The number of Baltimore Police officers who received multiple complaints of serious misconduct such as excessive force and unlawful arrests dropped sharply last year, according to a recent departmental report.
The report said new policies and training under the federal consent decree may have contributed to a “substantial decrease” in the number of officers receiving three or more complaints of serious misconduct — from 28 in 2019 to nine last year.
The department’s internal 2020 misconduct report released late last month is a requirement of the consent decree, which calls for the department to compile and present quarterly findings related to officer misconduct and internal investigations. The figures are scrutinized by a monitoring team and the federal judge overseeing the consent decree.
Misconduct investigations have been a major focus of reforms, especially in the wake of the fallout from the federal Gun Trace Task Force investigation, which found multiple officers routinely accused of misconduct with little oversight. More than a dozen officers were charged and convicted.
The BPD report said that in 2020, there were 1,056 complaints against 1,353 officers and or employees. Some of the complaints include multiple employees for one allegation, the report said. By contrast, the department said it received a total of 1,726 complaints in 2019.
“Both the policies and the subsequent training could have played a role in decreasing the number of misconduct allegations for these violations, though it is important to continue to monitor whether these policies and trainings have a sustained impact over time,” the report says.
The majority of complaints, 56%, came from outside the department, while the rest were made internally by department employees, such as when an officer is cited by a supervisor for a uniform violation. The report noted a decrease in the number of complaints around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which reduced interactions between officers and the public. Of the external complaints, 79.1% came from African American men, which the report noted is disproportionate to the city’s population.
“I think the trends do show a fair amount of improvement but we have to be a little cautious,” said Kenneth Thompson, who heads the monitoring team that is supervising the department as it works through the mandates of the consent decree.
Thompson said the monitoring team will conduct its own reviews of use-of-force allegations, and misconduct investigations in the coming months, which will include reviewing evidence from individuals cases, such as body-worn cameras, to fully and independently assess the department’s progress.
“We have to get behind the numbers,” he said.
Brian Nadeau, the deputy commissioner who heads the Public Integrity Bureau, said Monday that the report shows progress. He attributed the improvements to new and improved policies, training and supervision among command.
“I think we are doing a better job at identifying these people,” he said of officers who had routinely faced misconduct issues. Now, officers who face multiple, serious complaints have either had training to correct their behavior, or their police powers are suspended and they are placed on administrative desk work until their case can be adjudicated, he said.
But the report found that internal investigations continue to lag, taking more than eight months before they are concluded, while the consent decree has a goal of reducing the length of investigations to 90 days.
The department said it expects to reduce the length of investigations by expanding a pilot program that allows officers to accept responsibility for some less serious complaints without needing a full investigation.
Nadeau said previously that the time to conclude a complaint investigation has dropped from 314 days to 209.
“That’s far too long and doesn’t meet the 90-day goal,” he said. But with the improved training across the department, an increase in internal affairs investigators to handle cases, as well as the new electronic system, he said that average will go down with time.
“You just can’t flick a switch,” he said. “We’re moving in the right direction, but we want to make sure the cases are thorough.”
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The report also noted that the number of complaints where misconduct is found to have occurred has increased.