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Baltimore consent decree judge stresses importance of new commissioner, community trust

Baltimore Police Department Interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle. (AP photo/Patrick Semansky)

Baltimore Police Department Interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle. (AP photo/Patrick Semansky)

Baltimore officials on Tuesday assured the federal judge overseeing the implementation of the consent decree that they still expect to name a new police commissioner by the end of the month even as the interim leader withdrew his name.

The city received more than 50 applications for the position, Baltimore City Solicitor Andre M. Davis told Judge James K. Bredar during the third quarterly public hearing on the city’s compliance with its consent decree with the Department of Justice. The position has been vacant since former Commissioner Darryl De Sousa resigned in May less than one week after being charged with failing to file federal taxes. Davis also disclosed interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle voluntarily withdrew his application for the post .

Tuggle later told reporters the next commissioner needs to make a long-term commitment to the job, something he said he could not do for personal reasons.

Both Davis and Bredar praised Tuggle’s leadership as acting commissioner but Bredar continued to stress his concern about chronic instability in police leadership, saying they cannot solve problems with “a game of musical chairs” in top positions. Tuggle’s replacement will be the fourth commissioner this year and Baltimore’s 11th since 1989.

Bredar, during the hearing, also addressed the 17 murders that occurred in the last week of September.

“In a city where homicide statistics have lost their capability to shock, this is nevertheless a stunning number,” he said.

Constitutional policing is the goal of the consent decree but Bredar said lawful and effective policing are linked, and trust between the community and the police is key.

“No police department can solve 17 homicides occurring within one week without the cooperation of the community,” he said.

The judge noted some critics think crime will go down if the court gets out of the police department’s way, but added others “contend that the ‘get out of the way’ view is contradicted by the facts on the ground in Baltimore.”

City and police leadership have expressed support for reform and committed to it through the consent decree, so “the course is set,” Bredar said.

“Here, no more zero tolerance, no more clear the corners, constitutional rights be damned,” he said. “It didn’t work here.”

Suiter investigation

Along with policies and training, the culture of the Baltimore Police Department must change, according to Bredar, who used the investigation into Detective Sean Suiter’s death last year as an example.

Daniel Beck, chief of the Office of Legal Affairs for the police, spoke about the independent review board looking into Suiter’s death and how police handled the subsequent investigation. The board, which unanimously concluded Suiter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound from his service weapon, also reported on the failures of the department to establish an effective incident command system in response.

Beck said there have been updates and retraining for leadership and officers that should be complete by early December. The training includes lessons learned from the Harlem Park neighborhood, where residents had difficulty entering and leaving and police ran warrant checks or patted down people they stopped, often without using their body-worn cameras.

Bredar said the incident highlighted the lack of trust between police and residents.

“This is not the police department against the community,” he said. “The full cultural breakdown in the city was on display.”

Bredar urged the department not to forget about the Suiter investigation but said it must be “dragged off the shelf” for each new hire in the  to show what the department has learned since.

“It can be an opportunity, not just a very sad, unfortunate chapter in our past,” he said.

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