Po­lice re­form’s next bat­tle

Ad­vo­cates pre­pare for op­po­si­tion from FOP on con­sent de­cree

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Rec­tor

As the U.S. Jus­tice De­part­ment and city of­fi­cials ne­go­ti­ate sweep­ing re­forms of the cal­ti­more Po­lice De­part­ment, com­mu­nity lead­ers and civil lib­er­ties ad­vo­cates are pre­par­ing for a par­al­lel fight.

The ac­tivists say they ex­pect the city’s pow­er­ful po­lice union to use its col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment with the city and state laws that limit the ways in which po­lice of­fi­cers can be dis­ci­plined to block progress.

They say they have seen po­lice unions fac­ing fed­eral con­sent de­crees in other cities throw up road­blocks to re­form, and have watched the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 3 push back against change in An­napo­lis.

“The DOJ re­ally needs to make a choice,” said Lawrence Grand­pre of the think tank Lead­ers of a Beau­ti­ful Strug­gle. “If they are will­ing to ac­tu­ally de­con­struct the sys­temic is­sues, or if they are go­ing to do what’s po­lit­i­cally ex­pe­di­ent and pay lip ser­vice to th­ese sys­temic is­sues like the trial boards and Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers’ Bill of Rights with­out ac­tu­ally chang­ing them.

“Which is why our strat­egy is to have the com­mu­nity push those changes. The DOJ can come along or not.”

Lt. Gene Ryan, the pres­i­dent of FOP Lodge 3, said sus­pi­cion of the union is mis­placed.

“We’re go­ing to have to wait and see ex­actly what re­forms they bring out, but we’re not op­posed to re­forms,” he said.

He cited the Blue­print for Im­proved Polic­ing, a 2012 re­port in which the union called for in­creased train­ing and less em­pha­sis on data-driven polic­ing tac­tics that crit­ics say re­sult in in­dis­crim­i­nate street stops and cor­ner clear­ing.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors for the Jus­tice De­part­ment re­ported this month that po­lice in Bal­ti­more rou­tinely vi­o­lated the con­sti­tu­tional rights of res­i­dents, par­tic­u­larly in pre­dom­i­nantly black neigh­bor­hoods, in vir­tu­ally all as­pects of daily po­lice work — in­clud­ing mak­ing un­law­ful stops, us­ing ex­ces­sive force, dis­miss­ing re­ports of sex­ual as­sault and ha­rass­ing pro­test­ers.

At­tor­neys for the Jus­tice De­part­ment and the city now are work­ing out the de­tails of a con­sent de­cree to re­form the de­part­ment.

Lawrence Brown, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of pub­lic health at Mor­gan State Univer­sity, said, “The temp­ta­tion is go­ing to be to have su­per­fi­cial re­forms, when re­ally the prob­lems go very, very deep.

“They are deeply sys­temic,” he said, “so deeply sys­temic so­lu­tions are go­ing to have to be found.”

Sgt. Robert Cherry, a past pres­i­dent of FOP Lodge 3, now chairs a union com­mit­tee that’s pre­par­ing for the con­sent de­cree.

“All the words about trans­parency, about the com­po­si­tion of the trial board, about us not sup­port­ing re­form, I think it’s all a red her­ring,” he said.

“I think the FOP has proved that we do sup­port re­form.”

The union op­poses chang­ing the Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers’ Bill of Rights, which gov­erns the treat­ment of of­fi­cers ac­cused of mis­con­duct, or the all-po­lice com­po­si­tion of trial boards.

Cherry said the LEOBR pro­tects the due process rights of of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing mi­nor­ity of­fi­cers, and that only po­lice of­fi­cers un­der­stand the job of cops well enough to pass judg­ment on their peers.

Ryan and Cherry said the city should fo­cus on what they say are big­ger prob­lems for the de­part­ment, such as its in­abil­ity to at­tract and re­tain strong recruits and to fully staff shifts with­out re­ly­ing on over­time.

They said the Jus­tice De­part­ment and city lead­ers should be find­ing ways to im­prove train­ing, hire more of­fi­cers and at­tract more qual­i­fied ap­pli­cants.

“That is what the mayor has asked for,” Cherry said.

“She in­vited DOJ in. This is a con­sent de­cree. We knew it was go­ing to cost tens of mil­lions of dol­lars. Put your money where your mouth is.

“What kind of a po­lice de­part­ment do you want? Do you want to keep the cops who are good, who are work­ing in the com­mu­nity, who live in the com­mu­nity, who are mak­ing good cases?”

