Dis­band the BPD and start over

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By David Troy David Troy is a res­i­dent of Bolton Hill and CEO of 410 Labs, a soft­ware com­pany. He is a lead ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Baltimore City Vot­ers group on Face­book. His email is dav­etroy@gmail.com.

It is a not very well-known fact that the Baltimore Po­lice De­part­ment is an agency of the state of Mary­land. It was es­tab­lished in 1867 dur­ing the af­ter­math of the Civil War through an act of the Gen­eral Assem­bly, at a time when the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Baltimore and Annapolis was less than cozy and it was de­sir­able for the gov­er­nor to have con­trol over Mary­land’s largest city.

Un­til 1978, all com­mis­sion­ers of the Baltimore City Po­lice De­part­ment were ap­pointed by the gov­er­nor. At that time, the power to hire and fire the com­mis­sioner was trans­ferred to the mayor, with ap­proval from the City Coun­cil. And this re­mains the pri­mary means through which city gov­ern­ment ex­erts con­trol over the Po­lice De­part­ment.

But the de­part­ment’s peculiar sta­tus as a state agency brings other com­pli­ca­tions. The City Coun­cil can­not pass laws that gov­ern the Po­lice De­part­ment; it is in­stead gov­erned by the Pub­lic Lo­cal Laws of Baltimore City, a sec­tion of the state code, and un­der the purview of the Gen­eral Assem­bly. Changes to those laws are typ­i­cally made by the city’s Annapolis del­e­ga­tion and are thus sub­ject to the ap­proval of the en­tire state leg­is­la­ture and the gov­er­nor.

The De­part­ment of Jus­tice’s re­port re­gard­ing on­go­ing civil rights abuses within BPD in­di­cates mas­sive or­ga­ni­za­tional and cul­tural fail­ures. Most ex­perts in cul­ture and man­age­ment would ad­vise that hir­ing and fir­ing based on core or­ga­ni­za­tional val­ues is the pri­mary means through which to ef­fect large-scale change and re­form.

But sec­tion16-7 of the Pub­lic Lo­cal Laws of Baltimore City pro­hibits the com­mis­sioner from di­rectly fir­ing of­fi­cers be­low the rank of cap­tain. This ham­pers the abil­ity of the com­mis­sioner to per­form one of the very tasks which may most ef­fect the deep change re­quired. To amend these laws will re­quire an act of the Gen­eral Assem­bly — which means wait­ing un­til Jan­uary at the ear­li­est.

Be­tween now and Sept. 9, the DOJ is col­lect­ing feed­back from the com­mu­nity about is­sues with and pro­posed reme­dies for the BPD; fed­eral of­fi­cials have said that by Nov. 1, they will for­mu­late a bind­ing con­sent de­cree be­tween DOJ, BPD and the mayor and City Coun­cil out­lin­ing man­dated reme­dies. It is not at all clear that the BPD, given its in­sti­tu­tional his­tory, cul­ture and com­plex en­tan­gle­ments with the state of Mary­land, has the ca­pac­ity to ex­e­cute the reme­dies.

At least some changes will re­quire ac­tion by the state through the Gen­eral Assem­bly, but the state is not party to the de­cree, and DOJ can­not com­pel the leg­is­la­ture to act.

The city, which will be a party to the con­sent de­cree, has very lit­tle re­course. The mayor may fire the po­lice com­mis­sioner, but that is its sin­gu­lar, nu­clear op­tion. Sub­stan­tive in­ter­nal and pro­ce­dural changes can­not be con­sid­ered by the City Coun­cil.

For these rea­sons, I pro­pose that this 150-year ex­per­i­ment be swiftly ended. Let’s shut down the Baltimore Po­lice De­part­ment as it ex­ists in its cur­rent form and cre­ate a new agency that is em­pow­ered and prop­erly con­sti­tuted to meet all con­sti­tu­tional and le­gal re­quire­ments as set forth by the DOJ from its in­cep­tion. The Gen­eral Assem­bly can shut down BPD and the mayor and City Coun­cil can cre­ate a new one, with per­son­nel and as­sets trans­ferred from the old agency to the new at the dis­cre­tion of the com­mis­sioner.

It is cer­tainly fea­si­ble. This year, the gov­er­nor and leg­is­la­ture trans­ferred con­trol of Baltimore’s liquor board from the state to the city. In 2012, Cam­den, N.J., dis­banded its failed po­lice de­part­ment in fa­vor of a new one.

Skep­tics will rightly point out that Baltimore City has a poor track record of gov­er­nance of its de­part­ments and agen­cies. How­ever, there are two flaws to this line of think­ing as a rea­son for ob­ject­ing to this op­tion.

First, the state has not been en­gaged in ac­tive man­age­ment of the BPD; in fact, it has largely ab­di­cated it, leav­ing only a com­plex regime of per­mis­sions and bu­reau­cracy that has im­peded progress and di­luted accountability.

Sec­ond, au­dits. A new, city-con­trolled BPD can be au­dited from day one. In­deed, that is com­ing: The DOJ is likely to rec­om­mend an­nual pro­ce­dural, per­for­mance, and fi­nan­cial au­dits — the re­sults of which must be pub­lic — as part of the con­sent de­cree. This is a pri­mary way in which a fed­eral mon­i­tor can ob­serve progress. Ad­di­tion­ally, Demo­cratic may­oral nom­i­nee Cather­ine Pugh has gone on the record in sup­port of an­nual fi­nan­cial and per­for­mance au­dits of ev­ery city de­part­ment and agency. And in Novem­ber, there will be a bal­lot ques­tion that will ask vot­ers to im­pose at least bi­en­nial au­dits. So au­dits are in­evitable and will have a sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive ef­fect on the man­age­ment of all of the city’s de­part­ments and agen­cies.

For 150 years, the BPD has been rather like an oc­cu­py­ing army, with 79 per­cent of its of­fi­cers now liv­ing out­side the city, and un­der the pas­sive purview of the state leg­is­la­ture and gov­er­nor. So it is no won­der that res­i­dents do not feel that the BPD is ac­count­able to the com­mu­nity or to our city elected of­fi­cials. It ac­tu­ally isn’t.

Con­ven­tional wis­dom will dic­tate that we give the as­pirin a chance first: we will try to make change with half-mea­sures and prom­ises and wishes. But the Baltimore Po­lice De­part­ment, the pa­tient, is ter­mi­nal. Let’s end this chap­ter in Mary­land his­tory and start anew.

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