The Baltimore Police Department is launching a broad initiative it says will address racial inequity in the way it serves the community, help it better respond to the diverse needs of Baltimore residents and dismantle disparities within its own ranks.
The department on Tuesday released an 18-page “Strategic Framework for Advancing Equity” that includes broad goals aimed at creating “the fairest, most transparent, diverse, and inclusive Department possible.” That effort aims to identify the root causes of the disparities in policing, then provide money and staff resources to help correct the problems, according to the framework.
The detailed document calls on the department to, among other things, establish “a department-wide understanding of equity and inclusion principles” and engage internal and external communities, “especially those most impacted by identified disparities,” in developing and implementing the plan.
In all, the plan promises to broadly shift the way the department does business by constantly gathering data on how it interacts with the public, and then analyzing the information to see what works and what can be done differently. And it emphasizes that the public will be consulted and kept informed of the progress.
“We have a very diverse department,” Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said in an interview. “While we have open competitive processes for selection and promotion, we still want to make sure at every rank the department reflects the demographics of the community.”
He added that he and commanders are working to change the culture of a department that saw more than a dozen officers convicted of corruption in federal court, many of whom operated freely in a what was described as a good-old boy system.
“The culture begins to change because the members of the organization now see the decisions are not made through nepotism, favoritism, cronyism and who you know. But rather, what is the right thing to do and who are the right people,” Harrison said. “That translates into how we deal with community members. (The public) can’t help but see a better police department,” because internal changes carry over to the officers public interactions.
The plan calls for the department to invest additional resources, including dedicated funding and staff, and to hold senior leaders in each bureau and division responsible to improving equity. The department will create an “Equity and Inclusion Unit.”
Bill Joyner, hired last June as “equity officer” at an annual salary of $95,000, is part of the compliance bureau, which oversees consent decree reforms. Joyner said such a position is “very rare,” and that few departments in the country are making such an intensive effort.
“There is no comprehensive equity strategic plan in another police department that addresses all these issues that we are trying to address here, in this way, in this scope,” he said.
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Joyner said the department has consulted with other agencies, including the New York City police department, Baltimore County and the University of Virginia’s police department to develop strategies.
Baltimore’s police force is more diverse than those in surrounding jurisdictions, but is more white than the population of the city it serves. About 40% are African American and 12% Hispanic, while the city’s population is more than 60% African American.
“Our residents deserve a Baltimore Police Department that reflects the rich diversity of our great city,” Mayor Brandon Scott said in a statement.
Scott said the department’s new plan aligns with the city’s requirements under the federally-imposed consent decree.
“More importantly, this undertaking will help improve trust and engagement between our brave officers and the neighborhoods they serve,” the Democratic mayor said.
The police department is implementing reforms required by a consent decree the city reached with the U.S. Justice Department in 2017, after an investigation found officers routinely violated the rights of citizens, particularly in Black neighborhoods.
“The disparities within the BPD and reinforced in the community by the BPD have been developing over centuries,” Joyner said in a statement announcing the plan. “While we cannot undo these disparities overnight, these agency-wide efforts provide a foundation for making meaningful progress year after year.”