Baltimore's police commissioner plans to launch an ethics squad in an attempt to stamp out corruption in the ranks and conduct undercover sting operations using hidden, high-tech cameras and listening devices.
The effort comes as big-city police departments across the country are being accused of racism, and amid charges that officers have used their positions to rake in money from the drug trade through theft and extortion.
Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said he has found no evidence of a systemic breakdown in ethics among the city's 3,100 officers. "I suspect that we do have individual cases of theft of drugs or money," he said.
The chief said no specific incident in Baltimore sparked the initiative, though there have been several instances of misconduct in the department this year.
These problems, combined with police scandals in New York and Philadelphia that brought down dozens of officers and charges that the O. J. Simpson probe was botched by a racist detective, have raised serious credibility problems.
Mr. Frazier said he wants to buy fiber optic camera equipment and run up to 250 sting operations a year, in which officers are directed to stage crime scenes where their actions are secretly recorded. Some officers will be targeted; others will be chosen randomly. "It is certainly not my intention to spy on cops," the chief said. "It's my intention to run integrity checks in places where police officers are called to go in their day-to-day activity."
Misconduct in Baltimore, the chief said, can be counted "on the fingers of one hand. But the way to keep it counted on the fingers on one hand is to have an absolute zero tolerance policy."
Department officials would not specify what internal complaints they are investigating, but several officers have gotten into trouble this year.
In April, two Northwestern District officers were charged with stealing money from a drug dealer who turned out to be an undercover police officer. Officer Frederick W. Lincoln, 29, pleaded guilty; Officer Michael S. McNamara, 23, was found not guilty, but he will face a departmental trial board. Mr. Frazier said he wants the officer fired.
In August, Sgt. Terry Jay Valentine, 33, was charged with drunken driving and firing his gun out the window of a car in Carroll County.
Nine officers were investigated earlier this year after allegations that they arrested scores of people on a loitering charge simply to collect court overtime.
And yesterday, Detective William Frederick Huebler, 41, was charged with robbing an Anne Arundel County bank. He is a suspect in several other holdups this year.
Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the police union, said he has "absolutely no problem" with internal investigators targeting officers who have been named in possible wrong-doing. But he said he has concerns about the random probes.