The city is cur­rently in ex­tended col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with the union over is­sues be­yond the scope of the Jus­tice De­part­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion, in­clud­ing how of­fi­cers are de­ployed, and on what sched- ule, at a time when over­time spend­ing is well over bud­get.

Union mem­bers are also vot­ing for their next slate of lead­ers, whose terms be­gin in Oc­to­ber — mean­ing it’s not clear who will lead the union dur­ing the con­sent de­cree process.

Ryan is run­ning against Lt. Vic­tor Gearhart — the union’s cur­rent first vice pres­i­dent and a sharp critic of the Jus­tice De­part­ment re­port.

Gearhart was sus­pended by the de­part­ment this month for call­ing pro­test­ers against po­lice “thugs.” He also has a law­suit pend­ing against the de­part­ment for switch­ing him from pa­trol to overnight build­ing se­cu­rity this year af­ter a dis­pute with pro­test­ers on so­cial me­dia.

In a re­cent email to union mem­bers, Gearhart wrote that the Jus­tice De­part­ment “ar­gues that we should drop our guard and ap­proach ev­ery­one like we are pa­trolling Sesame Street,” and that such an ap­proach would lead to of­fi­cers get­ting killed.

In another email, he said the Jus­tice De­part­ment re­port “ap­peared less than a se­ri­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tion and more like a witch hunt packed with anec­dotes cho­sen to prove the au­thors pre­con­ceived no­tions.”

Gearhart de­clined to com­ment for this ar­ti­cle.

A Jus­tice De­part­ment spokesman de­clined to com­ment on the con­sent de­cree ne­go­ti­a­tions.

An “Agree­ment in Prin­ci­ple” signed by the Jus­tice De­part­ment and city of­fi­cials, a pre­cur­sor to the con­sent de­cree, says the Jus­tice De­part­ment “ac­knowl­edges that the City and BPD are sub­ject to state law and col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing obli­ga­tions.”

Ti­mothy D. My­gatt, deputy chief of the spe­cial lit­i­ga­tion sec­tion within the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s civil rights di­vi­sion, said the con­sent de­cree can “only lead to a lim­ited set of re­forms” and should be viewed more as a “cat­a­lyst” for change.

The fed­eral judge pre­sid­ing over a 2012 con­sent de­cree that re­quires Seat­tle to adopt re­forms to ad­dress polic­ing prob­lems sim­i­lar to those found in Bal­ti­more — in­clud­ing ex­ces­sive force by of­fi­cers and bi­ased polic­ing — said this month that the union there was try­ing to hold that city “hostage” by de­mand­ing sig­nif­i­cant wage in­creases in ex­change for re­quired re­forms.

Union of­fi­cials had writ­ten to the judge ar­gu­ing that some pro­posed re­forms vi­o­lated of­fi­cers’ col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights and that the judge lacked the author­ity to im­pose them.

Sa­muel Sinyangwe is a co-founder of the group Cam­paign Zero, which has tracked Jus­tice De­part­ment con­sent de­crees na­tion­wide. He said po­lice unions “have ob­structed the re­forms pro­posed in those de­crees at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.”

They also “have been re­ally metic­u­lous and per­sis­tent in mak­ing sure th­ese bar­ri­ers to ac­count­abil­ity are em­bed­ded into the sys­tem at ev­ery level,” and it’s up to ac­tivists like those in Bal­ti­more to push back, he said.

Lo­cal lead­ers said that work is un­der­way.

Ray Kelly, co-di­rec­tor of the non­profit No Bound­aries Coali­tion, called the po­lice union “our No. 1 op­po­nent for re­form.”

About 45 res­i­dents and ac­tivists who gath­ered on a re­cent evening at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church — a his­tor­i­cally black con­gre­ga­tion with a long his­tory of civil rights ac­tivism — were given a draft of “The Peo­ple’s De­cree,” an out­line of de­mands the group in­tends to put to the Jus­tice De­part­ment.

Kelly’s coali­tion is call­ing for pub­lic in­put and trans­parency in the city’s col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing with the union and for the dis­man­tling of dis­ci­plinary pro­tec­tions for of­fi­cers — in­clud­ing bars on civil­ian in­ves­ti­ga­tion of po­lice mis­con­duct and the five-day pe­riod of­fi­cers ac­cused of ex­ces­sive force are given be­fore they must speak to au­thor­i­ties.

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Mary­land has be­gun an email cam­paign call­ing on res­i­dents to write to FOP Lodge 3 to de­mand that it “sup­port po­lice ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency.”

“Tell the FOP,” the ACLU wrote, “they need to stop block­ing the call for po­lice re­form.”

Po­lice unions “have ob­structed the re­forms pro­posed in those de­crees at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.”

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