Finally someone has stepped forward with a plan to get a handle on the soaring cost of police misconduct in Baltimore and the underlying inadequacies in training that contribute to it.
Now let’s hope that plan makes a difference.
Six weeks ago, City Solicitor George A. Nilson released figures in response to requests filed by this newspaper under the Maryland Public Information Act showing that Baltimore taxpayers have paid at least $16.8 million since July 2004 to settle cases involving the city police department. And he said those figures were well short of the actual cost due to record-keeping problems.
The Daily Record’s Brendan Kearney reported last week that Mr. Nilson had implemented a new policy to address the problem.
Under the one-page protocol, which took effect June 9, the city law department will not authorize a settlement offer in certain cases until at least one of three things happens: the defendant officer is taken off the street, the officer has been scheduled for a minimum half-hour counseling session with a city lawyer, or the conduct at issue has been scheduled for inclusion in police training.
All of that sounds good as far as it goes, but we don’t think it goes far enough.
First, when interviewed by The Daily Record at the end of June, the spokesman for Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III was not aware the policy had gone into effect. Neither was the head of the Fraternal Order of Police, who immediately requested a meeting with the city solicitor’s office to discuss the policy.
How can the public expect effective implementation of any policy when some of the key actors aren’t aware of it?
Joanna C. Schwartz, a law professor at UCLA and author of a New York Times op-ed piece last month about the lack of attention by the New York City Police Department to the causes of its misconduct cases, expressed skepticism to Mr. Kearney about the apparent lack of communication between Mr. Nilson and Commissioner Bealefeld about the new policy.
A key factor in the success of such a policy is “whether there is buy-in and if people follow it,” she said.
Professor Schwartz said Mr. Nilson’s policy is “not bad — certainly better than most departments do.” But she also said the policy, which applies only to claims involving unconstitutional or “problematic” behavior that was “sufficiently serious, and amenable to training or instruction or counseling,” should be applied in all cases.
We agree. Mr. Nilson’s policy is a good first step, and we applaud his initiative in implementing it. But the spotty communication at the outset and the narrowness of the policy leave us wondering how effective it will be.
The proof will come in the law department’s quarterly reports on police settlements, including what counseling occurred and what training modifications were made. We expect those reports to be disclosed promptly and fully.
Only then can the public see whether the new policy is having the desired effect.