How will civilian oversight work in new Baltimore police contract?

A pair of civilian volunteers would help decide the outcomes of Baltimore Police misconduct cases under the new contract agreement between the department the city and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, the union that represents the rank-and-file officers.

Civilian oversight of trial boards has been long sought by community activists and officials who want more transparency in the outcome of internal investigations into police misconduct and argue those on the boards protect their own. But police have opposed the move for years, with some arguing that civilians are not qualified to understand the complex decisions police are required to make.

It’s a complex topic; here’s a breakdown of what we know and what we don’t.

What is a trial board, and who is on them?

Trial boards review the cases that are investigated by the police department’s internal affairs unit. Such investigations are separate from any criminal investigation. The board can make recommendations on discipline, including whether an officer should be fired, but ultimately the police commissioner has final say.

Cases are currently reviewed by an equally ranked member of the police department and two commanders. If approved by union membership, the new contract would add two civilian volunteers to the board.

The new board would consist of the two civilians, someone of the same rank, as well as a lieutenant, and a commander ranked captain or above.

Didn’t the General Assembly already pass legislation on this?

Yes. The General Assembly passed measures — lobbied for by activists and officials in Baltimore — in 2016 allowing any jurisdiction to put civilians on its police trial boards.

But the city FOP had rejected the idea until now. And though the union approved the contract, FOP President Sgt. Michael Mancuso called it “less than ideal.”

“The alternative to acceptance was dismal, at best,” he said in a statement

How would the civilian oversight work?

City Solicitor Andre Davis said the process of recruiting civilians to serve on the boards could begin right away. They will be required to get a week of training at a state police school and go on four ride-alongs with city officers. He said the civilian board members will be given a stipend to attend the training and $100 a day when they’re chosen to hear a case.

The appointed civilians would be allowed to vote on trial board outcomes.

What else is in the contract?

The three-year tentative agreement also includes 3 percent annual raises for officers and a return to a shift schedule of five-day work weeks, composed of 8.5-hour shifts.

(The police union overwhelmingly rejected a contract in 2017 that would have put patrol officers on a similar shift schedule, preferred by commanders, in exchange for future salary increases. That contract did not include civilian oversight of trial boards.)

This year’s contract also would include a $1,000 ratification bonus and a $1,000 “patrol Incentive” bonus for two years for any officer who works patrol the entire fiscal year.

How will this affect the Police Department’s bottom line?

Short answer: it’s unclear.

The current shift structure adopted in January 2015, after the city and union’s last round of contract negotiations, cut 200 positions and gave 13 percent salary increases to officers, with the expectation that it would help the department rein in overtime costs. But the city spent $47.2 million on overtime in the fiscal year that ended June 30, even though only $16 million was budgeted.

The raises and bonuses could cost as much as $8 million in the first year, according to Sun reporter Ian Duncan. But overtime costs fluctuate based on how much officers work, and those costs would be affected by the proposed raises.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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