A federal judge said that four years into a consent decree, the Baltimore Police Department has “all the elements” in place for success and needs “maximum productivity” to speed reform, clean up the department and better serve the people of Baltimore.
U.S. District Judge James Bredar said it’s time the department start showing results after making inroads training officers and implementing policies to correct years of corruption and damaged community relations. He pointed to successes — the department’s first improvement in hiring officers in years — and problems, such as stalled efforts to upgrade technology and better monitor and punish wayward officers.
And Bredar made clear that the department has to do better in the way it interacts with the public and the way it tracks officers who step out of line.
“The community should now expect to begin to see some changes ... real changes in how Baltimore police officers carry themselves and in how they perform their duties,” Bredar said. “We are at an important inflection point. The reforms required by the consent decree are hitting the street.”
Perhaps the most visible sign of improvement comes in the department’s efforts to bolster its ranks. Last year, it hired 223 officers and lost 220, a very modest gain of three. But its average of 19 hires a month is the most since 2014, and a look at the monthly numbers show much more reason for optimism, according to an exhibit filed for Thursday’s hearing.
Baltimore has lost officers in only one of the past eight months, and has increased its roster of sworn officers by 26 in the past four months, the records show.
Bredar also emphasized the importance of training, to make sure new officers understand the elements of community policing, current officers adjust to the changing needs and department leaders monitor their work and hold people accountable. He said “that hasn’t always been true,” especially in the difficult years before and soon after the consent decree was reached.
“Well-meaning officers need to be trained that the ‘warrior model’ of policing does not fly in Baltimore; that the city is not made safer by a perception in the community that officers are fearsome and predisposed to use force to solve problems,” Bredar said in prepared remarks.
Over the years, Baltimore has been hampered by its inability or unwillingness to monitor and punish violent and even criminal officers, according to participants in the hearing and several state and federal investigations into corruption in the department. Participants in the hearing said that better technology to keep track of officers and community complaints against them is essential.
Bredar pointed to misconduct by the police Gun Trace Task Force, which led to a federal investigation that sent more than a dozen officers to prison, some for decades. Those officers might have been stopped if the city had technology and analysts that could have uncovered patters of bad behavior, he said.
“I’m not sure they had the tools in place that a modern police department has that would detect something like GTTF,” Bredar said. “They didn’t have an early warning system.”
Matthew Barge, a member of the monitoring team, agreed.
“When the consent decree began, BPD did not have adequate information about what its (officers) do every day,” Barge said. “There was simply a black hole in what officers were doing each day and it (hurt the department) in some very fundamental ways.”
Barge said new technology will help the department better monitor its officers, while also creating a better experience for the public.
“Any time someone is stopped, any time force is used against people, every time BPD encounters someone who may be in a behavioral health situation, it allows us to track … to have an exhaustive account of what BPD is doing in the field and how they interact with the community,” Barge said. “It’s a way to capture everybody (in Baltimore’s) lived experience when interacting with the BPD, and that requires a massive technology upgrade.”