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Police commissioner: BPD making strides

We end 2017 with an unacceptable number of homicides and overall violence. That much is clear to us all. As your police commissioner, the buck ultimately stops with me. What to do about it all requires a collaborative and holistic approach. Murders and corruption dominate the headlines and make it difficult for Baltimoreans to truly understand the strides in public safety necessary for the Baltimore Police Department to fundamentally succeed in a way it has never known. Those improvements are now taking place in an organization that has long been one dimensional and unable to establish momentum that outlasts a calendar year or an election cycle.

Policing in America is a multi-disciplined profession. Every aspect of it is a priority. Judge us by just one piece of it, and watch how other equally important parts get neglected and suffer irreparable harm. So, in an effort to report information that speaks to our organizational health but is rarely the subject of a local newspaper story, I want to share some things you just don’t hear about as often as I think you should.

Vastly improved policies have been and are being developed and implemented that reduce police use of force and promote greater internal accountability. Lawsuits against police officers are down 64 percent since 2011. Over the last two years, I have fired or forced the resignations of 35 police officers who do not deserve to wear this badge. Our sustained internal affairs investigations are up 17 percent this year and were up 42 percent in 2016. Excessive force complaints are down 42 percent this year and were down 36 percent last year. Abusive language complaints are down 63 percent this year. Police-involved shootings are down 31 percent this year.

Baltimore police officers now have access to mental health professionals and programs designed to reduce stress. An early intervention system is in place to help police officers and their families cope with the inevitable trauma of our profession. All police-involved shootings and serious uses of force are now evaluated by a new performance review board, which makes specific recommendations to me as to any lessons learned that will accelerate individual and organizational growth and improvement. We are piloting a Crisis Response Team that puts police officers and mental health professionals together in marked police cars and a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program that gives low level drug offenders a treatment alternative to arrest. Our new Homeless Outreach Team works to connect homeless individuals across the city with essential resources. Our patrol officers now carry naloxone and tourniquets to save lives.

We are working hard to implement 21st century solutions in the areas of training, technology and transparency. New policies are now electronically disseminated. Our body-worn camera program is fully implemented. We changed our electronic control weapon deployment policy to limit the circumstances in which a Taser can be used, cutting the number of uses in half. We have adopted the Integrated Communications Assessment and Tactics de-escalation training program that is the best in the nation. And we stand ready to soon announce the first year plan of our negotiated consent decree with the Department of Justice. Our administrative hearing boards are now open to the public, and the new transparency page on our website includes information never before shared with our community. We are also finally installing mobile data computers in our marked cars, a 20th century policing technology. We host several Citizens Police academy classes each year now and have a police chaplains program that now boasts over 100 faith leaders. Police cadets are back after a hiatus of several years. We have also helped over 400 ex-offenders integrate back into society.

Mayor Catherine Pugh understands her police department is only as strong as her government’s commitment to violence reduction and public safety. We meet daily to develop 24-hour “to do” lists for public works, transportation, housing, employment development, fire, health, liquor board and others that immediately bring government services to violence-plagued neighborhoods that have historically known only a police car to singularly represent City government on blighted streets.

This plan is supported by existing federal and recently enhanced state collaborations. The mayor’s relationship with philanthropist and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other local leaders is bringing Roca and several long-overdue technology enhancements to help, respectively, our most at-risk young people and the crime fight. These commitments are digging a public safety foundation where once only a slab of concrete existed. Mayor Pugh’s commitment to build the BPD back up to 3,000 police officers represents a monumental understanding that we do not have the number of cops necessary to do this important work. The reduction in the size of our agency by 500 police officers (a decision supported by many) over the last several years was the absolute wrong approach, and we are working hard to build our ranks back up. In 2017, police officer hiring increased by 86 percent, and attrition was reduced by 12 percent.

The riots of 2015, the criminal cases against six police officers, a marked violent crime spike, the reduction in the size of the BPD, the DOJ civil rights investigation, the negotiated consent decree during a presidential transition and an FBI corruption investigation have all challenged the Baltimore Police Department as we prepare to enter our 234th year serving the residents of Baltimore. It all invites detractors. It invites naysayers and critics. It offers, however, opportunities for the very best among us to look forward and find a new way. A way that respects our best traditions, but recognizes the necessity to change the paradigm of the crime fight in a way that stands the test of time. All of these internal improvements will enhance our crime fighting capacity in a way that can be sustained over time. Less violence and fewer property crimes creates a community all Baltimoreans deserve.

If any of this information surprises you, please download the free Baltimore Police app on your smart phone to learn more about your police department. In the meantime, we will work our hearts out for a better and brighter 2018.

Kevin Davis is commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department. Twitter: @CommishKDavis.

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