If there is ever to be a true cultural shift at the Baltimore Police Department, the Fraternal Order of Police labor union needs to help, and part of that means admitting that there are bad cops. We understand that it is the group’s job to defend its members, but the union does real damage to the effort to mend police-community relations when it tries to defend the indefensible.
We were reminded of this in the powerful series by The Baltimore Sun’s Justin Fenton this week about the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force, which allowed officers to run rogue, deal drugs, steal from suspects and make arrests based on false information. Former Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, the ringleader of the squad, was seen as a star and leader in the department until his sinister antics were revealed. His ability to get away with running an organized criminal operation within the police department speaks both to the BPD’s broken internal discipline processes and its high tolerance for unconstitutional tactics, and the FOP has been a consistent obstacle to addressing both. It has been a vocal critic of a Department of Justice federal consent decree to correct corrupt and abusive policing tactics and has fought efforts to make investigations into police misconduct more transparent.
City Solicitor Andre Davis recently said the FOP has the city “in a chokehold” when it comes to making public records related to misconduct. Jim Pasco, the executive director at the National Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the Baltimore police union, told The Sun in February the consent decree is “oppressive and unreasonable” and “only serves to exacerbate the relationship between police and the community." This after a little known group, the National Police Association, called on the Trump administration to weaken the agreement.
Now that members of the Gun Task Force have been tried and jailed, with Mr. Jenkins getting 25 years, the union seems to think the days of weeding out bad cops are over. The head of the Baltimore FOP said as much when Kenneth Thompson, an attorney with Venable law firm who is leading a monitoring team overseeing the consent decree, said in a hearing before a legislative committee that implementing changes was taking longer than expected.
"Mr. Thompson, the culture of corruption has been addressed!" lodge president Mike Mancuso wrote on Twitter shortly after the hearing earlier this year. "The Gun Trace Task Force members are incarcerated! To insinuate that there is an ongoing culture of corruption is irresponsible."
While most officers who make up Baltimore’s police force are good guys just trying to do their jobs, it is naive and disingenuous for Mr. Mancuso to insinuate that no more work needs to be done and that all the bad apples are gone. To be clear, we need good cops to keep the city safe and orderly. We appreciate the job they do every day. But the department also needs to handle the bad cops who create distrust with the community and violate people’s rights. The police union needs to get more on board with this idea.
Just this month, Sgt. Ethan Newberg,a 24-year veteran of the force, was charged with misconduct, assault and false imprisonment after he allegedly chased a man in Southwest Baltimore on May 30 and arrested him without justification. The charges were made after reviewing body camera footage.The man had complained to Mr. Newberg and other cops that they should not leave a man they had arrested sitting on the wet ground. This in turn incited Mr. Newberg.
Instead of acknowledging the potential bad behavior of the police sergeant, the FOP in a letter to its members instead criticized Police Commissioner Harrison about his handling of rowdy youth at the Inner Harbor a few weeks ago. And let’s not forget that Mr. Mancuso heightened emotions during one of the harbor incidents by writing on Twitter that officers shouldn’t be caught in the “trap” that the Inner Harbor revelers were just kids.
Mr. Newberg still gets his day in court, but body camera footage makes for pretty good evidence.
On June 10, Baltimore Police Officer Arthur Williams was found guilty of assault in the beating of a man in East Baltimore last summer. The attorney for the victim, Dashawn McGrier, said the man suffered a broken jaw and ribs and was in the hospital for three days. Mr. Williams testified that his actions, caught on video, were justified.
The FOP leader at the time, Lt. Gene Ryan, told The Sun the video at first glance showed “inexcusable behavior” that the department “can’t tolerate.” We need to see more of that from the FOP.
By no means are we attempting to pin all the blame for the corruption described in Mr. Fenton’s series or the unconstitutional practices documented by the Department of Justice on the FOP. We’ve experienced years of flawed leadership in the department and City Hall, too. But today, Baltimore’s political leaders are fully behind reform, and Mr. Harrison was recruited specifically to bring it about. What about the FOP?