Donald Pomerleau once asserted that “the Baltimore City Police Department was amongst the nation’s most antiquated and corrupt police forces which had practiced excessive force and had a non-existent relationship with Baltimore’s large Negro community.” Pomerleau knew what he was talking about, for he was the city’s police commissioner from 1966 to 1981.
Little has happened in the city to change this perception; worse, the activities of some members of the department have polished to a brilliant sheen this reputation for corruption, violence, violations of civil rights and simply inept management. In some instances, the city’s government has leant a helping hand.
There are too many examples. First, there have been three commissioners in less than three years: Anthony Batts, Kevin Davis and Darryl De Sousa. De Sousa, the most recent one, was charged with federal crimes related to failing to file tax returns. After the charges were made public, Mayor Catherine Pugh proclaimed she stood behind De Sousa. Her message was it’s OK for a man who is charged with the crimes of failing to file tax returns – something each citizen with taxable income is required to do by law – to lead the city’s law enforcement agency.
De Sousa had not been honest with the city and, of course, the city failed miserably in vetting De Sousa for the top-cop position. Worse, the mayor initially asserted that De Sousa’s criminal charges, which he confessed to in a press release, would not prevent him from being an effective leader.
As hard as it is to leave this subject, news arrived earlier this month that Maj. Kimberly Burrus, a high-ranking commander, had been suspended and is under investigation for taking money from a nonprofit to fund a European vacation for her and her two children. She is reported to have said that at first her intentions were to repay the money, but then she decided not to. A police major? Stealing?
And there is the police union, making it difficult at every step to administratively punish bad actions. For example, telling its members to not answer integrity questions.
The secondo piatto to this scrumptious feast are the federal charges against eight former members of the Gun Trace Task Force who believed their badges and service pistols were a meal ticket and first-class admission to unimaginable corruption. Their victims were residents of the city. The state’s attorney testified 1,700 criminal convictions are affected, including some “really dangerous individuals.”
The conduct of these GTTF members was not new to the department, however. Former officers William King and Antonio Murray are serving 305- and 139-year sentences, respectively, for activities that could have served as a master’s course for the GTTF cops who are all heading to jail.
The primo piatto is the April 2017 consent decree between the city and the Department of Justice. In it, the DOJ reports that those sworn to protect and serve routinely violated constitutional rights, used excessive force and discriminated against the black members of the community, something Pomerleau pointed out at least 30 years ago.
For dolce are recent allegations recruits are being graduated to serve as sworn officers with inadequate training, the Majestic Towing scandal of 2012, and of course, the death in custody of Freddie Gray. The list could go on and on if space allowed.
The level of corruption, ineptness and disregard for rights of citizens appears to run deep with, and is endemic within, the BPD. This condition adversely affects the city and its citizens in many ways and every day.
For starters, it makes all of us unsafe when Baltimore City Circuit Court juries, already skeptical of any police testimony, are probably now even less inclined to accept the words of a police officer as truthful. Dangerous criminals are set free as a direct result.
Worse, all of this raises the substantial question whether the BPD has the ability to reform itself so it can effectively fight crime in a city where the murder rate is off the charts, a city repeatedly earning the title “Most Dangerous in America.” And the actions of city government have not helped one bit.
To be clear, there are good and honorable officers serving with the BPD. But we are sick and tired of this circus atmosphere that seems to have become the standard operating procedure of the BPD, where once these activities were believed to be fiction depicted on “The Wire.”
We need to ask – has the time come to start over? To disband the BPD and replace it? If not now, then very soon, because this has gone on way, way too long. And there is no end in sight.
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS
James B. Astrachan, Chair
James K. Archibald
John Bainbridge Jr.
Wesley D. Blakeslee
Arthur F. Fergenson
Marcella A. Holland
C. William Michaels
Angela W. Russell
Debra G. Schubert
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.