In the wake of Freddie Gray’s death from injuries suffered in police custody and the subsequent protests and rioting in Baltimore in 2015, state lawmakers passed a law mandating police agencies across Maryland report when officers use excessive force or injure someone and cases of officers’ criminal misconduct, among other data.
However, dozens of agencies — including the Baltimore Police Department — never did so. That’s resulted in extreme undercounting of such encounters in annual reports mandated by the law and collated by the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission.
In 2018, 42 of 148 agencies required to submit data did not, according to the commission.
“There was a misunderstanding here about which unit was responsible for submitting,” said Matt Jablow, a Baltimore Police spokesman, after The Baltimore Sun asked this week about the agency’s failure to comply with the law.
Jablow said the agency has since reported its figures to the commission.
Its doing so more than doubles the statewide totals for 2017 and 2018 in several key categories, including instances of serious injury or death of an officer or someone who came in contact with police, as well as the number of officers who faced criminal charges.
For instance, in 2018, the commission’s statewide report noted 11 cases in which contact with an officer resulted in injury or death. The Baltimore Police Department’s recently submitted figures included 15 such incidents in the city alone.
The 2018 statewide report noted 20 cases in which criminal charges were filed against officers. Now, the Baltimore Police Department’s 34 such incidents are added to that number.
Several lawmakers who backed the legislation mandating the reporting in 2016 said that the lack of compliance with the law is unacceptable — and that the legislature should amend it to add repercussions for agencies that fail to comply.
“This is indicative of the problem that you have when you pass legislation with no accountability mechanism in place,” said state Sen. Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat who was a state delegate at the time of the bill’s passage and who contributed some of the law’s language. “The legislature must revisit this and entertain sanctions for noncompliance. Otherwise, the work that we’ve done up until now, the effort we’ve put in up until now, is absolutely futile.”
Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat who also backed the bill, said he intends to have the House Judiciary Committee, of which he is a member, revisit the language of the law to see what can be done to strengthen it.
“As a member of the legislature, you assume that at least the police would comply with laws that are passed. But maybe we made a mistake by not putting some kind of compliance enforcement in the bill,” he said. “That’s something we’re going to have to take a look at.”
A full list of agencies out of compliance obtained by The Sun showed they run the gamut statewide from big agencies like the Baltimore Police to much smaller ones — like those in small towns, at public universities in the city and at mental health hospitals.
Several large agencies from the suburban counties around Washington that were not on the list only complied recently, after being questioned about their failure to comply by WTTG-TV in Washington.
Heads of several agencies that didn’t report their information said they hadn’t known about the requirement and would rectify their failure to comply immediately — including Leonard Hamm, head of the Coppin State University Police in Baltimore, and his son Akil Hamm, head of the Baltimore City Public Schools Police.
Several said they did not have significant use-of-force cases to report, and hadn’t heard from the commission that they were out of compliance.
“If we don’t have anything of any significance, and the training commission don’t ask us for it, it can slip our mind,” the elder Hamm said.
Gregg Todd, deputy secretary of operations for the Maryland Department of Health, which oversees state mental health hospitals and their police agencies, several of which were out of compliance, said the reporting requirements were “simply not picked up” in the past, but that the department has begun submitting the required information.
He also said the health department is in the process of unifying all of its police operations under one command, which he said will improve compliance with the reporting law.
Gerard Shields, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, of which the commission is a part, defended the commission’s role in overseeing the reporting program.
He said all police agency heads are notified in January that the previous year’s data is to be submitted, and that in 2018, the commission “sent out two follow-up communications to them.” Also, verbal reminders were given at gatherings of law enforcement agencies in the state, Shields said.
He said the commission has found that “some agencies do not believe they have to file if they did not have an incident” to report, but that is not correct. They must report even a lack of incidents, he said.
Anderson said not properly understanding the law is no excuse for noncompliance.
“Police agencies by their nature are the ones who you would think would follow the law, and it’s disturbing that so many agencies have either ignored it or are ignorant of it,” he said. “Of course, ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
Del. Erek Barron, a Prince George’s County Democrat who has pushed for increased police transparency in the state, said the noncompliance of the police agencies does not come as a surprise given the yearslong, concerted effort from many of them to prevent additional reporting requirements around instances of excessive force and misconduct at the state level.