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Record keeping, staffing issues are stalling Baltimore police reform efforts, monitoring team says

The Baltimore Police Department is still inefficient at investigating its own officers, lacks proper records to monitor officers' actions in the field, and has been slow to implement community-based policing measures because of staffing issues, a team monitoring federally-mandated police reforms said Monday.

Meeting virtually, the Baltimore Consent Decree Monitoring Team discussed a number of issues after it released its first comprehensive performance review of the department late last month.

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Lead monitor Ken Thompson said that the Public Integrity Bureau, which handles internal investigations for the department, has made strides over the past two years. However, he and others said that investigations into allegations of misconduct can still take more than a year and the police commissioner’s ability to discipline accused officers is limited by state law.

“The whole area of misconduct and discipline . . . it’s so important to the overall success of the consent decree,” Thompson said.

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Deputy monitor Seth Rosenthal said that when the team first started investigating the internal affairs division, “it was clear that the files were largely in disarray” and that it was “in need of a major overhaul.”

He said that while improvements have been made, the bureau still struggles with its caseload and, as a result, “sometimes doesn’t treat officers the right way."

“You have officers basically hung out in limbo for more than a year because they have a complaint hanging over their head,” Rosenthal said.

The issue of how to address misconduct among Maryland’s law enforcement agencies has become a statewide issue as a legislative work group voted 9 to 5 last week to recommend the state legislature repeal the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.

The statute extends special protections to police accused of wrongdoing and Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison has recommended it be changed to allow for officers charged or likely to be charged with crimes to be fired earlier and easier.

The monitoring team also looked at the department’s progress on community policing efforts mandated by the federal consent decree, which is an agreement between the city and the U.S. Justice Department to address civil rights and other problems in the department.

Deputy monitor Charles Ramsey said the department has not been able to implement its Community Policing Plan, meant to emphasize community partnerships and engagement to improve the department’s relationship with the city’s residents.

Documents filed by the department in federal court earlier this month show that the department lost 64 officers to attrition in January and February, while only hiring 39. While the department has made gains in recent months, it has lost four more officers to attrition than it has newly hired this year as of September.

“You have to be able to free up officer time and, right now, they are stretched thin answering 911 calls and so forth,” he said.

Thompson said the department is making “slow” progress on the plan, but “for it to work, you have to have enough police officers so they can spend approximately 60% of their time addressing calls for service."

And the team continues to say they lack the proper records from the department itself in order to do proper oversight of individual officers.

The point came to a head when resident Caitlin Goldblatt said police had deployed several officers to address a group of Black youths at the Inner Harbor two weeks ago while they were not causing a disturbance.

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Thompson said that while the policies and procedures enacted in concert with the consent decree are to address those issues, the team still needs feedback from the community to judge whether they’re effective.

The team has consistently said the department’s internal record-keeping systems is outdated and does not allow them to do adequate monitoring of the department and Thompson said the department is “at least a year to a year and a half away” from having an adequate replacement.

“You guys need to be the ears and eyes of the monitoring team,” Thompson said of the public.

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