The independent team monitoring Baltimore’s compliance with a federal consent decree requiring broad police reforms has been “closely following” the Gun Trace Task Force trial and other recent events riling the police department, according to Kenneth Thompson, the team’s leader.
Thompson said representatives from Baltimore and the U.S. Department of Justice also “engaged in a fulsome and robust discussion of current issues” at a private conference to discuss progress on the consent decree in U.S. District Court in downtown Baltimore on Friday.
While his team “does not direct the Police Department nor does it set policy,” it is “in place to provide technical assistance and advice, and to observe and report whether the Department is making appropriate progress on the road to compliance,” Thompson said.
“Any non-compliance with the Court order, or inadequate progress toward compliance, will be reported to the Court and the parties,” he said. “Enforcement action may then ensue.”
Thompson, an attorney at the Venable law firm whose team is being paid $1.475 million annually by the city, did not elaborate on what that action might be.
U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar oversees the consent decree, which is an official order of the court.
Thompson’s comments come amid the trial of two members of the Gun Trace Task Force, in which other members who have already pleaded guilty have testified to massive corruption and alleged additional wrongdoing by an ever-expanding network of uncharged police officers still in the department.
Eight officers were charged by federal prosecutors in the case with robbing residents, filing false court paperwork and making fraudulent overtime claims. The six not currently on trial have pleaded guilty, and have testified to stealing large amounts of money from residents, and stealing guns and drugs and reselling them on the streets.
Thompson’s comments also follow new concerns raised about training standards at the police academy by its lead legal instructor, and a shake-up at the top of the police department that raised questions about its ability to stay on course in its compliance efforts.
Mayor Catherine Pugh fired former Commissioner Kevin Davis, a champion of the consent decree process, last month. That prompted the resignations of two other officials who were leading the department’s compliance efforts: Deputy Commissioner Jason Johnson, head of the Strategic Services Bureau, and Chief Ganesha Martin, head of the Department of Justice Compliance, Accountability and External Affairs Division.
Last week, Sgt. Josh Rosenblatt, head of legal instruction at the police academy, told The Baltimore Sun that recruits were being pushed out onto the streets without understanding basic legal standards for making arrests, a claim police officials denied.
Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, wrote a letter to Thompson and city and Justice Department officials calling on them to address the concerns immediately. The City Council has scheduled an oversight hearing to address the concerns.
Thompson said his team is aware of the concerns about the training academy, just as it is aware of concerns surrounding the testimony in the GTTF trial — which included claims that the corruption reached far beyond the gun unit and its eight indicted members.
“Both police training and police integrity — including discipline and misconduct proceedings — are areas targeted for reform by the Consent Decree,” Thompson said. “Accordingly, these topics are of particular interest to the Monitoring Team, and we will be providing the Court with regular, detailed reports regarding BPD’s progress, or lack thereof, towards compliance in these areas.”
Thompson stressed that, while his team’s responsibility is “to watch the Police Department closely as they embark on the reform effort, to supply technical assistance to the initiative, and to faithfully apprise the Court as to whether the requirements of the Court order are being met,” the police department “remains under the day-to-day supervision” of the commissioner and his command staff — who ultimately answer to the mayor.
Acting Police Commissioner De Sousa, tapped by Pugh to replace Davis, has said consent decree compliance and constitutional policing remain top priorities for the department under his leadership.
The department is reviewing supervision as part of the consent decree. The city is conducting an audit of police overtime. Plainclothes drug and gun units like the GTTF were disbanded by Davis, though De Sousa has said he is considering reconstructing such teams under improved oversight.
Thompson said his monitoring team is “actively engaged” with the city, the police department and the Justice Department on “numerous reform-related matters to include issues pertaining to the Academy and the apparent activities of the GTTF,” and is providing regular updates to the court.
According to a scheduling order in the consent decree case, the groups next in-person private meeting will take place March 2 and will focus on misconduct investigations and discipline.
Thompson said his team will also provide updates at quarterly public hearings, the first of which is scheduled April 13.
The monitor team is comprised of various policing experts, lawyers, academics and other subject matter experts. The Baltimore Community Mediation Center serves as the community liaison.
The consent decree, signed in the waning days of the Obama administration, stemmed from a Justice Department investigation that found widespread discriminatory and unconstitutional policing in Baltimore, particularly in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods.
The investigation was launched after the 2015 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody, and the the rioting and looting that broke out on the day of Gray’s funeral.