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.”
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.
Thompson was appointed by the U.S. District Court for three years to oversee reforms. His contract can be renewed for an additional two years, according to the consent decree.
The monitoring team’s comments at the hearing sparked pushback from the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 union.
“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.
“We’ve had no permanent leadership,” said Venable attorney Seth Rosenthal, who is working on the decree. “That is incredibly important.”
Baltimore has had five police commissioners or nominees over the past year.
Mayor Catherine Pugh fired former Commissioner Kevin Davis last January and installed Darryl De Sousa, a veteran officer, as his replacement. In May, De Sousa was charged with failing to file federal tax returns and resigned.
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.”
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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?"
Thompson suggested the department is understaffed — an argument Pugh has made in recent months as she seeks to hire 500 new officers.
“If you don’t have enough boots on the ground, you’re going to have a problem with crime,” Thompson said.
Thompson added that the monitoring team would have a new report Friday on the status of its work, and would appear back in federal court next week to brief U.S. District Judge James Bredar.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.