Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Monday that more investigation is needed to root out Baltimore police corruption, and stressed that other reforms being considered in the General Assembly are needed to fix a larger “mess” in the city’s criminal justice system.
“It’s a tragic case,” Hogan said of revelations that officers in the Baltimore police force’s Gun Trace Task Force were acting as robbers and drug dealers. “We need to get to the bottom of all this wrongdoing and corruption in the police department.”
But Hogan, speaking during a news conference in Annapolis on Monday, did not go so far as to endorse a proposal by Sen. Bill Ferguson to create a special commission to investigate further allegations that arose during the trial of two officers on the squad. Testimony during the trial suggested more officers might have been complicit.
Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, attached the measure to a bill that would subject the Baltimore Police Department to state legislative audits.
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh has opposed it. The mayor said a state investigation is unnecessary because the police department already operates under a federal consent decree and Commissioner Darryl De Sousa is setting up his own independent commission.
The commission Ferguson’s bill calls for would explore how high corruption in the Baltimore Police Department may have gone and whether anyone might have turned a blind eye to the officers’ actions. The panel would be tasked with conducting a 20-month investigation into Baltimore police corruption with a preliminary report due at the end of the 2018 and a final report due at the end of 2019.
It would have the ability to call witnesses to testify and the power to compel production of written and electronic records and other documents.
“This bill is still being amended and we look forward to seeing it in its final form,” a Hogan spokeswoman, Shareese Churchill, said.
The case against the Gun Trace Task Force is among the worst corruption scandals ever to hit Baltimore’s police department. Six officers pleaded guilty to various federal crimes, including racketeering and robbery, with some of them flipping on their former colleagues and helping federal prosecutors secure guilty verdicts against the two officers who went to trial.
The commission would be tasked with going beyond the scope of the federal case, looking into which supervisors knew what and when they knew it. It would investigate “oversight and supervision of the GTTF and its members by the Baltimore City Police Department, including but not limited to direct and indirect supervision and internal affairs complaints or investigations” and “any knowledge that the Baltimore City Police Department (or any employee thereof) possessed about the actions or inactions of the GTTF,” according to the bill.
Separately, Hogan urged the House of Delegates on Monday to pass a crime bill already approved by the state Senate.
The Republican governor said Baltimore’s crime problems aren’t limited to police corruption, and that provisions in the bill to toughen sentences for repeat violent offenders and those using guns to commit crimes are needed.
“We cannot afford to stand by while people are being shot and killed on our streets,” Hogan said. “The time is now to take action and to vote to give law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges the tools they need to finally get these shooters and repeat violent offenders off of our streets once and for all.”
The House is scheduled to hear the crime bill Tuesday. The General Assembly’s 90-day session ends April 9.
Senators stripped the legislation of Hogan proposals to increase mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes.
But it still includes some longer sentences for certain violent and gun crimes as well as spending requirements for a variety of anti-crime programs, such as Safe Streets. That program aims to prevent violence by mediating conflicts in neighborhoods including McElderry Park, Cherry Hill, Mondawmin, Park Heights and Sandtown-Winchester.