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Police refuse to release training policies after shooting

The Baltimore Police Department said it will not release policies and procedures related to training exercises, even after being told by a federal judge last week that its policies are not protected from public disclosure.

In response to a request from The Baltimore Sun, the department agreed that its standard operating procedures were public information. But its chief legal counsel concluded that they would not release the policies because of an internal investigation into whether any were violated during this week's shooting of a trainee at a state facility in Owings Mills.

Police say investigations give them broad discretion to limit disclosure of information.

Debbie Jeon, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, called the Police Department's claim "ludicrous."

"Police concede, as they must, that these rules are public records," Jeon, who was not involved in The Sun's request, said in an email, "and it is ridiculous to claim enforcement of the rules somehow makes them confidential."

The Sun requested the procedures to get a better idea of what guidelines, if any, training instructors are given regarding their conduct at training, particularly when it takes place outside of the agency's academy.

Before this week, the Police Department had refused for years to release its general orders to The Sun. A recent court opinion in U.S. District Court says the general orders are not protected documents.

In the case of a former officer suing for employment discrimination, the agency said that general orders regarding light duty, suspensions, secondary employment and overtime were "potentially protected from public disclosure." The department said it would "normally resist disclosing documents governing its internal procedures" outside of litigation, according to court filings.

But on Feb. 7, U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander rejected that idea. She said state law "protects documents that are drafted by or on behalf of an agency in the process of formulating policy. It does not protect documents that constitute the official statement of the policy after it has been promulgated."

The request that a general order be sealed was "plainly unwarranted," Hollander found, noting that the very same order had been submitted as an exhibit in an earlier case and remains accessible to the public in the file.

Justin Fenton

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