At a Monday press conference to tout last year’s decrease in violent crime and to call for tougher sentences for gun offenders, Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III refused to answer questions about police behavior that has cost city taxpayers millions of dollars in legal settlements.
“I’d say that we’ve talked about that issue several times now, and today we’re here to talk about bad guys with guns,” Bealefeld said. “And I think that the message is, in 2011, we’re going to be real focused on putting bad guys with guns in jail, and we’re going to be leveraging every resource we have to try to make this city safe.”
Anthony Guglielmi, the commissioner’s spokesman who has not made Bealefeld available to address the litigation costs issue, interrupted a follow-up question about why such settlements have totaled $7.25 million between mid-2007 and mid-2010.
|Watch video from the press conference|
“Brendan — bad guys with guns,” Guglielmi blurted from across the room on the first floor of police headquarters, repeating Bealefeld’s mantra about the focus of his crime-fighting efforts.
Before that exchange, Bealefeld and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke passionately about the downward trend in homicides and non-fatal shootings and the need for stronger state laws to keep Baltimore’s most violent residents behind bars.
Saying the statistics are no cause for celebration, the mayor asked citizens to help make the case for two bills she plans to have introduced in Annapolis this legislative session that would crack down on gun offenders.
According to police, there were 223 homicides in Baltimore in 2010 — a 25-year-low — compared to 238 in 2009 and upwards of 300 for years in the 1990s. Bealefeld also emphasized that there were 420 non-fatal shootings in 2010 compared to “almost 750” in 2000.
After the press conference, Bealefeld repeated to a reporter that he would not discuss the conduct behind the costly settlements. Minutes later, Guglielmi implied that was not likely to change: “I think he’s said, or we’ve said, all we’re going to say on it.”
The spokesman added, “It’s on the commissioner’s radar, but so is this missing girl and so are  homicides.”
He was referring to a North Carolina 16-year-old, Phylicia Barnes, who disappeared while visiting family in Baltimore last week.
The issue is also on the radar of city elected officials including Councilman James B. Kraft, who asked Bealefeld last Thursday for a response to a series of recent articles in The Daily Record about the cost of settling such lawsuits. Kraft is chairman of the council’s Judiciary and Legislative Investigations and Public Safety and Health committees.
The first articles, published 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 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 in an e-mail to Bealefeld and copied to the City Council and others.
“I wanted to know as much as he could tell me about the department’s position on all of this,” Kraft explained Monday.
Guglielmi said last week that Bealefeld would call Kraft to talk about the department’s training programs, but the two have been playing “phone tag,” according to Kraft, and haven’t yet discussed the issue in detail.
“I’ll talk with the commissioner, and we’ll see where we are at that point,” said Kraft, who stood next to Bealefeld at Monday’s press conference. “I’ll share that information with the [City Council] president and then we’ll decide what we want to do.”
Kraft said he knows Bealefeld has emphasized and increased officer training, but he still would like to hear “exactly how they’ve been dealing with this and what the … new training steps are.”
Guglielmi had also said he planned to forward Kraft’s request to City Solicitor George Nilson for a response. In an e-mail Monday evening, Nilson said he has neither heard from anyone at the police department nor spoken with Kraft.
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 just last 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.