City police misconduct requires an independent review
Mar 19, 2018 | 1:05 PM
Detective David McDougall Jr., a Harford County Sheriff’s deputy, suspected the heroin came from a rising drug crew in Northeast Baltimore. He retells the story behind working a case that led to uncovering a much larger network of corruption.
The eight convictions of an elite squad of detectives and a supervising sergeant provided police testimony that illuminated a decade of systemic criminality and corruption, causing the public to rightfully ask a series of questions. How could such a widespread practice remain undetected and thriving? How do police entrusted with the duty to serve engage in stealing millions of dollars that included engaging a bail bondsmen and others to sell kilos of heroin while lying and falsifying overtime compensation as much as double their salary while colleagues appeared blind or actively assisted? How many other officers engage in similar conduct or say nothing though they are aware? Will the police union take this opportunity to cooperate fully with investigators, rid the force of wrongdoers and began a new relationship with the African-American and poorer communities comparable to the one they develop with people living in well-to-do communities?
Senator Ferguson recognizes the necessity of an independent body with subpoena power to answer these questions. The commission's composition will be critical to success. Currently, state leadership appointees monopolize the six members selected to choose the chair. Greater diversity will ensure an open inquiry and full investigation required for community credibility and approval. Senator Ferguson should embrace friendly amendments that allow the commission to include representatives of the Baltimore City Council (as councilman Brendan Scott recommended), a community representative active in police reform and a former law enforcement officer with a track record of reform. They would join the representatives of Gov. Larry Hogan, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch. The six members would select the commission chair.
City policing remains at a crossroads. It can forge a cooperative venture with community leaders' comprehensive approach to fighting crime or it can return to the failed 50-year policies of harsher sentences and over-incarceration of this generation's black youth and younger adults. Nothing short of an independent commission, modeled after New York City's approach in the 1970s and 1990s, will reassure the public that the crime and corruption virus remains limited to the few or must be addressed and eliminated within the police culture.
Doug Colbert, Baltimore
The writer is a professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.