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Best Week, Worst Week: New arena a lift for UMBC; ugly side of Baltimore police back in focus

best-worst-021018Officials with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County look to a brighter future with the opening this week of its new events center while the Baltimore Police Department continues to stumble amid a federal criminal trial of officers and a bungled announcement of a new deputy commissioner.

Business and education writer Tim Curtis reported Monday the opening of UMBC’s new area represents the continued maturation of the university as an anchor institution in Maryland.

Beyond the sports implications of the $85 million UMBC Event Center, university officials hope the school can use the arena and the events that come with it to attract people who would not ordinarily find the school’s isolated Catonsville campus.

UMBC has grown steadily over its 52 years in existence, a time period that is relatively short for a research university. When it opened, the university enrolled less than 1,000 students. In the fall of 2006, the university had 8,792 full-time students. Ten years later in 2016, the latest year for which data is available, the university enrolled 10,651 full-time students, a more than 22 percent increase.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Police Department has been forced to confront allegations including murder, robbery, theft, gross negligence, and cover-ups and that a serving deputy commissioner coached one of his officers who shot a man in the back after a traffic stop because he did not want to chase him on foot when he fled. The allegations all have unfolded during a federal criminal trial of former Baltimore Gun Trace Task Squad members.

The Baltimore Sun reported Thursday that federal prosecutors called more than 30 witnesses during the trial, including four officers who have admitted their roles in brazen robberies the squad carried out. Six members of the task force have pleaded guilty to federal charges that include racketeering, robbery and firearms violations.

The trial included years worth of allegations that officers from the elite unit used illegal tactics to stop citizens on the street and then search their property without justification and skim money.

But the unit also was carrying out much bigger heists, targeting people officers believed had large amounts of cash and finding ways to get to their property. Officers testified that Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, the unit’s commander, often sought out the next target by asking victims whom they would rob if given the chance.

Then on Friday, the Sun reported the appointment of Tom Cassella as the department’s deputy commissioner in charge of operations was abruptly put on hold pending further investigation into a leaked memo outlining past complaints against the appointee.

De Sousa said he was “looking at the legitimacy of” the internal document, which lists complaints against Cassella during his career with the department, including alleged Equal Employment Opportunity Commission violations.