The federal judge overseeing the Baltimore police consent decree called Thursday for the state to contribute money towards a new city police training facility, and disputed the governor’s recent comments that reforms and crime reduction can’t occur simultaneously.
“The twin objectives of constitutional policing and effective policing are intrinsically interwoven. You simply won’t one get one without the other,” U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar said during the fourth quarterly public hearing on the consent decree.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said during a visit to Baltimore earlier this month that there’s been too much emphasis on the federally mandated reforms and not enough on crime in Baltimore.
“There’s been a whole lot of focus on the consent decree...,” Hogan said. “I think it’s out of balance. We’re going to focus on getting the criminals off the street.”
Thursday’s hearing took place despite the partial federal government shutdown. Bredar declined requests by the U.S. Justice Department to extend deadlines because he said the parties have an obligation to the public to continue with reforms.
As the consent decree process transitions from rewriting police policies to training officers on them, Bredar advocated for building a new police training facility, saying it should be a top priority of city leaders. He also said the state should pitch in to pay for it.
The training academy lacks sufficient staff and instructors to lead the additional training required by the consent decree, according to an August staffing study of the department filed with the court. The major in charge of the training academy also recently retired.
Hogan said previously he is funding a “comprehensive set of initiatives” totaling nearly $13 million to address violent crime in Baltimore, but Maryland Senate president Thomas V. “Mike” Miller said he didn’t see enough money to bolster the city’s police department.
Miller said he wanted to see funding for a second police training academy at Coppin State University and to hire 500 city officers.
“When Baltimore City hurts, our entire state hurts,” Miller said. “There is a major crime problem in Baltimore City. …The mayor put forward her proposals. The governor, for whatever reason, didn’t fund the proposals in his budget, so we’re going to make sure they're included in ours.”
City Solicitor Andre Davis and interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle represented the city and the Police Department at the hearing, which was the second since Bredar raised serious concerns about the department’s lack of stable leadership. The city has had four police commissioners since 2015.
Michael Harrison, Mayor Catherine Pugh’s choice for the job, did not attend. He is expected to begin Feb. 11 as acting commissioner before the City Council votes on his appointment.
Harrison had been superintendent for the New Orleans Police Department, which also has been under a consent decree after a Justice Department investigation found unconstitutional conduct by police.
Davis told Bredar that Harrison is “exactly what Baltimore City needs at this time” and that Harrison plans to remain in Baltimore until the job is done.
Once Harrison is here, he’ll spend several weeks meeting “with every facet of the community” across the city, Davis said.
Tuggle said he has been in regular contact with Harrison. “There will never be a smoother transition,” Tuggle said. “We speak almost every day. We talk about where we are as a police department, where we’ve been and where we are going.”
Tuggle said the department has already made significant progress in a number of areas, including addressing a backlog of internal affairs cases and officer supervision. He has disputed recent comments made by the head of the monitoring team to state legislators that “the culture of corruption has to be addressed.”
The monitoring team, which is overseeing implementation of reforms, told legislators in Annapolis that the city is working toward reforms, but it offered a bleak view of the progress and cited the corruption from the Gun Trace Task Force scandal.
Bredar said the scandal “struck a mighty blow” to the department and will require a comprehensive “autopsy” to evaluate the “systemic and structural issues that contributed to this scandal. This is essential to make sure nothing like GTTF ever happens again.”
Tuggle agreed and said at the hearing that he’s been in preliminary talks with Johns Hopkins University about an evaluation.
He also highlighted other changes that he said will help hold officers more accountable.
Tuggle said the new five-day-a-week patrol schedule, which was part of a labor agreement approved by union members in November, will begin Feb. 3. That change involves filling every supervisory position in the districts, including administrative lieutenants. The department is also adding a “neighborhood coordination officer” in each district.
“One of the problems that I saw was a lack of supervision,” Tuggle said.
The department also has added five instructors to the academy, and plans to add more. Tuggle said he’s discussed with Harrison the need to build up training in the department.
Other changes will shift minor investigations from the Office of Professional Responsibility to the administrative lieutenants, allowing the OPR investigators to focus on the serious misconduct cases and alleviate the backlog of cases.
The monitoring team said reforming the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which includes internal affairs, has been particularly slow because of persistent command turnover, technology constraints and staffing shortages.
Bredar also asked Tuggle for a candid response about the state of the training academy building, and how it compared to other departments.
“In Texas, they seem to spend a lot of money on two things, football stadiums and police academies,” Bredar said. He asked how Baltimore “stacks up.”
“It doesn’t stack up,” Tuggle responded.
A lawyer for the Justice Department also said the building was dilapidated, sometimes lacking working heat and potable water.