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Baltimore police department needs to root out corruption if it wants to get city crime under control

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison is saying the right things about reforming the police department, but has more work to do.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison is saying the right things about reforming the police department, but has more work to do. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Whenever we try to talk about bad cops in the Baltimore police department, the Fraternal Order of Police deflects. As the union that represents police officers likes to see it, the problems in the department were rooted out when members of the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force went to prison. To suggest otherwise is irresponsible, FOP president Mike Mancuso has publicly said.

And yet, a Sun analysis of court records, sentencing data and newspaper archives found that 20 city cops — some connected to the GTTF — were arrested, suspended or sentenced during the year. The crimes ranged from punching a man in an incident caught on viral video to drunk driving, lying under oath in court and planting evidence.

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We realize that 20 officers is less than 1% of the total 2,460 sworn officers who work for the department. But what seems like a small number of officers can have a huge trickle down affect on the criminal justice system.

Once a cop’s credibility is shot, it brings into question whether other arrests that officer was involved in were justified. It raises issues about verdicts in trials these cops may have testified in. If an officer was found to set up a suspect with false evidence, how do we know he didn’t do the same in other cases? In the same respect, if an officer lies under oath in court once, can his testimony be trusted in other cases? We can’t blame attorneys for challenging cases for their clients, but in some instances, true criminals will go free because cases are tied up with corrupt cops.

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What concerns us even more is these 20 cases are only what the public knows about. What don’t we know? If we are to believe Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, the problem is far more dire than the police department is letting on. She says her office has identified more than 300 officers who have “integrity” issues and whom her attorneys will not call as witnesses. We wish Ms. Mosby would provide more details about the identities about these so-called tainted officers, but her concern raises many red flags about the department just the same. We’d also like to hear from the police department, which reportedly has received the names from Ms. Mosby.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison has said some of the right things about what to do to address the problem. A staffing plan calls for doubling the number of internal affairs officers who investigate police misconduct. He is also slowly trying to change the culture of the department to hold officers more accountable.

We appreciate these efforts, but remain skeptical about whether the department has the capability to police itself. After all, it was just in October that the department initiated its own investigation into the Gun Trace Task Force. One of the crucial questions that still remains is how the unit was able to run wild and unabated for so long. Where was the oversight and who still remains on the force who knew what was going on? They should be punished too or the culture of bad conduct with no repercussions will continue to exist.

For all those cops who are doing their jobs with integrity, we thank you. We know the department needs to hire 300 more police officers to truly do its job well. We understand the danger you all put yourself in every time you patrol a city street. We know you want to quell the crime rate as much as anybody. Bad cops only shine a negative light on all of you. The department needs to root out the bad ones so the ones in good standing get the support and recognition that they deserve.

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