Bad cops? That's not the real story of Baltimore Police Department's decline

To my knowledge, no one has ever attempted to claim that there are no “bad apples” in the Baltimore City Police Department (“Note to Baltimore’s FOP: Some cops are bad,” June 13). The police, as a group, are not unlike any other groups of people. Are there “bad” police? Of course, there are — just as there are “bad” priests, “bad” politicians and similarly “bad” news media. There are the “bad” among any and all groups simply because it is human nature that there will be some bad apples in the barrel. Let me see, this reminds me of a Biblical saying; “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” If that were adhered to today, there wouldn’t be many people throwing stones.

Take a close look at what it is to be a police officer. First of all, the police are unique in that they have the authority to, if necessary, take a human life. Society entrusts its police to act to assure its safety. An officer has an awesome responsibility to evaluate in a split second whether or not he or she is justifiable in the taking of a human life. Alone in that alley at night, there will be no state’s attorney to advise the officer on whether to shoot. The public trusts that officer to make the proper decision.

Our police officers are faced, on a daily basis, with “opportunities” to add to their income, whether to look the other way when a drug deal is going down, or not notice obvious illicit gambling activities as well as houses of ill repute. Essentially, there are a myriad of ways for those officers to augment their income. Thank God that 99.9% of them do not succumb to that temptation.

It is obvious — and I can attest personally to this — that over the last few years, in an effort to increase the applications for the force, standards have been loosened and in some cases eliminated altogether. As the standards for acceptance are lowered, the possibility that someone will be hired that will not be an asset to the force increases. When I came on the force in 1962, a moving traffic violation was enough to have you rejected as an applicant. Later on, when I was a lieutenant, we were hiring people who had drug use in their background. It would be interesting to review the background investigations on each of the officers recently charged with crimes.

Sociologists need to examine why it is that law enforcement is unable to attract “clean” applicants for the job. What is it that makes our young people shy away from becoming police officers? The continued lowering of standards and expectations will guarantee that we will see more of this negative effect on the agency. The need is to insist upon those high standards, such as were in effect when I came on the job, not the reduction of standards to “catch” anyone who can fill out an application form.

Baltimore must face one very important reality — that of “hands off” policing where officers just don’t bother anyone. Here’s a flash for the administration that is in favor of that policy: It will not work. Not now. Not ever.

I retired in 1995 at the rank of major. I was very proud of that uniform and was proud to wear it. What has happened to the agency saddens me. That once proud uniform has been sullied and dirtied, in my opinion. And the causes are chronic mismanagement of the department, chronic micro-management by the various administrations, and ignorance of the public. The new commissioner has his job cut out for him. I wish him all of the success in the world. He’ll need it.

Robert Di Stefano, Abingdon

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