Police unit under review after brutality allegations


The Baltimore Police Department is investigating its Violent Crimes Task Force to review allegations of brutality and drinking by officers in the 60-member unit, officials said yesterday.

Maj. Robert Novak, head of the department's Internal Investigations Division, gave no details about incidents that led to the investigation of brutality allegations against undercover officers in the task force. He also would not identify the source of the brutality complaints.

But he confirmed that there is an "open case" into allegations that unit officers used alcohol in May during the Preakness, which led to a confrontation between two officers.

"We are currently investigating the incident," Major Novak said.

Without divulging details, he said that the confrontation was between a uniformed officer and an undercover task force member. He said investigators have not determined whether anyone was drunk. Investigators have not found any commander who allowed undercover officers to drink at the Preakness, he said.

Major Novak said drinking on duty is allowed only in limited circumstances and only with the permission of an immediate superior, who "is held accountable for his judgment." He said it usually is allowed in vice and narcotics undercover operations in bars.

"You can't work the Block and order a Pink Lady," he said, adding that in those cases, an officer may be permitted to nurse a beer. "You are not allowed to become impaired on duty."

Phillip A. Brown Jr., a candidate for the City Council's 3rd District, held a news conference in front of Baltimore police headquarters downtown yesterday to call for the department to dismantle the unit until investigations are completed.

"We need to weed out the good from the bad," Mr. Brown said.

He said he met Tuesday with police officers -- whose identities he would not disclose -- who expressed concern about brutality by task force members. He had no details about the reports, however, and said he could not name anyone allegedly victimized by the officers.

The task force was formed by former Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods in 1992 after community leaders criticized the city's response to the growing crime problem. The unit targets the most violent drug offenders and has investigated several drug organizations. Its operations have led to raids by hundreds of officers in several city neighborhoods. Its members have made more than 3,000 arrests and recovered 450 guns.

Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman, said there have been transfers on the unit in the past month, "but not as a result of this investigation." He would not say when the investigation began or provide specifics about it.

Maj. John Tewey, who formerly was assigned to the Southwestern Police District, became the task force's commander last month. His predecessor, Lt. John Sieracki, has been reassigned.

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