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Mayor defends the department


MAYOR Kurt L. Schmoke defended the city police department's handling of excessive-force complaints and said he has seen no evidence that valid complaints are increasing significantly.

"All in all, I think our city has escaped the kind of problems we've seen recently in Los Angeles and other cities," the mayor said during a news conference yesterday.

Schmoke was responding to questions arising from The Evening Sun's three-part series, "Incident on McElderry Street," which concludes in today's editions. The series examines a case in which a young man was hit and injured by an officer last May.

"Our police department has responded well in investigating complaints that come to it alleging excessive force," the mayor said. "Police officers have certain rules they must work within, and if they violate those rules -- especially in the area of excessive force -- neither I nor the police commissioner will tolerate it."

But Schmoke said he does not want to send the wrong message to the police force -- that the filing of a complaint will be viewed as proof of guilt. "We can't have a situation where police officers feel they are suspect every time they do their job," the mayor said.

The number of excessive force complaints may have gone up in the past four or five months, the mayor acknowledged, because of more aggressive enforcement in some areas of the city, especially against drug trafficking.

"I want our police officers to be aggressive as long as they don't cross the line," Schmoke said. "But I don't have any evidence that the number of excessive-force complaints that are sustained has risen substantially."

The mayor said he felt that his installation three years ago of an advisory panel to review the police department's internal investigations of complaints has allowed significant civilian input.

The two principal components for handling excessive-force complaints are the police Internal Investigation Division (IID) and the largely civilian Complaint Evaluation Board. A spokesperson for the board says he has seen no rise in such complaints in the past few months.

In 1990, the latest period for which figures are available, IID received 94 excessive-force cases against officers. Forty-four cases were dropped for lack of evidence, and 50 are still being reviewed. Roughly two out of every 100 complaints are found by IID to be valid.

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