Jealous to unveil Baltimore police reform plan. First step: Fire bad cops

Former NAACP President Ben Jealous and a coalition of community organizations say they plan to release a six-point plan on Friday to improve policing in Baltimore that includes the firing of "corrupt" officers and the removal of gag orders from police misconduct settlements.

The proposal, which comes as the City Council decides whether to make the appointment of interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis permanent, is the first released by a national civil rights leader since the death of Freddie Gray in April and the unrest that followed.


Jealous, who recently moved to Baltimore, said the plan was created with input from the Campaign for Justice, Safety and Jobs, a coalition of 25 community, faith and civil rights organizations in the city.

He is calling on the city to distribute body cameras to all police officers within one year, to make the video available to the public, and to train every officer in "de-escalation techniques."


"When there have been uprisings like we had last April in response to grievous acts of police brutality, the city remains in a vulnerable place until the verdicts in the officers' case are handed down," said Jealous, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. "That's why it's so important to be courageous in this moment."

Jealous recommends the department improve community policing and publish all departmental policies online.

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said many of Jealous' suggestions are already being implemented.

"The mayor and the police commissioner have been leaders on many of these issues and have made substantive progress on many of them," spokesman Howard Libit said. "We welcome all constructive ideas for how to improve law enforcement in our city, and plan to review the more detailed report."


Police spokesman T.J. Smith said Davis is "willing to sit down and look over the plan and discuss it with Mr. Jealous."

Smith said the city plans to begin a pilot program this month in which it will equip 55 officers with body cameras. Davis is also instituting a training curriculum to instruct young officers in community policing while on foot patrols.

"We want them to learn more about the history and culture of Baltimore," Smith said. "We believe this curriculum will be the first of its kind in the country. We're partnering with community leaders."

Smith said it is "encouraging that the Police Department and Mr. Jealous appear to be singing from the same sheet of music."

Jealous and the organizations plan a news conference outside City Hall on Friday to announce the recommendations. Jealous said he began working on the plan after the death of Freddie Gray in April.

Gray suffered a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody. His death sparked days of protests. On the day he was buried, the city erupted in rioting, looting and arson.

In the report, Jealous writes that the Baltimore Police Department has a "long history of aggressive policing, particularly in communities of color."

"In the mid-1990s, city leadership instituted a policy of zero-tolerance policing, which led to a rise in arrests for minor crimes, culminating in 2005, when police made approximately 100,000 arrests in a city of 640,000 people," he writes. "More than 23,000 of those arrested were released without charge."

Jealous focuses on reforming police misconduct. There are no recommendations about reducing crime, which has spiked in recent months. Shootings are up by 77 percent compared with last year, homicides are up by 49 percent and robberies by 18 percent.

In an interview, Jealous said crime would go down once trust is established between police officers and members of the community.

"You're not going to get greater cooperation, which is necessary to solve homicides, until they feel that they can trust you," he said. "Increasing trust lowers crime rates."

Davis received a vote of approval this week from a City Council committee during a session disrupted by protests. His appointment is scheduled to go before the full City Council next week.

A majority of City Council members told The Baltimore Sun this week they planned to vote for Davis.

Jealous said it is still "too early" to judge Davis' performance.

"I'm not going to second-guess the council," Jealous said. "Like everybody in the city, I hope he's going to lead us in the right direction."

Gene Ryan, the president of the police union, said some recommendations in the report mirror union positions.

"I don't have a problem with body cameras. I think it's going to exonerate police officers more than anything," he said. "No one wants to work beside a dirty cop. We don't want them there any more than anybody else."

He said the union frequently asks the command staff for more and better training.

"I would love to see if we can quadruple the training," Ryan said.

Davis took over as interim commissioner after Rawlings-Blake fired Commissioner Anthony W. Batts. Rawlings-Blake had hired Batts to reform the department.

Jealous said Batts appeared to be a person "most concerned with rooting out corruption and reforming his officers."

"It's time for the new commissioner and the mayor to follow through on the mayor's promises," he said.


Recommended on Baltimore Sun