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Crime

Baltimore Police Commissioner promises fixes as public defenders say report on GTTF scandal shows more convictions need to be overturned

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said Friday that a blistering report into decades of disfunction and criminal activity within the department only increases the urgency to complete a series of reforms already underway.

Harrison initiated the more than 660-page report into problems that allowed officers in the Gun Trace Task Force to run roughshod across the city, trampling on civil rights while robbing and beating residents and dealing drugs, until an FBI investigation led to the indictments of more than a dozen officers. The report and reforms are part of the ongoing court-ordered federal consent decree aimed to correct problems with policing in the city that began long before Harrison took over in 2019.

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“The illegal and immoral actions of the GTTF scandal are a stain on the department’s legacy, and moving forward would not be possible without a thorough investigation and deep dive analysis into what allowed these activities to occur within BPD,” Harrison wrote in a response to thereport.

“This report represents an important inflection point for our agency. Your recommendations provide a clear roadmap; and by implementing them, along with our Consent Decree, BPD can write the next chapter in our history, one that the residents of Baltimore can be proud to call their own.”

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The report for the first time released comprehensive information about the disciplinary history of the officers convicted in relation to the GTTF scandal. The complaints against them, and what the department did with those complaints, have been buried in police files until now.

In wake of the report, released Thursday, the Baltimore public defender’s office called for a new review of convictions involving corrupt police officers in light of the new report.

Debbie Katz Levi, director of special litigation for the Office of the Public Defender’s Baltimore office, said the independent investigation released Thursday “makes painfully clear why we urgently need full public disclosure of all police records and independent investigation of all police misconduct.”

“We will not be satisfied until more convictions are overturned, and there is full and complete transparency and accountability for police misconduct records across the entire state of Maryland,” Levi said.

The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office has not charged anyone related to the scandal on state-level charges but undertook a review of existing cases involving officers implicated in the scandal, which ultimately reversed about 800 convictions. Prosecutors said they examined whether cases could hold up still, through physical evidence or corroboration from other officers, and dismissed those that relied on the word of tainted officers.

The office also successfully pushed for the passage of a law giving prosecutors discretion to reverse cases without having to convince a judge.

But the state’s attorney’s office continued to be chided by critics for not being more transparent; Baltimore Action Legal Team this week put up a billboard at Interstate 83 and Gay Street directed at State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby: “Give the public the full list of police with integrity issues,” it reads, referring to the State’s Attorney’s Office releasing a “do not call list” of officers that was mostly former officers.

Mosby was indicted on federal charges Thursday afternoon related to the withdrawal of money from a retirement account and the purchase of property in Florida. Her office did not respond to a request for comment on the call by the public defender’s office.

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The report also included several recommendations for police, including improved screening and background checks for new recruits and improved training, as well as stronger oversight of internal affairs and the handing of complaints against officers. The report also calls for increased oversight of specialized units.

“BPD units that focus on seizing drugs and guns and make arrests at levels substantially higher than other units performing similar functions should be the subject of aggressive scrutiny by BPD top management and by BPD’s Audits and Inspections function,” the GTTF report said.

Harrison’s response said the department “has already began a systematic review of BPD arrests, including arrests made by those units focused on Drug and Gun enforcement, such as District Action Teams (DAT) or our Mobile Metro Unit (MMU).”

The department’s response noted that in 2020, for example, “out of 226 Level 2 Uses of Force, 71 (31%) listed a specialized unit (non-patrol) as the primary involved unit.”

Harrison said that in addition to more audits of those units, the department also “implemented improved in-person interview and evaluation processes for its detective and operational units,” which includes “a full review of a candidate’s disciplinary record.”

Baltimore Police said they will present their plans at the next public hearing of the federal consent decree, which is scheduled for next Thursday.

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Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said in the release that he “will continue to work tirelessly to improve public trust in City Hall and the Baltimore Police Department. I will continue to partner with Commissioner Harrison to embrace these core values and prove government can operate in your best interests.”


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