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Baltimore Police struggle to investigate their own, new consent decree report says

Baltimore Police struggle to investigate their own, new consent decree report says
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison has much work ahead as he tries to bring the department into compliance with a federal consent decree, monitors wrote this week. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore Police Department is close to completing internal investigations of officers implicated in the sweeping Gun Trace Task Force scandal, but the department still struggles to fully investigate its own, the latest consent decree report said. The problem is particularly acute when complaints originate with members of the public, federal monitors found.

Two years after the department entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, the monitoring team helping to implement reforms said that misconduct investigations have shown “encouraging developments” but continue to be deficient. The monitors cited “inexcusable negligence” over a recent instance in which a dozen misconduct cases against officers were tossed out because the department’s internal affairs team allowed them to to expire.

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The unit, which lacks a permanent leader, needs more investigators to conduct thorough and timely reviews of cases, the report said.

The report again cites concerns that the department has not finished internal investigations related to the Gun Trace Task Force scandal in which eight officers were convicted of robbing residents and selling drugs.

It noted that the “BPD also has not yet authorized the promised independent investigation of the root causes of the scandal,” the report said.

“The need for BPD to repair its Public Integrity Bureau (“PIB”) ... is at the heart of the Consent Decree reform effort,” the report said.

In conversations with members of the monitoring team, "community members continue to focus on BPD’s ability to effectively police itself, underscoring that a properly functioning PIB is essential to re-establishing the community’s trust.”

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison on Tuesday briefly discussed the consent decree progress at a news conference.

“A lot has been done, and we’re building the foundation to really move the department forward,” Harrison said. “It sometimes doesn’t seem like a lot," but for a department of its size, it has been making strides in reforms.

The first year of the consent decree, before Harrison arrived in January, was largely about rewriting policies; this year, the focus has been on training officers, he said.

The department is formulating policies to lessen the caseloads of internal affairs investigators, according to court filings submitted as part of the consent agreement. The quarterly public hearing before U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar is scheduled Thursday at the federal courthouse downtown.

The consent decree was reached between the city and the Justice Department in April 2017. It requires the department to rewrite polices, retrain officers and retain the monitoring team — which includes lawyers and civil rights and policing experts — until it has reached compliance. So far, the city has spent $2.3 million in fees and more than $100,000 in expenses for the monitoring team.

The consent decree was reached after a Justice Department investigation found city police regularly violated residents’ civil rights.

The monitors focused on the lack of stable leadership; there have been four commissioners in the past year.

The report highlighted some improvements. The department has revised protocols on how it receives misconduct complaints and how they are shared with the Civilian Review Board. The independent panel of volunteers reviews misconduct cases and makes recommendations with regard to officer discipline.

The department has also started addressing concerns surrounding officer disciplinary files that might have been wrongly expunged after the department incorrectly categorized those cases.

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“The need for BPD to repair its Public Integrity Bureau (“PIB”) ... is at the heart of the Consent Decree reform effort,” the report said.


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But the report emphasized the department’s inability to investigate allegations of police misconduct — key to the public’s distrust of the department. One reason is the absence of a permanent leader in the Public Integrity Unit, the report said. Harrison had named Michelle Wilson as the deputy commissioner to oversee the unit in May but reversed course two days later. Wilson had previously signed a sworn affidavit questioning the truthfulness of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby in connection to a lawsuit.

A new replacement has not been yet been named.

Monitors found “too much time between the date of the complaint and the required communications with the complainant; excessive time to complete civilian-initiated investigations; files that were not uniformly organized and did not contain a task checklist; interviews and attempted interviews of subjects that were often delayed too long; and supervisory review and approval that too often came too late — well beyond the date the investigation was completed and investigative report was finalized.”

But of the complaints that were generated internally and not from civilians, the monitors found complaints “generally appeared to be resolved in a timely manner” and were more thorough.

The report also discussed staffing. An upcoming staffing plan will evaluate the need for specialized units to determine if any are" duplicative or nonessential," and then reassign those officers to areas of need.

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