With the federal prosecution of the Gun Trace Task Force officers in Baltimore now concluded — six officers have pleaded guilty, and a jury found two others guilty on Monday — a question remains: What is being done to prevent police corruption in the future?
The answer is a lot — but the results of the efforts are still to be seen.
A new police department corruption unit is investigating at least 10 more city officers accused in court testimony of participating in or facilitating the gun unit’s corruption, and acting Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa has said additional anti-corruption initiatives are being put in place to enhance supervision of specialty units and overtime spending.
The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office do not comment on active investigations. That includes investigations linked to cases in which convicted defendants, such as the gun task force officers, still await sentencing. But it’s unclear whether the federal case remains active in other ways — as in federal agents pursuing other suspects or prosecutors considering additional indictments.
Defense attorneys and public defenders are still pushing for scores of criminal cases brought by the gun unit to be dropped — and for the defendants to get some compensation — on top of the 125 cases already dismissed by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby’s office.
Lawmakers in Annapolis are considering bills to further punish corrupt officers and compensate their victims. The City Council has called for more control over the police department, technically a state agency, and for the creation of a new board of police commissioners to oversee the department.
The City Council has scheduled an oversight hearing to consider concerns about the preparedness of training academy recruits.
Some of the new initiatives within the police department dovetail with reform efforts under the department’s federal consent decree, but others appear to be breaking new ground.
De Sousa said last week that the department will begin subjecting members of some specialty units to random polygraph and integrity tests, and that he is considering forming an independent commission to investigate corruption in the department.
“I actually love that idea. That’s something that my internal team has been in conversation about in the last couple days,” he said. “That”s something that we’re going to work through almost immediately.”
De Sousa also said he was putting “checks and balances” in place to monitor overtime spending “on the front end versus the back end.”
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh’s office has launched an audit of police overtime spending.
The department is also working to introduce biometric technology that will require officers to scan their fingerprints at the start and end of shifts to prove they’ve worked the hours they’ve claimed on their payslips.
In addition to robbing residents, stealing and reselling guns and drugs on the street and filing false court paperwork, the gun task force officers filed fraudulent overtime claims.
The court-enforced consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice was put into effect last year.
Justice investigators found widespread discriminatory and unconstitutional policing in Baltimore, particularly in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods. They concluded that the police department's ability to root out officer misconduct had been "plagued by systemic failures" for years. They found police discouraged complaints by citizens and officers and didn’t discipline officers for wrongdoing even in cases of "repeated or egregious" violations.
The consent decree requires improvements to officer training and frontline supervision and a review of the ways in which community members oversee the department and the way complaints of wrongdoing by officers are handled. That work is underway.
The decree also requires reforms in the way officers’ performance is evaluated, the way officers receive assistance and support — including after trauma — and the way police use force, stop and search citizens, and interact with minority populations, youth, people with disabilities and protesters.
The corruption of the gun task force was facilitated by its leader, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, one of the officers who has pleaded guilty. Analysts say the case exposed gaps in the broader chain of supervision for such units.
After the indictments last year, then-Commissioner Kevin Davis demoted Lt. Col. Sean Miller, a high-ranking commander who oversaw citywide crime-fighting initiatives, to lieutenant, and the gun unit’s supervisor above Jenkins, Lt. Marjorie German, back to patrol. Neither German nor Miller has been accused of wrongdoing.
Kenneth Thompson, the attorney leading the independent team monitoring the city’s compliance with the consent decree, said the group has been “closely following” the Gun Trace Task Force trial and other recent events, such as the training academy concerns, and that the parties to the federal agreement have “engaged in a fulsome and robust discussion of current issues.”
“Both police training and police integrity — including discipline and misconduct proceedings — are areas targeted for reform by the Consent Decree,” Thompson said. “Accordingly, these topics are of particular interest to the Monitoring Team, and we will be providing the Court with regular, detailed reports regarding BPD’s progress, or lack thereof, towards compliance in these areas.”
The parties are due to discuss progress made by the department in the area of misconduct investigations and discipline at their next meeting on March 2, according to a court scheduling order.
De Sousa, a 30-year veteran appointed last month to lead the department, has acknowledged the department has fallen short in confronting corruption. He has called reform a top priority — along with addressing violence and restoring pride in a department demoralized and embarrassed by years of misconduct and scandal.
He has appointed Ed Jackson, a former police colonel, academic and member of the consent decree’s Community Oversight Task Force, to the new department position of inspector general.
Jackson said he is “excited to get started” to introduce “good constitutional-based policing that our citizens expect.”
After the gun task force officers were indicted in March, Davis did away with plainclothes units such as the gun task force for drug and gun enforcement. Such units — known on the streets as “knockers” — have long drawn citizen complaints.
De Sousa has said he is considering bringing back such plainclothes units, but under enhanced supervision and following national best practices.
“I am evaluating to see what best practices tell us, what the research tells us, on plainclothes, and if it has an effect on reducing crime,” he said.