Baltimore civil rights monitor applications present a choice: Local knowledge or national expertise

The city provided the Baltimore Sun with the full applications for the multimillion-dollar project — some of which run to hundreds of pages laying out plans to oversee the reforms. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)

The more than two dozen teams vying to monitor the court-ordered civil rights reforms at the Baltimore Police Department give the city a choice of two different paths: drawing on people with deep local knowledge or hiring a group with a track record in other big cities.

The city this week gave The Baltimore Sun the full applications of the groups seeking to take on the multimillion-dollar project. Some run to hundreds of pages laying out plans to oversee the reforms negotiated by city officials and the U.S. Department of Justice.


Many of the applications were led by prominent local figures. But others were submitted by out-of-town consulting companies and law firms. Monitors from similar processes in Cleveland, Oakland, Calif., and Los Angeles all are seeking to be involved.

Christy Lopez, a former official in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said the relative desirability of local knowledge and national expertise has shifted over the years. In earlier consent decrees, cities tended to value the verdict of national policing experts and pursue their recommendations. But in recent years, she said, more emphasis has been put on having local residents involved to engage the community.


"It's become far more recognized that you have to know the community to some extent to be effective," said Lopez, who monitored a consent decree in Oakland during a break in her career at the Justice Department.

But she said relying too much on local figures can also have its downside: "If you have a team that's too close, there is a much greater likelihood that they will pull punches."

Outside experts, meanwhile, can avoid known pitfalls, and police officials who have led other departments through the process can build credibility in the department they're monitoring.

"There's tremendous value in having experience," Lopez said.


Samuel Walker, an emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha who has studied policing, said experience working as a monitor is the most important qualification a team can have, and that local ties can undermine a monitor's independence.

Understanding problems that are likely to crop up and who might be resistant to reform and how to overcome them is vital, he said.

"It's a very complex and technical area," he said. "You really need experience and expertise."

Walker said the applicant pool in Baltimore sounded similar to that in Cleveland when it sought a monitor in 2015 — a "whole bunch of people who are not qualified" and a "small group of people at the top who've got some good credentials."

The monitor's office will be charged with managing the day-to-day process of implementing reforms required under the consent decree. The decree is overseen by a federal judge.

A spokesman for Mayor Catherine Pugh said the city law department will ensure that the applications meet minimum standards before the mayor and her staff begin the process of drawing up a short list and making a recommendation.

The Justice Department will evaluate the candidates, too. The public will have a month to comment, and the judge will act on the city's and federal authorities' recommendations.

Pugh has said she is "pleased by both the number and the caliber of applicants."

The proposed budgets for the monitor's office range from $5 million to $7.4 million for five years' work. The overall cost of implementing the reforms in that period is budgeted to be $41.5 million.

The decree was the result of the wide-ranging Justice Department civil rights investigation after Freddie Gray died in police custody in 2015. Justice Department investigators concluded that city police had systemically violated the rights of people in the city, disproportionately targeting African-Americans, stopping people without proper justification and violating people's civil rights.

A judge signed off on the decree in April.

Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department used civil rights investigations and consent decrees to bring changes to local police departments. But current Attorney General Jeff Sessions has questioned their value and ordered a review.

Two heavyweight proposals to monitor the Baltimore decree capture the different approaches.

An application by the law firm DLA Piper makes no effort to hide its local connections — the title page is dominated by the black and yellow of the Baltimore flag.

"For us, Baltimore is different," the firm said in its application. "Baltimore is home. While we are a global law firm today, our deepest roots run through Baltimore. ... There is so much in the history of this quintessentially American city of which we are proud and that we love. But we are not blind to the serious challenges faced by the City."

That team would be led by Charles P. Scheeler, a local attorney who monitored the consent decree between the NCAA, the Big Ten Conference and Penn State University after the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. Scheeler could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Aiding Scheeler would be recently retired Baltimore County Police Chief James W. Johnson, former Baltimore schools CEO Andrés Alonso, the faculty of the University of Baltimore Law School and a team from the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Other well-known local lawyers, academics and law enforcement officials would also be involved.

The group says it would draw on national expertise to blend local knowledge with outside perspectives.

The DLA Piper pitch contrasts with that of consulting firms Exiger and 21st Century Policing, which would draw on the experience of officials with ties to the Obama Justice Department, current and former police chiefs from big cities across the country and scholars who have been involved in monitoring teams elsewhere.

The team would be led by Jeff Schlanger, a former official in the Manhattan district attorney's office.

"The main pitch is we've done this before in a variety of different roles," he said in an interview.

Team members include Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole, whose department is currently in the latter stages of a consent decree, and Charles Ramsey, who led the Philadelphia and District of Columbia police departments through similar processes.

Matthew Barge, who was appointed as the monitor in Cleveland and as the deputy in Seattle, is also on the team.

It also includes Ronald L. Davis, who ran a policing office at the Justice Department that was involved in Baltimore before the civil rights investigation began. Schlanger credited Davis with having a deep understanding of the city's particular problems and said his team would recruit other people locally after consulting with the community.

"I've been doing this for a long time," Schlanger said. "This is much more than a job for me and the people on the team. This is a passion that we have."

Other teams are led by prominent law enforcement officials.


One is led by David Brown, who was the chief of the Dallas Police Department when five officers were killed by a gunman last year.


Former District of Columbia U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard, who handled the investigation into anthrax attacks after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is pitching his services with a team featuring two other former federal prosecutors.

Former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler and former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey have formed a team. And Baltimore attorney Chad Curlett is involved in another. Curlett has said he'll challenge Marilyn Mosby in next year's state's attorney election, but would drop out if his team were selected to be the monitor.

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