Baltimore City Council schedules oversight hearing on police academy training

The City Council has scheduled an oversight hearing to discuss the Baltimore police academy's “training and graduation standards” in light of recent concerns voiced by an academy legal instructor.

Sgt. Joshua Rosenblatt, head of legal instruction at the academy, told The Baltimore Sun last week that police recruits were being pushed through the academy despite lacking a basic understanding of the laws governing constitutional policing, such as the need for probable cause to conduct an arrest.

On Monday, both the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a leading civil rights law organization, called for training improvements and answers to Rosenblatt’s claims.

Councilman Brandon Scott, chair of the public safety committee, said he and Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young decided to hold the hearing to “get as many of the facts and as much information as possible” to the public.

“It’s just our duty to hold these hearings so there is some public discourse and some council questioning of what’s going on with the police department,” Scott said.

He said “other concerns” about the academy also will be addressed.

“We want to make sure that all trainees are being treated fairly and in the same manner,” he said, declining to specify what the other concerns were.

The hearing is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 1 p.m.

Rosenblatt told The Sun Friday that 17 of 50 recruits in the latest academy class had repeatedly failed tests on legal standards and lacked a basic understanding of certain principles.

He said the recruits eventually passed, but only after the academy removed him and other legal instructors from the testing process and reintroduced an old, less-rigorous multiple choice test.

He raised his concerns the day before the recruits were set to receive guns and badges at a special ceremony attended by Mayor Catherine E. Pugh. The ceremony went on as planned, and the recruits will now receive eight weeks of field training before formally becoming Baltimore police officers

Pugh has stressed the need to get more recruits through training and onto the streets of Baltimore, saying the department is hundreds of officers short.

Scott said the hearing next week “isn’t the first time I’ve had hearings on training, and it won’t be the last.”

The Baltimore Police Department is subject to a federal consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice that mandates it improve training for officers.

In a letter Monday to Baltimore and Justice Department officials, the legal defense fund’s president, Sherrilyn Ifill, called for improvements, but also suggested the city should hold off on putting any new police officers to work until it satisfies the consent decree’s requirements.

“It seems unreasonable and in contravention of the letter and spirit of the consent decree to place new police recruits on city streets prior to the implementation of new policies and training curricula required by a court-enforceable agreement,” Ifill wrote. “Doing so may expose residents of Baltimore to the same unlawful stops and public strip searches documented in the DOJ’s investigative report and thwart the purpose and intent of the consent decree. We also do not serve new cadets well by failing to ensure that they are properly trained and fully prepared to engage in constitutional policing.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.

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