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Baltimore consent decree monitor calls for internal investigation into Gun Trace Task Force scandal

The independent monitoring team overseeing Baltimore’s consent decree is calling for an internal affairs investigation into the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, including looking at officers implicated in wrongdoing in the case who have not been charged with a crime.

The Baltimore Police Department “will not be able to move past the GTTF scandal, or to prevent a similar scandal, without attempting to understand how it happened,” the monitoring team wrote in its second semiannual report, which was released Friday. “That will not be easy. It will require [internal affairs] to conduct thorough investigations of other, non-charged officers who were implicated in wrongdoing during the GTTF trial.”

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The 96-page report details the police department’s efforts at reforms thus far in the years-long process. It also echoes concerns made by the monitoring team to the the House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee in Annapolis Thursday.

“The culture of corruption has to be addressed,” lead monitor Kenneth Thompson said at the hearing. “The community has every right to say, ‘This is a really screwed-up police department.’”

Thompson said that due to the department’s deep dysfunction, it will take longer to achieve compliance. Each year of the decree, the city is paying $1,475,000 in fees and expenses to the monitoring team, which includes law enforcement and civil rights experts. Over the next four years, the city also is expected to spend up to $65 million to make required technology improvements.

Interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle said Friday “I totally disagree” with Thompson’s characterization of the department.

Tuggle said the department continues to investigate officers related to the Gun Trace Task Force case and remain dedicated to rooting out corruption.

”Baltimore Police officers continue to work on corruption issues today,” he said.

In October, internal affairs commander Lt. Col. LaTonya Lewis told City Council members that seven officers are under internal investigations connected to the department’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force.

“We have an ongoing effort to identify those individuals and deal with them in an appropriate manner,” said Tuggle, who declined to provide further details about those investigations.

The monitoring team’s report was released just days before the next quarterly public hearing in front of U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar, which is Thursday at the federal courthouse in downtown Baltimore.

The report also calls for “a full-blown investigation of the root causes of the scandal by an independent entity, with BPD’s full support and cooperation.” The monitor notes that independent entities have conducted evaluations of similar incidents at other departments.

Any internal affairs or independent investigation would be in addition to the work of a state commission that is currently investigating the gun task force scandal.

The monitors said they “continue to evaluate how BPD chooses to respond to the GTTF scandal.”

Tuggle said he has discussed with Judge Bredar about completing a “postmortem” academic study into the causes, looking at policies, training and supervision.

In 2017, eight members of the department’s elite Gun Trace Task Force were indicted on federal racketeering charges. The members were accused of regularly violating citizens’ rights, conducting illegal searches, tracking people without warrants, stealing drugs and money, and taking unearned overtime pay. All of them either pleaded guilty or were convicted by a jury at trial and face or have begun serving jail sentences between seven and 25 years.

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About a month after the GTTF indictments were unsealed, the consent decree was reached between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice after a federal investigation found widespread discriminatory and unconstitutional practices by the police.

Much of the work in the first year of the consent decree was spent reviewing and rewriting policies on subjects including the use of force, body-worn cameras, and stops, searches and arrests. The focus of the second year will be on training officers in the revised policies, and the monitoring team will begin evaluating officers on the new policies.

The semiannual report details upcoming efforts, challenges and areas where the department has excelled. The monitors credit the city and the BPD for their commitment to “broad institutional reforms.” But the monitors also discuss the need to “overhaul” internal affairs.

The monitoring team noted that implementing reforms in the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which is responsible for police misconduct investigations, has been particularly slow because of persistent command turnover, technology constraints and staffing shortages.

Internal affairs, the monitors wrote, “continues to be understaffed, caseloads remain staggering, investigations take too long to complete, and minor cases occupy too much investigator time.”

A sample of 60 random cases found “investigations were incomplete, the accompanying files were in disarray, the outcomes relied on faulty or insufficiently explained reasoning, and files from different cases were organized in different, non-uniform ways.”

Reforming the Office of Professional Responsibility is central to the mission of the consent decree. The department’s reputation in the community has been eroded by high-profile incidents including the 2015 arrest of six officers involved in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, and the GTTF case.

“The need for BPD to repair its Office of Professional Responsibility and establish a rigorous, effective accountability system is at the heart of the Consent Decree reform effort,” the report said.

Tuggle agreed that the need to improve the Office of Professional Responsibility is paramount.

“We want to make OPR one of the shining stars of the agencies,” he said.

The semiannual report noted that progress also has been slowed by a turnover in department leadership. The department has had three different commissioners in the past year, and Mayor Catherine Pugh’s choice — New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison — has yet to be confirmed by the City Council.

“The rapid turnover in Commissioners — and the absence of a permanent Commissioner for many months — has presented an especially demanding test,” the report said. “Each Commissioner has had unique views on the structure, staffing and unit composition of OPR, and all have acted on those views, making it difficult to monitor, provide technical assistance on, and work with the parties to revise OPR policies and practices.”

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The report, however, does note some progress, including a finalized policy on complaint intake, complaint classification, and communication with complainants, as well as a complaint classification protocol.

Tuggle noted other changes underway already, including requiring all OPR officers to undergo polygraph tests.

He agreed the unit’s caseload remains far too heavy. He said they’ve shifted some smaller, minor investigations to other units to allow OPR investigators to focus on more serious matters.

“We still have quite a bit of work to do,” he said. “At the end of the day, the consent decree is the gold standard by which this organization needs to be run. We are going to continue to work toward that. It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to come in steps.”

The monitoring team will hold its next quarterly community meeting to discuss the report at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Edgewood Lyndhurst Recreation Center, 835 Allendale St., in Baltimore.

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