Bernstein establishes Police Integrity Unit

Private defense attorney Janice Bledsoe will leave her firm to join the Baltimore prosecutor's office as head of the new police integrity unit, State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein announced Thursday.

The division replaces a police misconduct unit created a decade ago under his predecessor, Patricia C. Jessamy, and is the result of a "comprehensive review and reorganization," according to a statement.

"It is vital to maintaining public trust in our criminal justice system that the state's attorney's office acts vigilantly to ensure that allegations of police misconduct are thoroughly investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted," Bernstein said in the statement. "This is why I immediately focused my attention on reviewing the unit and developing a plan to improve its performance."

City officers have recently been implicated in a towing company kickback scheme, and payouts in civil misconduct cases cost Baltimore about a million dollars each year, said City Solicitor George Nilson.

Bernstein, who took office in January, previously declined to discuss whether he intended to maintain a separate prosecution unit fir police or try another model.

He repeatedly said he would abolish a controversial list Jessamy kept of allegedly untrustworthy police officers, however, and has since developed his own "system to track allegations of police misconduct," according to the statement.

Bledsoe is scheduled to take over the unit in the first week of May.

"She has an exemplary reputation as a skilled attorney and is respected by her peers on both sides of the aisle," Bernstein said in the statement.

Last year, Bledsoe won a murder acquittal for Gary Collins, who was charged in the death of former City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. Collins was found guilty on associated handgun, assault and robbery charges and is appealing those convictions.

She also represented former city Officer Jemini Jones, helping him win an acquittal on a rape charge in 2007 and brokering a deal in a separate case that year convicting him of a handgun violation and fleeing police after running a red light.

"I share State's Attorney Bernstein's dedication to protecting the public's interest and maintaining the public's trust," Bledsoe said in the statement. "I am looking forward to embarking on this new phase of my career in public service."

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