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Police chief Bealefeld pushed for details on misconduct settlements

Baltimore City Councilman James B. Kraft has asked Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III for a response to a series of recent articles in The Daily Record about the cost of settling lawsuits alleging police misconduct.

The Southeast Baltimore Democrat’s request of Bealefeld came in an e-mail Thursday morning that also included the text of e-mails from The Daily Record to members of the council about the newspaper’s stories over the past two weeks.

Kraft is chairman of the council’s Judiciary and Legislative Investigations and Public Safety and Health committees.

The first articles, published on Dec. 22, reported details of the mistaken arrest of a prominent Soviet-born violinist and the disputed origin of the confidentiality provision in the man’s $200,000 legal settlement with the city. Also on Dec. 22, the Baltimore Board of Estimates, which approved the payout to the then-anonymous Yakov Shapiro in March, agreed to pay out another $195,000 to resolve three other police misconduct suits.

“Please be so kind as to provide us with both the Department’s response to Mr. Kearney’s articles and a description of the actions taken, if any, to address the concerns raised in them,” Kraft wrote.

Kraft could not be reached Thursday. Bealefeld was attending a graduation ceremony for officers who completed the department’s new Sergeants School and was not available to comment, according to the commissioner’s spokesman. But Bealefeld will call Kraft to address any concerns about officer training, said Anthony Guglielmi, the spokesman.

The balance of Kraft’s request, however, will be forwarded to City Solicitor George Nilson for a response, Guglielmi said.

“You’re talking about legal settlements. And that’s why we have a legal affairs section that handles all that,” he said. “The commissioner has put in a lot of training programs since he’s been here. But the whole fact of suing the city civilly and settlements is all legal.”

Reached by e-mail Thursday afternoon, Nilson said he had “not been directly asked by department or council to do or address anything.”

This week, in a conversation about the cost of settling such lawsuits, Nilson said he doesn’t think “it’s fair to conclude that the numbers are progressively going up” but also said “they’re not coming down significantly.”

“I don’t know how to measure acceptability,” he said. “In a perfect world, these cases wouldn’t happen.”

From mid-2007 to mid-2010, the city spent $7.25 million to settle such claims, according to a summary prepared by Nilson’s office for City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway.

In June, the city agreed to pay $870,000 to settle a 4-year-old NAACP lawsuit targeting the constitutionality of the city police department’s arrests, a portion of which will cover the cost of an auditor to review so-called quality-of-life arrest records over the next three years.

Among the other larger settlements in the last year were those stemming from run-ins with the since-disbanded Special Enforcement Teams. SET-related settlements cost taxpayers $225,000 in November 2009, $200,000 in December 2009, and $125,000 in July. One of the three settlements last week, for $110,000, also involved alleged actions by SET officers.

The other two settlements last week involved one case where an officer’s questionable identification of a man led to him spending six months in jail, and another in which a man was injured when an officer allegedly threw him to the ground in the midst of a brawl at an East Baltimore strip club.

The Shapiro settlement, approved by the Board of Estimates in March, was notable not only for the dollar figure but also for the secrecy surrounding it. It was this month, after Nilson disclosed the name of Shapiro’s attorney under legal pressure from The Daily Record, that the details of that case were reported.

Guglielmi has noted some of the incidents that have led to the recent high-dollar settlements occurred before Bealefeld became the city’s top cop in mid-2007, and that Bealefeld has emphasized training since becoming commissioner.

In addition to annual in-service training and firearms and Taser training, Guglielmi highlighted the Diamond Standard training program instituted in 2008 and the Sergeants School started this year. The Diamond program, developed by a member of the Army Special Forces to train soldiers serving in Afghanistan, concentrates on community relations and arrest and control techniques. The Sergeants School teaches new supervisors leadership and team management skills, according to Guglielmi.

Nilson’s assistants also train police, and prosecutors in the city state’s attorney’s office work with policemen on cases.

“You’re going to see a lot more of that with the new administration of the state’s attorney’s office,” said Guglielmi.    Gregg Bernstein, whose state’s attorney candidacy was supported by Bealefeld and the police union and who has promised to train police in “Fourth Amendment, in writing reports [and] in how to testify,” takes office on Monday.

In the meantime, Kraft is not the only elected official in the city to question the cost, monetary and otherwise, of alleged police misconduct. Kraft’s colleague on the city council, Conaway, and her father, Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr., are among those concerned about the issue.

“There should be some way that policeman that do these things should be made to pay back this money,” said Frank Conaway, who has announced his candidacy for mayor. “There’s got to be a stop put to it some kind of way.

“I can understand an occasional mistake, but it happens too often,” he said.

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