The monitor overseeing reforms of the Baltimore Police Department believes the agency is dysfunctional and will takes years longer that expected to reform it.
The monitor overseeing reforms of the Baltimore Police Department said Thursday the dysfunction within the agency is so deep and widespread that it will take years longer than anticipated to root it out.
“The Baltimore Police Department is a dysfunctional organization, a highly dysfunctional organization,” Venable attorney Kenneth Thompson, the monitor of the Police Department’s sweeping consent decree, told the House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee in Annapolis.
Thompson, who is leading a monitoring team overseeing Baltimore’s work to address discriminatory and unconstitutional policing practices, said he believed it would take longer to reform the department than acting Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle’s prediction of five to seven years.
“We are a long, long way from compliance,” Thompson said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get this done.”
Michael Harrison, the New Orleans police superintendent named Tuesday as the next Baltimore police commissioner, stressed in his first interview the need for strong leadership if the department is to change its culture and reduce violent crime. Harrison talked Tuesday with The Baltimore Sun.
Thompson cited the corruption of the Gun Trace Task Force, which he described as “Jesse James on steroids,” and said Baltimore’s black community has long known “police can do things and get away with it.”
“The culture of corruption has to be addressed,” Thompson said. “The community has every right to say, ‘This is a really screwed-up police department.’”
The consent decree is the result of a sweeping investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, under then-President Barack Obama, following the city’s unrest after Freddie Gray's death in 2015 from injuries suffered in police custody. The agency said it found a pattern of discriminatory policing in the city, particularly in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods.
The report found police engaged in unconstitutional stops and searches and mistreated a range of people from protesters to those with disabilities and youths. It found that the department mishandled sexual assault cases and that officers were poorly trained and supervised.
The Baltimore Police Department faced an unprecedented number of challenges in 2018 that included leadership turnover, cases of officer misconduct, continued high levels of violence and the final convictions in one of the biggest police corruption scandals in city history.
“Mr. Thompson, the culture of corruption has been addressed!” lodge president Mike Mancuso wrote on Twitter. “The Gun Trace Task Force members are incarcerated! To insinuate that there is an ongoing culture of corruption is irresponsible.”
Thompson said Thursday the department has made some “reasonable progress” in some areas of reform, but that generally the work is slow. The monitoring team said a lack of permanent leadership within the agency hasn’t helped.
Mr. Thompson, the culture of corruption has been addressed! The Gun Trace Task Force members are incarcerated! To insinuate that there is an ongoing culture of corruption is irresponsible. ---Mike Mancuso
Since then, the agency has been led by Tuggle, a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration veteran, who decided not to seek the job permanently.
Pugh then nominated Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald to become commissioner, but he withdrew, citing a medical emergency in his family. She has since nominated New Orleans Police Chief Michael Harrison, who will be reviewed by the Baltimore City Council.
Baltimore suffered more than 300 homicides for the fourth consecutive year. The homicide total for 2018 was 309.
The city is spending nearly $1.5 million a year on the consent decree, which requires a hearing after five years to determine if the Police Department has achieved compliance.
In some cities, it has taken longer. It took Detroit 13 years to implement its decree. New Orleans began its reforms in 2013 and aims to be compliant by 2020.
“I’m happy to hear there have been at least some changes made,” said Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “The depth of the problem is enormous. … What happens when the Baltimore Police Department does not make the progress necessary?”
Thompson replied: “They stay under the consent decree.”
Del. Frank Conaway Jr. asked the monitoring team whether Baltimore police had stopped using “stop and frisk zones.”
“We’re not aware that’s being done,” Rosenthal said.
Conaway also pressed the team to speed up their work: "What can we do to put this on the fast track?"