"Prosecutors want to get a conviction, and they don't care whether the guy is on ice for two years," Stewart said. "They have no reason to speed up or worry about what the department is doing. But the department, however, has to be concerned about the kind of conduct their officers are engaged in, and they have to continue to reinforce positive conduct.
"The mayor and chief executive have a responsibility to ensure that their officers are acting in accordance with the policies and procedures of the department, and if you wait 18 or 22 months, you've reinforced the culture that nothing is ever accountable. It doesn't help retrain the officers, and it keeps you deprived of a competent officer's services for a year or two years."
Stewart acknowledged that police officers are protected from making incriminating statements, but he said such statements can simply be excluded from court.
Still, members of the Select Lounge panel were struck by the number of officers unavailable to perform police functions in Baltimore. "We said, 'Why are all these people on administrative leave?' " Stewart said.
Bealefeld said that he and his staff directed funding and training toward beefing up internal affairs, and sought ways to accelerate the internal disciplinary process, implementing some of them. At times, he said, he wanted to "blow up the system and start from scratch."
"But at the end of the day, this is a very time-consuming process, and there are legal precedents you have to be mindful of," said Bealefeld, who added that legal advisers would frequently raise concerns over proposed moves. "I would give us credit for being aware and making an effort, but it doesn't mean we solved the problem. It's not an easy solution."
Police generally have to bring internal charges within a year after prosecutors conclude a case. Disagreements over when the clock starts ticking have torpedoed a number of cases over the years. In 2009, more than 50 internal discipline cases were dropped on technical grounds, many of them because of alleged back-dating on charging documents to make sure the cases fell within the statute of limitations.
Herb Weiner, an attorney whose firm represents the police union, said he's unsure whether police could still bring internal charges against the officers in the kickback scheme. "I can't say it definitively, but my belief would be that the statute has expired," he said. "An awful long time has passed, and at some point in time I think a decision has to be made, one way or the other."
Ward, of Johns Hopkins, said that with the officers continuing to be paid, "the public is bearing the costs for a long period of time for individuals who may or may not have a job at the end of this."
It's also not a good situation for those who may be cleared of wrongdoing. "You potentially have employees who are not administratively in the wrong and not criminally in the wrong, and yet these things are hanging over their heads," Ward said. "It's not a good situation for anybody."
According to FBI data on major cities, Baltimore has the second-most police officers per capita in the country, with 4.7 officers per 1,000 residents. That ranks behind only Washington D.C., where there are 6.1 officers per 1,000 residents, and is higher than Philadelphia or New York. Oakland, Calif., where Batts last worked, has 1.6 officers per 1,000 residents,.
In remarks to the City Council at his confirmation hearing, Batts said he is trying to figure out why the department seems short-staffed given its resources.
"Commissioner Batts is frustrated at the amount of downtime involving officers waiting for investigations to be completed," said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. "We have to maximize our resources. At the end of the day, he wants people to be serviced by the officers they're paying."