An anonymous survey of Baltimore Police officers meant to shed light on their views of misconduct and the handling of disciplinary cases instead raised questions of its own, after fewer than 10 percent of officers chose to participate.
The survey was sent in August to 2,800 sworn officers as part of the work of the state Commission to Restore Trust in Policing, which was created to investigate the Gun Trace Task Force scandal.
Peter Keith, an attorney working for the commission, said Baltimore Police leadership did not want to send the survey out, predicting it would get low engagement coming from them, and the officers' union refused to participate. Keith’s firm ended up sending the survey themselves.
“It seems we have an organization where not everybody is pulling an oar in the same direction,” Keith said. “They seem to be battling each other.”
Members of the commission said the lack of engagement concerned them.
“It leads us back to why we’re here anyway,” said commissioner Ashiah Parker, of the No Boundaries Coalition. “We’re still at the same place with the fact that the culture of the BPD is still not good.”
“They don’t trust [the department] just like the community doesn’t,” added Inez Robb, another commissioner and West Baltimore resident.
Among the responses, very few officers acknowledged seeing criminal misconduct, and they overwhelmingly said they would report such activity and expected others to as well. But they had lower marks for how they believe the agency handles such cases.
“Most officers [said they] have not seen misconduct committed but if they did, they would report it, and if they did, they don’t want to be retaliated against,” said Meghan Casey, another attorney working with the commission.
About 9% of the officers who participated said they had observed officers stealing money, taking or selling drugs, committing overtime fraud, planting evidence or engaging in other criminal misconduct. Sixteen of the 21 who said they had witnessed such misconduct said they reported it to be investigated, and 10 of them said they did not believe the incident was handled properly.
By an overwhelming majority — 90% — of the responding officers said they would report misconduct and expected their fellow officers to do the same.
Thirty-five percent said they believed that it would be “easy for an officer who engages in criminal misconduct to go undetected.”
“To us that suggests the need for accountability tactics within the department,” Casey said. “It’s not enough to rely on officers to observe and report unethical or criminal behavior, there also have to be other tactics in place ... to detect and root out misconduct.”
The commission has been discussing recommendations to include polygraph tests, sting operations and financial audits for officers.
Half of the responding officers said they had been the subject of any type of misconduct investigation, and about half of those officers said they believed it been handled thoroughly and fairly. Of those who had not been investigated, 60 percent said they did not expect that such an investigation would be fair.
Fifty-five percent of responding officers said they believed that discipline was too harsh within the department, with 13 percent saying the department was too lenient and 22 percent saying it was fair.
Officers were able to provide additional thoughts, and Casey said some said they believed that police leadership did not scrutinize the conduct of the Gun Trace Task Force officers because they were productive. Casey said some spoke of a need for supervisors to be trained in leadership skills and be held accountable for problems with their officers.
Former Commissioner Anthony Batts, who led the department from 2012 to 2015, was scheduled to testify before the commission Monday, but had to cancel due to a personal matter, the commission said.
The commission is slated to deliver a report at the end of the year with findings about the Gun Trace Task Force scandal and recommendations for reform.