HBO’s series on the Gun Trace Task Force is not a historical drama of an isolated event. The Baltimore Police Department still acts as though they “Own This City.” This culture of corruption is repeatedly enabled by the department’s attorneys (”Former Baltimore police detective convicted of conspiracy and corruption charges in offshoot of Gun Trace Task Force case,” April 11).
The Baltimore City Law Department has masked police corruption for years by working to keep ongoing police misconduct under the radar. In our experience, it has shown a true disregard to the law.
The Baltimore Action Legal Team (BALT) and Open Justice Baltimore (OJB) requested a year’s worth of officer misconduct records and fought the law department for two and a half years. Just last week, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed that these records must be disclosed at no cost. Currently, the question is if the law department will continue fighting that case.
BALT and OJB have also requested more recent misconduct files and city lawyers replied with a new tact. They claimed reproduction would simply be too expensive. It is obvious that disclosing how the law department holds officers accountable was not a priority in BPD’s over half-a-billion-dollar budget.
BALT and OJB followed up by asking for a single officer’s file, police reports from a questionable officer and a simple list of names of officers with complaints against them. It’s been months, well past the legally mandated time for disclosure. The law department has refused to comply with these small requests. Obviously, cost was not the reason for obstruction.
The community is entitled to the police department’s records of internal misconduct investigations. Transparency is the law of the land. The depth of what must be disclosed has only increased in recent years, but the law department stonewalls disclosure requests as though it were official policy.
After two and a half years, BALT and OJB have seen nothing that can be interpreted as good faith efforts in regard to police transparency. We are awaiting how they will respond to the Court of Special Appeals in our long-going fight for records. The law department has drawn out disclosure of more recent requests which has stalled us in the Circuit Court and forced us to file new claims for the continued disregard of the law.
Without these records, it is impossible to move toward police accountability. If the community can’t see how internal investigations are carried out, they will never see why complaints against officers aren’t sustained. The community can never see who the police actually are.
We are going to continue fighting for files of officers that threaten our communities. We fight for and demand our #Right2Access. We urge you to call on city leaders to demand transparency.
— Iman Freeman and Matt Zernhelt, Baltimore
The writers are, respectively, executive director and legal director of the Baltimore Action Legal Team (baltimoreactionlegal.org).
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