Failure to resolve police misconduct claims points to systemic problems

BALTIMORE SUN |JUL 25, 2019 | 3:13 PM

  
Failure to resolve police misconduct claims points to systemic problems
Baltimore police officers stand near the perimeter of the cordoned-off 2100 block of Maryland Avenue, after a recent shooting outside Man Alive, a drug treatment clinic. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

So, the Baltimore Police Department is deficient in its investigations (“76 Baltimore Police misconduct cases have been allowed to expire since 2016,” July 25). A Sun article points to the fact that misconduct cases against officers were tossed out because the department’s internal affairs team allowed them to expire. This was attributed to “inexcusable negligence” to which I would ask: Exactly who’s inexcusable negligence was it? What is, and who sets, the “expiration date” for investigations into police misconduct? Is it set by statute, departmental procedure, consent decre, or the roll of the dice? In the interest of transparency, that needs to be explained to the public.

Another question that needs to be asked is this: Is the system for investigation, review and adjudication of such cases simply too awkward or ponderous as to facilitate an expediency in the investigation? If so, under the mandate of the consent decree, those policies and procedures are subject to scrutiny, review and changes as appropriate, if such changes are indicated. Is that happening?

It might well be expected that in a city such as Baltimore where there is significant opposition to the police, as was demonstrated in the most-recent riots, that there would be a number of accusations of police misconduct. Of course, those thugs who rioted in the street were not a majority of the citizens. However, they represented a significant constituency. When the administration and the upper echelon command staff of the department seeks to make the reporting of police misconduct readily available and an easy process, it should expect that there will be numerous cases, especially in a city with an anti-police attitude which, incidentally and sadly, also has emanated from City Hall.

So, we have a bottleneck, one that allegedly has resulted in the loss of these cases. While I was on the force, I tried (unsuccessfully) to introduce changes to the administration of discipline that would have facilitated a reduction in this bottleneck. Since I have been retired for quite a few years, I am not aware of the authority of district commanders in such matters. During my tenure, district commanders were very limited as to what they could do. In most cases, the best they could do was a verbal reprimand and possibly a negative notation in the offending officer’s file. Otherwise, they had to submit recommendations through channels that were then reviewed and decided at a higher level of command.

The agency has a procedure for handling cases against its officers which is the institution of a trial board. The board convenes and hears cases against officers and terminates the process with findings and recommendations that are submitted to the commissioner who either concurs with the findings and recommendations or changes them. It should be quite obvious that all allegations against the police are not so egregious that the agency will seek termination of employment. Minor infractions, where the agency is not seeking termination or criminal charges could be evaluated and the district commanders given authority to act in such cases. District commanders in Baltimore command operations that are larger than many whole police departments across the country and should be capable of doing this. By diverting these minor cases to command at the level of execution, the case load would be reduced so that trial boards would sit only on such cases as the agency seeks to terminate the offending officer. Officers who are disciplined at that level could appeal the findings to an area chief whose findings would be final.

Many officers suffer under the threat of a system that postpones justice quite often affecting the officer’s health and his actions on the job. Justice delayed is justice denied. If we want our officers to be fully functional, we must expedite these cases. No officer should be “under the gun” for months or even weeks waiting for the shoe of justice to drop. How effective is that officer on the street under such pressure and apprehension? There is a lot that needs fixing in Baltimore and this is but one issue.

 

BALTIMORE SUN |JUL 25, 2019, “Failure to resolve police misconduct claims points to systemic problems”, https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/readers-respond/bs-ed-rr-police-misconduct-letter-20190725-obbvxojen5ha3at67xug73wd7e-story.html

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