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Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison has taken a measured approach to changing the culture of the police department and working to bring down crime.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison has taken a measured approach to changing the culture of the police department and working to bring down crime. (Baltimore Sun Staff/Baltimore Sun)

It didn’t take the wonders of modern medicine to suddenly cure 25 Baltimore police officers on limited duty because of injuries or other health matters. Just take away their overtime, and suddenly they have a clean bill of health and are ready to return to active duty — no doctors or expensive medical bills required. Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison took a loophole that sanctioned this extra pay for people who are supposed to be on limited duty restrictions and tightly sealed it earlier this month.

There’s no good reason an officer assigned light work for recovery purposes should be able to work extra and get paid overtime; they’re supposed to be taking it easy, after all. Since eliminating such practices, the department has saved money in overtime, and even better, healthy officers are now back on the street at a time when the department is experiencing an extreme shortage of personnel.

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Kudos to Mr. Harrison for this solid management move, an important incremental step toward making good on his promise to create a better run and more trusted department. When the commissioner took the job as the top cop in March, he pledged to revamp the command structure, make the department more efficient and improve accountability. He warned it would take time and would not be easy. Better tracking officers on medical-related, restrictive duty is part of that marathon to become a better department.

The commissioner created a new Administrative Duties Division where all people on this limited duty now report. By doing so, it is now easier to make sure officers are doing their jobs and following the same standards, than if they were assigned to units across the department. Supervisors dedicated to those officers can better determine if they are making doctor’s appointments and doing what they need to do to recover and get back to patrolling the streets, investigating homicides and shutting down drug rings.

We hope he’s applying the same strategic thinking to weed out further waste in the department when it comes to overtime and other areas. We can’t wait for the day when police officers making overtime, like the sergeant who made $260,775 on year, are no longer the highest paid city employees. Of course, a big component of that will be hiring enough officers to fill all of the department’s needs. A well-managed force can only help that cause.

Mr. Harrison also showed leadership in bringing in an outside attorney to lead an independent investigation into the corrupt Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force, although it took him longer than we would have liked to make that decision. The commissioner had been reluctant to undertake such an inquiry, likely swayed by concerns of City Solicitor Andre Davis that such an investigation could open up the city to expensive legal challenges and settlements. That should not be the concern of Mr. Harrison, however. And we’re glad to see he was open to listening to the public and changing his mind; something any good leader must be able to do.

Baltimore Police commissioner Michael Harrison held a press conference at city police headquarters Wednesday to announce an independent investigation into the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force.
Baltimore Police commissioner Michael Harrison held a press conference at city police headquarters Wednesday to announce an independent investigation into the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

He absolutely needed to call for an investigation to figure out how the task force was allowed to run amok and terrorize citizens without detection. It’s hard to create a more ethical department if it is not known where the ethics problems broke down. Did supervisors and federal officers look the other way, or were others involved? Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby claimed recently that there are hundreds of tainted cops her office has identified. Does the corruption continue?

Running Baltimore’s police department is no easy job, and Commissioner Harrison faces intense scrutiny from many sides. We hope he continues to make strategic, purposeful decisions both big and small with the community in mind, and to exercise strong judgment despite enormous pressure from various groups. Progress is being made in the department, and that’s something we should all support.

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