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Editorial Advisory Board: Time for change at BPD

The Baltimore Police Department is in a time of crisis. Ineptitude and corruption exist at many levels in the department. It is time for systemic change.

Crime has soared since the 2015 Freddie Gray uprising, police overtime is out of control and recent testimony in the Gun Trace Task Force trial in federal court has disclosed corruption within the force at levels even the most cynical critic of BPD could not have imagined. In recent years, Baltimore has paid millions of dollars in confidential settlements to resolve claims by citizens they have been abused by BPD officers; based on limited information publicly available, it appears that several BPD officers are repeat offenders.

In January, Darryl De Sousa began his job as interim commissioner by naming veterans and retirees to command positions rather than tapping new blood; internal affairs documents leaked afterward showed that one of the two newly-designated deputy commissioners had significant internal affairs complaints in his record. De Sousa also dismissed questions about rampant corruption in BPD by saying initially that the officers involved in the recent federal case were just a “few bad apples” among the force. De Sousa later walked back and apologized for that comment.

Additionally, the Baltimore Brew has just published a series of articles about BPD overtime. Between 2012 and 2017, several officers, including sergeants and lieutenants who are administrators, made so much overtime they would have had to work 14-hour days consistently to earn the overtime legitimately.

We had urged the Baltimore City Council to postpone Darryl De Sousa’s confirmation as commissioner while an independent investigation of BPD was done. But the City Council confirmed De Sousa on Monday. We would have preferred that the new commissioner have been someone from outside of the department. We have serious doubts about ability of a veteran insider such as De Sousa to make and support necessary changes to root out ineptitude and corruption at BPD.   However, we hope that the new commissioner proves us wrong.

Even if De Sousa genuinely is committed to bring transformative change to BPD, there are significant structural impediments that he faces. Among them are the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights and the contracts with BPD officers and supervisors.

Maryland has one of the most officer-friendly LEOBORs in the United States. Whatever arguments there may have been for giving police officers special rights when they are under investigation or accused of misconduct, the rampant corruption within BPD and the rife abuse of citizens by officers have overcome them.

Detailed discussion of LEOBOR is beyond the scope of this editorial. However, we urge the General Assembly to take a comprehensive review of LEOBOR. Last month, Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, introduced Senate Bill 1179, which would allow the city to appoint members of the public as nonvoting members to its police disciplinary review board and give the commissioner the authority to discipline an officer notwithstanding the review board’s recommendation to the contrary.  SB 1179 is a good start on the road to reforming LEOBOR vis-à-vis BPD and we urge the General Assembly to pass it.

BPD’s overtime issues are, in part, the result of overly generous labor contracts. Mayors and governors often are unwilling to take on the Fraternal Order of Police. For example, supervisors were not eligible for overtime until the early 2000s, when then-Mayor Martin O’Malley caved into the FOP and agreed that supervisors could be eligible for overtime. The time has come to renegotiate the terms of BPD’s contracts with both line officers and supervisors.

The passage of SB 1179 and the renegotiation of BPD’s labor contracts will not be easy. Even after all that has been revealed about BPD in recent years, the FOP remains a potent political force.  Many politicians believe that crossing the police and their unions is political suicide. Taking on entrenched interests within BPD and the FOP will not be easy. But BPD is at a crisis point and if ever there was a time for “Profiles in Courage, Baltimore Style,” this is it.

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS

James B. Astrachan, Chair

James K. Archibald

John Bainbridge Jr.

Wesley D. Blakeslee

Martha Ertman

Arthur F. Fergenson

Susan Francis

David Jaros

Ericka King

Stephen Meehan

C. William Michaels

Angela W. Russell

Norman Smith

H. Mark Stichel

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the Board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the Bench, Bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, majority views and signed rebuttals will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.

Find out more about the members of the Editorial Advisory Board.