xml:space="preserve">
A federal judge provided an optimistic welcome and a word of warning to Michael R. Bromwich, center, who was tabbed this week to investigate decay in the Baltimore Police department that led to the Gun Trace Task Force scandal
A federal judge provided an optimistic welcome and a word of warning to Michael R. Bromwich, center, who was tabbed this week to investigate decay in the Baltimore Police department that led to the Gun Trace Task Force scandal (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

A federal judge expressed optimism Thursday in the man selected by Baltimore Police to investigate how a band of rogue officers ran a criminal enterprise for years without getting caught, but warned that he faces a “daunting challenge."

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar told attorney Michael R. Bromwich that he will play a critical role in the department’s reform efforts while underscoring the difficulty of unearthing “the true history of what’s gone on here.”

Advertisement

“I’m convinced it’s a very complex picture," said Bredar, who is overseeing reform of the department mandated by a federal consent decree.

At the hearing, a quarterly progress report, Bredar said he does not believe the entire department is corrupt, but he said there are “corrupt elements” that must be identified by Bromwich’s investigation.

Bromwich responded that his team plans to begin immediately and “will do our very best."

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and City Solicitor Andre Davis announced Bromwich’s selection on Wednesday after months of clamoring by Bredar for the department to conduct “an autopsy” of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. A team of officers led by Wayne Jenkins stole from residents, dealt drugs and fraudulently collected overtime, all unnoticed until the first federal indictments were announced in early 2017. Eight officers have been convicted and sent to federal prison for sentences that range up to 25 years.

The indictments came just weeks before the city and U.S. Justice Department entered into the consent decree, which requires a complete overhaul of the department policies, including how it conducts internal misconduct investigations.

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar is overseeing the consent decree struck between the Justice Department and the City of Baltimore.
U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar is overseeing the consent decree struck between the Justice Department and the City of Baltimore. (HANDOUT)

Since the consent decree was reached two and a half years ago, the department has had many commissioners. But Bredar said Thursday he’s confident that the city now has good leadership in place.

"Fundamental change is underway, the course has been set, progress will come,” he said.

Since Harrison took the helm in February, he has restructured command and hired three new deputy commissioners from outside the department, as well as civilian professionals.

The department has also begun revising many polices - and training officers on those policies. It is in the process of moving its training academy to a more modern facility at the University of Baltimore campus. Though some city leaders had expressed interest in moving the academy onto the campus of Coppin State University, Davis said “the Baltimore police department needed to move without delay," which was not feasible at the Coppin location.

“I said this has to be a tip top priority” Davis said, adding that the academy is the "front door” to the department in serious need of adding more officers and improving its recruiting.

Attrition is outpacing hiring, and hundreds of patrol positions remain unfilled. A recent marketing campaign has boosted the number of applications, but it has yet to result in new hires, the department says.

Bredar on Thursday asked that the department and others involved in the reform efforts seek input from leaders of the police union. The union has been extremely critical of Harrison’s reform efforts, and recently issued its own crime plan in response to Harrison’s major initiative released over the summer. The union’s report complained that many of Harrison’s goals were not feasible at current staffing levels, such as reducing response time.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 President Sgt. Mike Mancuso said Thursday that he’s met twice with Bredar and said the department must offer better pay, benefits and working conditions to compete with surrounding agencies. It is important at a time with department’s across the country facing shortages of officers, he said.

“BPD salaries drop off after 10 years compared with the surrounding top police departments in the state," Mancuso said. “In some instances $20,000-to $30,000 less in the same rank.”

Advertisement

He added, “Recruitment and retention are fairly easy it’s just having the will to make the hard decisions.”

Nola Joyce, a member of the monitoring team also said “certainly pay and benefits” will help attract and retain officers, but also a belief that bosses really care. That includes creating better work conditions and emphasis on officer wellness and safety.

Bredar said department leaders have a difficult challenge of balancing support for the community and support for its officers, whose jobs are increasingly more challenging. Bredar said he has no sympathy for the GTTF officers, but "sympathy for officers who hit the street every night in this city.”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement