New software will ensure Baltimore police officers receive policy changes, a key issue in Freddie Gray case

New software will help track Baltimore police officers' receipt of policies

The Baltimore Police Department is rolling out new software that it says will ensure that officers receive and read important information about policy changes and training.

The department's announcement of the PowerDMS software, which it hopes to launch about July 1, came one day after a judge acquitted a Baltimore officer of four criminal charges in the arrest of Freddie Gray — finding, in part, that prosecutors failed to prove that the officer had received proper training or updated policies on the transportation of detainees in police wagons.

During his trial, attorneys for Officer Edward M. Nero argued that he had never been trained on placing and seat-belting individuals in transport vans such as the one in which prosecutors say Gray suffered fatal spinal cord injuries. Defense attorneys also said Nero had never opened a department email sent to him just days before Gray's arrest that contained a revised policy mandating seat belts for detainees.

In clearing Nero of the charges, Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams agreed with Nero's attorneys that without that training or knowledge of the policy, his actions were reasonable — a key standard in the charges against him.

On Tuesday, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the new software will remove any such confusion.

"It ensures consistent and timely distribution of policies with an accountability and tracking mechanism, which is very important to ensure our police officers know and can act upon the expectations that are placed upon them by leadership," Davis said.

The software, which cost the department about $60,000 for its first year of use, prompts officers with alerts whenever they have been sent a new policy, a new piece of training or other important information. Officers will have to acknowledge receiving the information.

The software can quiz officers on information they have received, and will alert supervisors if the officers have not signed off on the information after two weeks. The software can be accessed via computer, tablet or smartphone.

The software is geared toward in-service training and policy updates for active officers, and is not designed to track whether recruits receive complete training at the police academy, an issue that arose in Nero's trial.

Davis said he has used PowerDMS during previous stints in the police departments of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, and first asked about Baltimore adopting it before Gray's arrest last year.

"We were stuck in the mid-'80s," he said. "Distributing policies and procedures in our profession has advanced, thanks to technology."

Davis said other new measures have been put in place since Gray's death to ensure that policy revisions are noted at roll call. He said the software rollout is one of several "accountability announcements" that will be made in coming weeks.

Another will be the department's new use-of-force policy, he said, which it is being updated for the first time since 2003.

Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the union that represents Baltimore's rank-and-file officers, did not respond to a request for comment about the new software.

The problem of officers not receiving updated policies was also raised at the trial of Officer William G. Porter, which ended in a mistrial in December after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the four charges. But Davis said the rollout of the PowerDMS software was not driven by any single issue.

"Every time we improve something or adopt a forward-thinking, progressive policy in the Police Department, it is not necessarily because of one thing. It's probably because of many, many things," Davis said. "We have to adopt ways to make ourselves better, and if we can use technology to make ourselves better, we're going to do that.

"Are we aware of shortcomings that have existed, administrative shortcomings that have existed, in the Baltimore Police Department? Yes. Are we aware of particular circumstances that have highlighted those deficiencies? Absolutely. And I think we're reacting to that responsibly by making improvements."

Nero and Porter are among the six Baltimore officers charged in the Gray case. Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died April 19, 2015, a week after suffering spinal injuries while in police custody. His death sparked widespread protests, and his funeral was followed by rioting, looting and arson.

In clearing Nero of two charges related to his failure to buckle Gray in the van — reckless endangerment and misconduct in office — Williams specifically noted that Andrew Jaffee, the Police Department's information technology director, testified that he had "no way of knowing" whether the email containing the updated seat belt policy was opened or read by Nero.

Jaffee, standing at Davis' side on Tuesday, appeared uneasy when asked about his testimony at Nero's trial and how it might relate to the software rollout. T.J. Smith, the department's chief spokesman, said the testimony could not be discussed because of a gag order in the Gray cases.

Davis said he started a "robust conversation" about adopting PowerDMS last fall. He stressed that the program will benefit officers by clarifying what is expected of them.

"We're not doing it to the police officers, we're doing it for them," he said.

Using PowerDMS will be required for every officer, he said, "regardless of rank, regardless of position."

Baltimore Sun reporter Jesse Coburn contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
50°