Turning a corner

Turning a corner

Much of newly appointed U.S. Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine’s interest in law enforcement can be traced back to one street corner in Washington, D.C.

While an undergraduate student at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., in the early 1970s, Dine was assigned a popular sociology text, Tally’s Corner. Written by a young anthropologist in the 1960s, it explored the activities — sometimes criminal — of residents in Shaw, then one of D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods.

“It was basically a book about a real street corner in Washington, D.C., and the life surrounding that street corner, everybody involved; the gamblers and the people selling liquor after hours and the prostitutes and the people who live there and the business people,” Dine told The Hill.

“That book was so interesting to me, I just ... began to sort of delve into policing. That’s kind of what really got me deeply interested in it,” he added.

Dine graduated college in 1975 and joined the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) the same year. After finishing police academy, he was assigned to what would prove a very fitting district.

“My district was the third district, and in that district was literally Tally’s Corner, the corner that the book was about,” he said. “And I thought, ‘this is absolutely amazing, I can’t believe I’m policing in the neighborhood I read about.’ It was pretty cool.”

A career in law enforcement wasn’t necessarily the one envisioned for him as a child, however.

Born in 1953 in Manhattan, Dine was raised along with his brother in Mamaroneck, N.Y., by his mother and father. A journalist who started as a police reporter and later worked for esteemed outlets including CBS and NBC News, Dine’s father was also a highly decorated World War II veteran.

“He had multiple medals; he earned two Bronze Stars, a Silver Star, two Purple Hearts ... he was a role model and hero in my eyes,” Dine said.

“I think his dream was for me to go to West Point,” he added, recalling his father’s initial trepidation and later pride at his decision to join the MPD. “So maybe part of [going into law enforcement] was my way of doing that in just a slightly different way. My way of [performing] public service and, not meeting expectations, but serving.”

Serving his community didn’t always prove easy, though.

“I had read a ton of books about policing and sociology and people and race relations and all those kinds of things, and then [I] get out there and I’m just kind of this little sawed-off white guy with bushy hair,” he said with a laugh. “You get out there and you think you’re automatically the good guy and then you realize, well, that’s not necessarily the way the community sees you.”

Over nearly three decades, Dine rose through the MPD ranks to the position of assistant chief, also earning a master’s degree from American University. But he never lost focus on improving the way communities throughout the city viewed those tasked with protecting them.

“There’s some dark days in the history of policing in the United States. ... Sadly, the people that needed us the most often trusted us the least,” he said. “Finding ways to combat crime but also build bridges and trust and communication with those communities — I found that a fascinating challenge and something really important.”

In 2002, Dine took those vital skills to Frederick, Md., where he served as chief of police for a decade. 

But in the spring of 2012, when Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse announced his plans to retire after six years, Dine threw his hat into what would become a very crowded ring.

According to House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, a member of the Capitol Police Board that oversaw the new chief selection process, résumés from experienced applicants around the country flooded in.

“We had a very open mind and received many, many qualified candidates from both inside and outside the department,” he said. “It made our job very difficult because we had such a wonderful blend of talent.”

But as the board narrowed down the candidate pool over the course of the next four months, Dine’s name kept rising to the top.

“He displayed a tremendous blend of experience, of leadership; deliberative in his thought processes, very collaborative in his approach to solving problems and looking at situations, a real consensus-builder, and tremendous judgment, tremendous integrity,” Irving said. “In the end, we chose Kim for all those reasons.”

Also of benefit, Irving noted, was Dine’s position as an outside hire, able to offer a fresh perspective and approach on running a police department that includes more than 2,000 employees.

Capitol Police Labor Committee Chairman Jim Konczos also hoped Dine’s experience outside the Capitol Police Department would prove favorable.

“[Dine’s] accomplishments with MPD and the Frederick, Md. police department speak for themselves,” Konczos said. “He has the background of getting results.”

The head of the police labor union had long advocated an outside hire as chief, telling The Hill last summer that such a move would be “a clean slate” for the department after years of budget fiascos and cost overruns under past leadership.

And though only in charge since mid-December, Dine is already proving impressive.

“After my initial meeting with Chief Dine, he has good ideas,” Konczos said. “The Labor Committee wants [our] members to know that positive change may take some time, but we believe Chief Dine can move the agency in the right direction to benefit the officers and the shareholders.”

For Dine, delivering those results will require not only the help but also the trust of his new colleagues.

“My style is not to just come in and be a bull in a china closet and turn the place upside down just because [I] can,” he said. “You have to respect the men and women in the agency. Those are people that have spent their whole adult lives here, just like I did with MPD. 

“I think you have to be sensitive to those kinds of things and maybe how you make changes, and you need to understand the culture of a place and how it works,” Dine added. “Sometimes the challenge is making sure you know what’s working right and leaving it alone, and gauging things that need to be fixed or improved upon and doing it in a way where it’s a team effort.”

As Dine continues to settle into his new role, he spends what little free time he has with his wife of more than 20 years and two daughters. When asked if he was pleased with the turn his life took nearly four decades ago thanks to one street corner, he said he has no regrets.

“I think it’s one of the greatest careers anybody can have,” he said. “I tell the recruits this — you want to have them feel that sense of pride when they put on that badge every day that you felt that first day. And so far, I’m still feeling it. That’s a good thing 37 years later. 

“This position clearly will be interesting and unique. But it also has its own sense of unique pride,” Dine concluded. “When I turn that corner on Pennsylvania Avenue and see that building and everything it stands for, it’s pretty impressive.”