The Department of Justice will release a report on its investigation of Baltimore Police on Wednesday. (Baltimore Sun video)
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby made nice at a joint news conference this week, praising two officers who testified for the state in the recent criminal prosecution of a fellow officer, Wesley Cagle. Intriguing optics, interesting rhetoric. Here are my four takeaways from the event Monday:
It put Davis a step ahead of the DOJ report. Anticipating the Department of Justice's release of its civil rights investigation, Davis clearly staked out a position as the man who is trying to fix the department's broken relationship with large sectors of the community it serves. He has been on the job only a year. Most of the DOJ criticism of the department is likely to be attributed to previous police commissioners and mayors. The Cagle case gives Davis an example of how things have changed within the department during his brief tenure — and how things might look in the future.
Whether Monday's joint announcement was his idea or Mosby's, it doesn't matter. It gave Davis full exposure as a commissioner who will not tolerate criminal conduct by any officer, even if it means alienating some of the old-school rank-and-file and those who support them unconditionally. This could be the way Davis makes his mark here.
Of course, Davis might also like to be known as the police commissioner whose strategies reduced the rate of violence across the city, but achieving both — lasting reform and lasting crime reduction — will require more time. Getting ahead of police reform is no easy task, but it's much easier than getting ahead of all the shooting.
It represented a Mosby pivot. She might not like that characterization, but just two weeks ago, when Mosby dropped all remaining charges in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, she stood on a street in West Baltimore and angrily accused certain police officers of sabotaging the state's case. She went further than that, asserting that police officers have an "inherent bias" when they investigate fellow officers. Inherent means built-in, ingrained.
Though Mosby made sure to note that most officers serving the citizens of Baltimore are honest, the takeaway from her screed was this: You can't count on cops to investigate cops. "As you can see," she said, "whether investigating, interrogating, testifying, corroborating or even complying with the state, we've all bore witness to an inherent bias that is a direct result of when police police themselves."
Turns out, as Mosby spoke, Cagle was going to trial for shooting a burglary suspect who had already been wounded by two fellow officers. Those two officers testified against Cagle for his use of unnecessary force. That this happened shortly after Mosby's angry declaration was remarkable. Not only did the Cagle jury hear the testimony of two officers, Isiah Smith and Keven Leary, it saw clear evidence — literally, from an interrogation video — of an earnest investigation by the Police Department's Internal Affairs Division.
The Cagle conviction undercut Mosby's angry assertions. So, Monday's news conference with Davis was an official turnabout — or walk-back, or pivot (to use the Trumpian term) — from her July 27 criticism. It gave Mosby an opportunity to make clear that she sees Davis as reformer.
Davis and Mosby appear to have neutralized the police union for the time being. On many occasions, the Fraternal Order of Police blasted Mosby for bringing the Freddie Gray cases, and a lot of people agreed with that position. But while the FOP might believe it won a big victory over Mosby with the dropping of the remaining charges related to Gray's death, what does the union say about the Cagle case? Not much.
And suddenly it becomes harder for the FOP to criticize Mosby, with Davis standing at her side to praise officers for helping prosecute a cop. The Justice Department report will also force the union to help Davis with reforms.
Mosby knows most voters will ultimately judge her by the crime rate. Davis answers to the mayor, but Mosby answers to the voters. Mosby won her office in an upset over Gregg Bernstein in 2014. She took office in January 2015. She faces re-election in 2018.
When Mosby ran for office, she criticized Bernstein for not "sealing the deal" to get more convictions and thereby make the city safer. When she announced her run against the incumbent state's attorney in 2013, she said: "The police are doing their jobs. The judges are doing their jobs. The only person that's not doing his job is the state's attorney." She repeated the criticism during her successful campaign.
Mosby knows, sooner or later, she'll be judged by the same standards by which she asked voters to judge Bernstein. While some Baltimoreans will reward her for prosecuting cops, many more, sick of their city being one of the most violent in the country, want to see her get convictions of murderers and rapists. She needs a full partnership with Davis to make that happen.