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Former Baltimore police commissioner De Sousa: Defund the police

Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa, making his first public appearance since his release from federal prison on tax evasion charges, told a panel audience that he supports defunding police departments.

“I’m a [proponent] of defunding,” De Sousa said. “I’ve seen the signs, people protesting; I’ve heard the voices. I think it should be defunded. However, money should be reinvested right back into the community.”

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De Sousa served more than 30 years as a Baltimore Police officer before rising to commissioner in January 2018. But federal authorities uncovered that he had been cheating on his taxes for years, and he was convicted and sentenced to 10 months in prison.

De Sousa was recently released. The panel discussion took place Friday in Washington, D.C., at an event called “Black Cop: The Conversation of the Life, Roles and Solutions From Black Cops Who Care” and organized by the group Don’t Mute DC.

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He said he believes police respond to too many calls where they don’t need to be the ones intervening.

Screenshot of a Facebook Live event “Black Cop: The Conversation of the Life, Roles and Solutions from Black Cops Who Care” held in Washington June 19. Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa spoke at the event.
Screenshot of a Facebook Live event “Black Cop: The Conversation of the Life, Roles and Solutions from Black Cops Who Care” held in Washington June 19. Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa spoke at the event.

“You’ve got to take a look at what are some social or personal issues, vs. what is criminal activity,” said De Sousa, sporting a new look with his hair in a bun. “All those things the community can deal with, that’s where some of the funding needs to be.”

“Now is the time to get everyone who has a voice at a table in front of chiefs, in front of politicians and say this is what we demand in our community. You have to take a look at the responsibilities and role of police and how they morph over the years. They’ve been called to everything under the sun.”

De Sousa also spoke briefly about his experience in a federal prison in New Jersey. He said he befriended a man who’d spent 30 years incarcerated, and together they organized a class for inmates on police interactions. He said the classes ended up lasting longer than intended.

“Some of the conversations we were having, these men that I met who I have a lot of respect for, went through the same experiences that we see and hear about each and every day, and they talk specifically about how their parents went through those same experiences, and their grandparents,” he said. “Something has to change.”

De Sousa also said that protests “shouldn’t end until reform is done, so people can see something tangible.”

De Sousa, who grew up in New York City’s Queens, said a community leader told him at an early age that he had the qualities to be a strong police officer. He said he didn’t see officers who looked like him growing up, and didn’t know whether it would be possible. After he had a bad interaction with an officer, he decided he wanted to help create change.

De Sousa developed strong ties with the community as he rose through the ranks of the Baltimore force, though he was involved in some of the same types of incidents being criticized in nationwide protests against police brutality.

During his confirmation process, questions were revived about two fatal shootings he was involved with in 1995 that killed three people. One of the victims was an innocent bystander. And as a commander, De Sousa helped oversee a department now under federal consent decree for years of systemic abuses and failure to hold officers accountable.

He did not speak directly to those issues.

De Sousa told the panel that he believes a disproportionate number of negative interactions stem from misdemeanor stops, which he said can be resolved with a “fine or community service.”

He also said that black officers need to take a leading role in flagging misconduct, though he acknowledged the experience of a black officer in Buffalo who intervened and was fired.

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“They should be the ones at the forefront, when they see something, the first ones to take that flag and throw it up in the air and say wait a minute that’s a foul,” he said.

De Sousa also said the community should have a more prominent role in selecting who is hired to be officers.

“Policing really needs to be torn down and rebuilt,” he said. “It needs to be completely overhauled.”

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