The problem with corrupt cops didn’t stop with the Gun Trace Task Force if we are to believe Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Her office has identified “hundreds” of other police officers with credibility issues, she told a crowd at a forum on policing last Monday night. Then she put up a wall of silence.
We urge Ms. Mosby to practice transparency and provide the public with more details about these officers. Her announcement naturally stirs up concerns and raises many questions. She should have anticipated people would want to know more, especially making such a pronouncement in front of a large crowd. Video of her remarks spread quickly.
Don’t get us wrong, if there are cops not obeying the law they are sworn to enforce and violating the civil rights of Baltimore residents, we want to know and the public deserves to be informed. It is a good thing that there is a process where her office can warn the Baltimore Police Department about potential bad apples on the force. We also certainly don’t want the state’s attorney’s offices calling on officers with credibility issues as witnesses, and we agreed with her earlier decision to throw out 800 cases with potential problems because of shady cops.
But simply telling people there is a list with no context creates fears and mistrust and certainly doesn’t help the relationship between the community and the police, which is in a tender, precarious and slow rebuilding stage. Then there’s confusion about the numbers. Ms. Mosby’s office last month flagged to the police department 183 officers with potential credibility problems. Does the hundreds include that number, or is that on top of that original figure? We need to know to understand the breadth of the problem.
We know most cops are acting honorably and doing their jobs honestly and that 183, or even several hundred, is still a relatively small percentage of a force of about 2,500 officers. But even one bad cop is a problem. And Ms. Mosby gives residents no way to know which cops are questionable. Without knowing, they will look at every officer with suspicion, which is not fair to a force some say is already suffering from morale problems.
And what criteria is Ms. Mosby’s office using to determine that the officers are tainted? Is it because they fell asleep on the job or missed too many court appearances? Or are their offenses much more egregious? Ms. Mosby did say that some of the officer misdeeds rose to the level of Gun Trace Task Force crimes. Those eight GTTF officers, who are now serving various jail terms for their crimes, were shaking down people for money and planting drugs and other evidence on suspects, among many other vile acts, to bolster their justification for arrest. If other officers indulged in that level of bad behavior, who are they and most importantly, are they still on the streets?
We realize that Ms. Mosby’s office might be hamstrung by privacy laws that unfortunately protect cops who are being investigated and even after their cases are closed. This is also a good time to make the case again that these laws aren’t fair to victims of police misconduct and their families and that more transparency is needed around investigations. But Ms. Mosby’s office should provide as much information as she can while staying within the confines of the law, especially if she is going to speak so publicly about the issue. Already, police department officials have said some of the cops Ms. Mosby has targeted have been cleared. Is that something she agrees with?
Defense attorneys are arguing that they have a legal right to know the identities of these cops so they can properly represent clients in court. We agree completely. An arrest by a corrupt cop could mean the difference between a case getting dropped or moving through the courts. It could mean getting an innocent person out of jail.
Ms. Mosby seems to be trying to put some pressure on the Baltimore Police Department to be more aggressive about disciplining officers. Indeed, the department has a ways to go in improving its internal affairs process and letting the public know what it is doing to clean up the force. But it also raises questions about whether her office should prosecute some of those officers as well.
It’s good that the state’s attorney’s office is working to help weed out bad cops. But we would like to see more transparency to their efforts.