Michael Mancuso, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police, holds a press conference to talk about his organization's report, "The Mismanagement Of The Baltimore Police Department And Its Impact On Public Safety." Lt. Ken Butler is on left.
Michael Mancuso, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police, holds a press conference to talk about his organization's report, "The Mismanagement Of The Baltimore Police Department And Its Impact On Public Safety." Lt. Ken Butler is on left. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

It should come as no surprise that the Baltimore Police Department recently received a hefty critique from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3. First, because the FOP has been at odds with the department for years and second, because much of it is deserved. Just this week, for example, the Sun’s Christine Zhang identified Baltimore’s highest paid employee as a police sergeant facing criminal charges of assault, false imprisonment and misconduct. The aforementioned Ethan Newberg received $260,775 for the fiscal year that ended last June. Well-run organizations don’t dispense so much lucrative overtime to a cop who stands accused, in the words of Commissioner Michael Harrison, of “tarnishing the badge.”

Chronically understaffed, demoralized, with poor internal communication, training and internal data systems, the union’s description of the department is a familiar one. We have witnessed time and time again — under the leadership of multiple commissioners — evidence of the department’s shortcomings. Meanwhile, the city is on pace to record more than 300 homicides for the fifth year in a row. And that doesn’t even mention the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force and its years of plunder or the consent decree between Baltimore and the U.S. Department of Justice that is meant to correct widespread and longstanding discriminatory policing, primarily in poor, black neighborhoods.

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We know there are many dedicated, professional, hardworking and well-meaning men and women in blue who have put their lives on the line to keep our streets safe. Yet sadly, their efforts are often overshadowed by the department’s failings. And not just the high-profile cases like the GTTF but in the little things like its failure to accurately track crime data or disciplinary records. The agency’s inability to hire and retain sufficient officers is not only a major problem but yet another reminder of those internal shortcomings. Why stick with a police department that’s floundering when their are better jobs available?

But here’s the problem with the FOP critique. Forget that it’s self-serving (unions by their nature need to stick up for rank-and-file and blast management; dues-paying members expect union leaders to have their backs), there’s the matter of timing. Commissioner Harrison was sworn in just seven months ago. He released his anti-crime plan less than three months ago. By any measure, he hasn’t had time to make the needed reforms. Heck, he’s barely had time to assemble his management team. Say what you will about the former New Orleans police superintendent, the problems he was hired to tackle in Baltimore are all inherited. Fixing them was never going to be a 90-day activity.

Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, center, and City States Attorney Marilyn Mosby, left, jointly announced during a news conference at police headquarter on Oct. 2 the arrest and indictments of members of a city drug trafficking organization.
Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, center, and City States Attorney Marilyn Mosby, left, jointly announced during a news conference at police headquarter on Oct. 2 the arrest and indictments of members of a city drug trafficking organization. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Whatever good will the new commissioner might have expected from the greater Charm City community, he has gotten precious little from Sgt. Mike Mancuso, Lodge 3 president, and the rest of the FOP. The union has never given him the benefit of the doubt. It was harping on the crime plan within days of its release this summer. It’s still making claims that its members are too scared of prosecution by the city state’s attorney to do their jobs -- or do they mean to say there’s been a deliberate and retributive slowdown in policing that’s been encouraged by the union? It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference.

Make no mistake, the FOP makes many good points about breakdowns in fundamental systems, but the leadership’s failure to at least recognize that Commissioner Harrison’s crime plan addresses many of the same problems the union itself has identified, should be just as demoralizing to members as anything department leadership has ever said or done. Whatever it takes to put the police department back on a steady course and address violent crime in Baltimore, the constant antagonism shown a fledgling commissioner by Lodge 3 is surely unhelpful.

Baltimore deserves better than this. Is the union working toward the betterment of the city or merely seeking to protect its members, the good and the bad? When its leader lashes out at youngsters congregating around the Inner Harbor on Memorial Day weekend as “criminals” and warns officers not to “fall into the trap that they are only kids,” it can be difficult to see the FOP as a force for good. The bottom line? Union leaders need to give Commissioner Harrison time and a modicum of support if they want their complaints to be credible.

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