Supervisory Special Agent William Borden III wasn’t long into his presentation on how kids can better interact with police officers when one of the Baltimore youth leaders before him raised her hand with a question.
“Since this kind of stems from police misconduct, are police officers being told how to interact with us?” asked Monae Epps, a 16-year-old junior at Baltimore City College.
Borden, a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement, or NOBLE, said police officers are taught how to interact with the public during their police academy training, but Epps wasn’t satisfied.
“What I’m saying is, as police misconduct has become more prevalent, have they been re-educated?” she asked.
Borden, whose day job is with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said there are efforts in many police departments, including Baltimore’s, to retrain officers on de-escalating situations.
“Departments recognize this is a problem,” Borden said.
The exchange was one of many between officials from NOBLE and the Baltimore Police Department and youth leaders from Baltimore and Howard County during a "Listening to Both Sides” discussion Saturday at the University of Baltimore.
The event, part of the Greater Baltimore Urban League’s Saturday Leadership Program, was arranged at the suggestion of the program’s teen members, who Urban League officials said are eager to take part in the growing debate around American policing at the local and national levels.
Borden’s message, conveyed via a PowerPoint presentation, was pretty standard.
He told the kids to make sure officers can see their hands, to listen to commands, to not reach for anything — like a vehicle registration in a glove box — without permission. More than anything, show respect, Borden said.
“It goes a long way in setting the tone for how that encounter will go,” he said.
But throughout the morning session, the students sought to relate their real-life experiences and stories of Baltimore police corruption or misconduct to challenge the lessons of obedience to police being put forward.
Baltimore is in the midst of a police reform consent decree after the Justice Department reported widespread unconstitutional and discriminatory policing by the department, and eight police officers were indicted this year on charges they robbed from residents, filed false court paperwork and made fraudulent overtime claims.
Police are also investigating several drug arrests after officers’ body-camera footage was flagged by defense counsel as possibly showing the planting of drugs.
At one point during Borden’s presentation, a boy raised his hand, then stood.
“Some officers will purposely plant incriminating things. What happens then?” he asked.
Borden said planting evidence is a crime, and one that would hopefully be discovered.
Jada Johnson, a 16-year-old sophomore at Western High School, had another question.
“They have the right to stop me just because I’m wearing a black hoodie, because someone else wearing a black hoodie committed a crime?” she asked.
Here, Baltimore Deputy Police Commissioner Darryl DeSousa stepped in.
“I think you’re going to be an attorney one day,” he told Johnson.
He then explained that officers may stop someone on the street if they match the description of a suspect in a crime, or if the officers suspect the person is hiding a weapon. But, he said, officers must give everyone they stop a copy of an investigative stop report, and residents have the right to complain about mistreatment.
As Borden started his PowerPoint presentation again, Epps had another question.
“How far along are we into the slides?” she asked. “I got questions.”
Borden seemed to take the hint, and he and other officials running the discussion sped up.
After the presentation, DeSousa and NOBLE president Shawn D. Harrison, a former Baltimore patrol and internal affairs officer who is now director of public safety at Montgomery College, took more pointed questions.
DeSousa said the Police Department is currently planning new programs where officers will get manicures and pedicures with young women and haircuts with young men. The aim, he said, is for officers to have more conversations with young people.
“That,” DeSousa said, “is where you get the most real talk in the city.”
The kids didn’t argue with that.