prevent homicides. So where in the process can I intervene and stop that domestic abuse from ending in a homicide?

The early Job: At 16, I got a job as a secretary at a commercial real-estate firm in Bethesda. I handled tenant billing, and it was very important to get the details right. I learned to never let anything that’s got your name on it be imperfect. Thousands of pieces of correspondence come through the police department each day, and if anything has my name on it, I want to see it. It drives people here crazy! But I want to make sure it gets done right.

The Mentor: Former DC police chief Charles Ramsey. He pushed me to take tough assignments. He made me head of the Special Operations Division right after September 11. There had never been a woman in charge there. I’ve been really lucky.

This article appears in the April 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.

Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.