Complaints from the city’s Fraternal Order of Police’s (FOP) make it seem like the Baltimore men and women in blue have a case of the blues. Police officers today have to deal with all that burdensome oversight from the federal consent decree, they grumble, not to mention the constant monitoring — from their own body cameras to citizens’ cell phones. What a nightmare! It’s a wonder that they can still function.

Still, I’d like to remind those who are sworn to protect and serve that things aren’t all that bad.


Let’s start with pretextual stops — a tool for cops certified as acceptable by the United States Supreme Court. Essentially, the police are allowed to pull over a motorist for any reason, be it race, gender, age, appearance (or whatever prejudicial trait you prefer) so long as the stop can be justified by a by a legitimate traffic violation. The subjective intent of the cop, like if they want to look for bigger and badder stuff, really doesn’t matter if they can articulate an infraction. I’ve seen some shaky infractions like small cracks in windshields, third break lights out or failures to signal while pulling out of parking spots. Even if they’re wrong, the officer’s belief of the infraction is what counts, and, normally, their body camera isn’t turned on until after the stop is made. What a great mode of investigation at the police’s disposal!

Another morale booster for the BPD should be the fact that the justice system still favors them. Baltimore judges and prosecutors usually take a person in uniform’s word over that of an average citizen — certainly my indigent clients, anyway. Cops are afforded a “badge of credibility” in court just because of who they are. Never mind evaluating their testimony with the same scrutiny as regular folks. And if they fib on the witness stand, whoever heard of charging an officer with perjury? When defense attorneys want to introduce evidence regarding cops’ internal affairs files, prosecutors fight to prevent it, and judges are hesitant to allow it. Additionally, judges almost always sign warrants (usually to search something) without looking closely because cops are asking. Not bad!

Police also enjoy an advantage in solving crimes through a staggering amount of available technology. Cameras are everywhere in Baltimore. Closed circuit city cameras catch events on the streets. Private security cameras in businesses and residences film crimes in action, sometimes with audio. Body cams, which were billed as tools to curb police misconduct, mainly serve to provide evidence against defendants, preserving statements and crime scenes for court.

Even Foxtrot, the helicopter, takes surprisingly high-quality footage (and you thought it woke you up for no reason!). This year, I’ve had two murder cases where the shootings were caught on cameras, which always makes for a difficult defense. There’s also cell phone data to reveal GPS positioning and the piles of information in a device. The FBI even helps Baltimore Police retrieve phone data. Police also employ forensics like DNA, fingerprinting and ballistic evidence. Forensics are almost always allowed by judges and persuasive to juries despite many flaws in the practices of taking such evidence. Credit the “CSI” franchise with that one. And how about the weaponry? Assault style military rifles, armored vehicles, armored clothing and more are all in the department’s arsenal. Add to the list — informants, dogs, social media data and an armed Hopkins police force and there’s a lot to aid BPD.

More importantly, many city residents want to convict people charged with crimes. In my experience, the myth, even among police, that Baltimore juries are lenient and indifferent isn’t true, especially with violent crime or incidents involving children. Currently, the public is so tired of graphic headlines that when I defend individuals charged with such acts, we’re immediately behind in the count.

Despite the gripes of the FOP most folks do not blame BPD for crime. People just feel that it’s their job to solve it, even if they don’t trust them — the result of years of corruption, fiscal irresponsibility and unconstitutional policing that brought on a consent decree in the first place. Residents aren’t going to warm up overnight. Just last month, three BPD officers were convicted of assaults, and two were sentenced to jail time. This is two years after the Gun Trace Task Force catastrophe, which was a category 5 mess. Meanwhile, bloated budgets have given way to overtime abuse and little accountability to show for it. BPD dug its own hole.

City leadership needs to temper the FOP’s tantrums. Reforming police practices and effectively fighting crime are not mutually exclusive. Cops should stop fretting and realize that they have plenty to work with because of the inherently unjust nature of the system from which BPD has reaped rewards for years.

Todd Oppenheim is an attorney in the Baltimore City Public Defender’s Office. The opinions in this article are his own. Twitter: @Opp4Justice; email: