Civil rights group says proposed Baltimore monitoring team has too many police

A leading national civil rights organization has expressed concern over the number of law enforcement officials named to a proposed team that will oversee sweeping police reforms in Baltimore.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is asking the city, U.S. Justice Department and the court to appoint a “more diverse independent monitor team,” pointing out that nine of its 22 proposed members are either current or former law enforcement officials.

Last week, Baltimore and Justice Department officials submitted to a federal judge a proposed monitoring team led by Kenneth Thompson, a partner at Baltimore’s Venable law firm, and Charles H. Ramsey, a former chief of the Philadelphia and District of Columbia police departments. The team as approved by the judge will be charged with overseeing changes mandated under a federal consent decree, which followed a Justice Department investigation in 2016 that found a years-long pattern of unconstitutional and discriminatory policing in the city.

“Ensuring Baltimore residents have faith in the independence of the monitor is essential to the reform process, and we are concerned that a heavy law enforcement presence may undermine that confidence,” said Monique Dixon, the defense fund’s deputy director of policy and senior counsel.

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar still must approve the team. He has scheduled a private meeting in his chambers Tuesday with the proposed team’s leaders.

Dixon said the number of law enforcement officers on the team is “a high percentage compared to teams assembled in other cities such as Seattle and Cleveland.”

Seattle’s consent decree monitoring team only has one member out of 12 who has been a sworn officer, according to the team’s website. Cleveland has five former law enforcement officers on its 21-member team.

Baltimore’s proposed team includes police officials who have served on the Seattle and Cleveland teams. Hassan Aden, a former police chief in Greenville, N.C., who is a senior policing adviser at the Washington-based Police Foundation, has served on both teams. Ramsey served on the Cleveland team.

Other Baltimore team members with law enforcement backgrounds are Theron Bowman, a former police chief and now deputy city manager in Arlington, Texas; Kevin Bethel, deputy police commissioner in Philadelphia; Terrance W. Gainer, who spent a 47-year career in law enforcement with departments in Chicago and Washington D.C.; George Turner, former police chief in Atlanta; Roberto Villaseñor, who served as police chief in Tucson, Ariz.; Kathleen O’Toole, Seattle’s police chief; and Robert McNeilly, former police chief in Pittsburgh.

The proposed Baltimore team also includes lawyers, psychologists, criminal justice professors and members of the local nonprofit Baltimore Community Mediation.

The monitor is charged with managing the day-to-day process of implementing reforms required under the consent decree, including limits on when and how officers can engage individuals suspected of criminal activity, and training in de-escalation tactics as well as interactions with young people, the mentally ill and protesters.

The consent decree allocates up to $1.475 million annually over the three-year term to pay for monitoring compliance.

Other groups had expressed similar concerns about appointing a team filled with law enforcement officers.

The No Boundaries Coalition, an advocacy group that represents neighborhoods in Central West Baltimore, previously submitted a letter to the city and Justice Department that expressed support for a “community-driven” team and discouraged choosing one with “majority former or current law enforcement professionals.”

The Baltimore NAACP stressed in a letter submitted during the application process this summer that “the ideal Monitor team should not be dominated by law enforcement and former law enforcement officials; it should substantially incorporate community advocates and those experienced in eliciting and enhancing community input.”

The local NAACP president, Tessa Hill-Aston, said she is asking Mayor Catherine Pugh to include an additional monitor team member with a “different point of view other than law enforcement.”

“Someone else should be added,” Hill-Aston said.

Andre Davis, Baltimore’s new city solicitor, defended the team, saying it also includes experts from other fields.

“I think it’s going to be a great team. We’re going to draw on that expertise as well as we’re going to draw on the expertise of others on the team... We’re very excited about the entire team,” Davis said.

Ray Kelly, director of the No Boundaries Coalition, said he is more concerned about how the process was executed. He said the public has not been given the chance to properly vet the team.

The proposed monitor team comprises members of two of the four applicant finalists — Exiger LLC /21st-Century and Baltimore-based Venable LLP — and the nonprofit Baltimore Community Mediation, which was not among the 26 groups that applied for the job in June. The city and the Justice Department had told the judge that none of the four finalists had “all of the appropriate experience and expertise” for the job.

“No one got to scrutinize this time,” Kelly said. “The process was transparent right until submitting a team to the judge.”

But Kelly expressed a need to move forward.

“We have to see what [the judge] says, but we are ready to move forward. We’re still posed to hold all entities accountable,” he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/janders5

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
32°