Addressing a Baltimore business group Monday morning, Baltimore’s new acting police commissioner said he’s confident the department can be overhauled but stressed the need to reduce officers’ workloads and to establish better systems for training and accountability.
Acting Commissioner Michael Harrison told members of the Greater Baltimore Committee that he believes the “pieces,” or community entities, that allowed him to reform the New Orleans Police Department exist in Baltimore and that “the brightest days are in front of us.”
Acknowledging the persistent staffing problems and violent crime rates facing the Baltimore Police Department, Harrison said police were being asked to be “everything to everyone” and needed more time to focus on quality-of-life issues and community work.
“I’m finding that we’re very, very overworked,” he said.
One solution, he said, is “civilian-izing” the department by using non-police employees to fill professional staff jobs that do not have to be performed by officers. Harrison also said improving technology and moving from paper to electronic files would free up time and improve morale.
Some changes are mandated by the federal consent decree, which is designed to reform policies and improve and modernize internal systems. But Harrison said he would consider it a failure if the department made changes only because they were required by the consent decree, now in its second year.
“Let’s not do it because the federal government mandates us to do it,” he said. “Let’s do it because we want to do it and it’s the right thing to do.”
Working with Mosby
When asked about the department’s relationship with the State’s Attorney’s Office, Harrison said he wants to work with State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and have his officers deliver strong cases for prosecution.
“We first have to fix us,” he said. “I will hold our people to the highest standard so that if there are problems, they’re not with the department.”
Harrison also spoke about his conversations with Mosby about her recent announcement that her office would no longer prosecute people for marijuana possession.
“The Maryland law did not change,” he said. “It’s still illegal.”
Harrison noted that the number of marijuana arrests has dropped in recent years, with only about 300 arrests last year compared to more than 1,000 in previous years.
He said officers were unclear about what to do when faced with an individual suspected of possession.
“They’re concerned that they’re failing to uphold their sworn duty to uphold the law,” he said.
Harrison said he would devise a protocol and train officers on what to do when they encounter “simple possession” in the field. He said his conversations with Mosby have touched on how they should handle policy changes that affect each other’s office.
Mosby’s announcement on marijuana prosecutions last month came before Harrison officially took over as the acting commissioner.