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Baltimore Consent Decree monitor: Police reform may be slow but it is taking place | READER COMMENTARY

From left, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, Baltimore consent decree monitor Ken Thompson and Brian Nadeau, deputy commissioner for the BPD's public integrity bureau, arrive at the scene of a fatal shooting of a man in the 1800 block of E. Lafayette Avenue last month. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun).
From left, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, Baltimore consent decree monitor Ken Thompson and Brian Nadeau, deputy commissioner for the BPD's public integrity bureau, arrive at the scene of a fatal shooting of a man in the 1800 block of E. Lafayette Avenue last month. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun). (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore Consent Decree Monitoring Team acknowledges that the process for reforming the Baltimore Police Department is a methodical one (“Reforming a Baltimore Police Department requires community buy-in and patience,” May 26). Change is taking place slower than some might hope. As we have said from the beginning, however, transforming a large police department — changing a culture — does not happen overnight. For lasting change to take root, policies first must be revised, training must be delivered, and core operational functions like technology, staffing and discipline must be overhauled. This is happening in Baltimore. The ultimate question is whether such foundational measures translate into constitutional, community-oriented policing. In the next 12-18 months, as BPD implements new IT systems and as we ramp up our evidence-based assessments of the actions of BPD officers on the street, the answers should begin to emerge.

Make no mistake: BPD must proceed with urgency. But it must not sacrifice meaningful, sustainable progress at the altar of an illusory expediency. That is especially so if the department is to achieve the consent decree’s objective of winning back public trust.

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We wholeheartedly agree with The Sun’s view that one of our central obligations as monitors is to effectively communicate this reality to community members and, more broadly, to engage them in the reform effort. Even more important, of course, is BPD’s engagement. Once compliance with the consent decree is attained and the monitoring team is gone, BPD and the city’s diverse communities will need to have established a mutually beneficial relationship of trust and respect that does not require the aid of an outside facilitator.

BPD must do more to engage with and educate community members about the consent decree. The monitoring team has said so directly to department leadership and made the point in our most recent report. We believe BPD is listening. And it has made strides. Last year, after soliciting public feedback, the department produced a community policing and engagement plan that has drawn favorable attention nationally. This year, with considerable community input, BPD has produced a two-day, in-person community policing and engagement training program, which all officers will complete by September. The monitoring team approved the program, which includes community members as facilitators, and has observed both pilot and live sessions.

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As for the monitoring team, we have a full community engagement operation. We have a lead community liaison who oversees our engagement efforts, as well as a community engagement coordinator who heads a team of nine neighborhood liaisons, one for each of the city’s nine police districts. All 11 of these team members are singularly devoted to educating Baltimoreans about the consent decree and hearing their feedback about the Baltimore Police Department’s performance. The pandemic restricted their in-person outreach, but during the shutdown they attended virtual community meetings and held their own virtual “open table” discussions. As restrictions are relaxed, they are resuming in-person efforts.

Monitoring team leadership, myself included, also meet regularly with community organizations such as neighborhood associations, faith-based institutions and advocacy groups. We proactively request meetings and welcome all invitations we receive.

The monitoring team hosts community forums every three months in different locations around the city (virtually during the pandemic) and, in between the forums, we convene additional communitywide meetings on Facebook Live. All of these are advertised on Twitter (@BPDmonitor) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/bpdmonitor), which we use for regular consent decree updates. We manage a website (www.bpdmonitor.com) that provides a platform for feedback on draft department policies and training and contains our detailed evaluative reports and other information about the consent decree process. We maintain a Listserv which people can sign up for by sending us an email at info@bpdmonitor.com, and we have a phone line (410-528-4670).

Please join us. As The Sun observes, enduring police reform in Baltimore depends on it.

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Kenneth L. Thompson, Baltimore

The writer was appointed in 2017 as monitor of the consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Baltimore.

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