Bal­ti­more po­lice com­mis­sioner: BPD un­der­go­ing ‘se­ri­ous re­form’

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Kevin Davis Kevin Davis is Bal­ti­more’s po­lice com­mis­sioner; his email is kevin.davis@bal­ti­more­po­lice.org.

The Bal­ti­more Po­lice De­part­ment is in the midst of se­ri­ous re­form ef­forts not un­like those be­ing con­sid­ered or im­ple­mented in po­lice de­part­ments across the na­tion. Re­forms are al­ready be­ing put in place, and over the next sev­eral years you will see BPD trans­form into one of the most pro­gres­sive, ac­count­able and trans­par­ent de­part­ments in the na­tion. Not only that, re­form can and will oc­cur par­al­lel to our ef­forts to find new and in­no­va­tive ways to drive down crime in the wake of a his­tor­i­cally vi­o­lent time in Bal­ti­more that mir­rors spikes in other big cities.

I am en­cour­aged by those within and out­side the pub­lic safety arena who have leaned for­ward to of­fer their thought­ful rec­om­men­da­tions to en­hance trans­parency and build trust. We’re mak­ing real progress in a very tan­gi­ble way, and I look for­ward to mean­ing­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion with a va­ri­ety of part­ners as we con­tinue to ex­e­cute poli­cies and other best prac­tices that Amer­ica’s18,000 other po­lice agen­cies will un­doubt­edly em­u­late.

Our ad­min­is­tra­tive hear­ing boards (AHB) are now open to the pub­lic, al­low­ing our cit­i­zens to have a front-row seat in our dis­ci­plinary process. The new trans­parency page on our web­site now in­cludes a sched­ule of up­com­ing AHBs; in­for­ma­tion on our new body-worn cam­era pro­gram; specifics on our newly re­vised and pro­gres­sive use-of-force pol­icy, along with copies of all other de­part­men­tal poli­cies; data on po­lice of­fi­cer­in­volved shoot­ings; our De­part­ment of Jus­tice agree­ment in prin­ci­ple; in­struc­tions on how to file a com­plaint; and in­for­ma­tion about the Civil­ian Re­view Board.

Most are now aware that we im­ple­mented a body cam­era pro­gram, added cam­eras in trans­port wag­ons, and re­leased a new and pro­gres­sive use-of-force pol­icy, which had not been up­dated since 2003. We have also pur­chased soft­ware to dis­sem­i­nate pol­icy changes with built-in ac­count­abil­ity, cre­ated a com­mu­nity foot pa­trol aca­demic cur­ricu­lum and em­barked upon a His­tory of Bal­ti­more speaker se­ries to bring more cul­tural aware­ness to our de­part­ment. For the very first time, we also have a full-time LGBT li­ai­son. All of our cops spend a full day with city youths in an Out­ward Bound pro­gram at Leakin Park, while all of our po­lice trainees par­tic­i­pate in a Pizza in the Precinct pro­gram to help them get to know the city’s neigh­bor­hoods and res­i­dents.

BPD’s so­cial me­dia pres­ence is big­ger and bet­ter than ever. We Periscope and Facebook Live all of our press con­fer­ences, pro­file bad guys weekly on Wanted Wed­nes­day, and high­light an un­solved cold case bi­weekly on BPD Case Files.

Re­form jour­neys are long and ar­du­ous. They do not hap­pen overnight. When Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake asked DOJ to in­ves­ti­gate the BPD, she knew full well that the change nec­es­sary to fix decades of de­cline would re­quire com­mit­ment and pa­tience. When I cre­ated a full-time team to in­ter­act with DOJ some 16 months ago, I knew from my pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ences with a con­sent de­cree that our re­la­tion­ship had to start out on the right foot. The years ahead will see dra­matic im­prove­ments in po­lice-cit­i­zen in­ter­ac­tions, so­phis­ti­cated train­ing fo­cus­ing on de-es­ca­la­tion and eq­uity, long-ne­glected in­vest­ments in tech­nol­ogy, con­sti­tu­tional crime-fight­ing strate­gies and pro­gres­sive poli­cies that re­flect the best of 21st-cen­tury polic­ing. Again, I sup­port hav­ing civil­ians on the ad­min­is­tra­tive hear­ing boards and look for­ward to the next leg­isla­tive ses­sion so our law­mak­ers can con­sider com­pelling it, as op­posed to merely al­low­ing it pur­suant to con­trac­tual ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Un­like most DOJ con­sent-de­cree re­la­tion­ships, all of the afore­men­tioned re­forms have been self-im­ple­mented by the BPD — no court or­ders, and all be­fore a con­sent de­cree is fi­nal­ized. Early in­di­ca­tors of suc­cess? Our year-to-date ex­ces­sive-force com­plaints are down 36 per­cent, and over­all com­plaints are down 22 per­cent. With a re­newed fo­cus on our Early In­ter­ven­tion Sys­tem and the hir­ing of sorely needed or­ga­ni­za­tional psy­chol­o­gists, our po­lice of­fi­cers will be af­forded an en­vi­ron­ment that gives them the help they need be­fore prob­lem­atic on-duty or off­day be­hav­iors oc­cur.

Polic­ing is a chal­leng­ing pro­fes­sion. Cops rou­tinely deal with per­sons, fam­i­lies and neigh­bor­hoods in cri­sis. We of­ten en­counter per­sons on their very worst days. Polic­ing is not for ev­ery­one, nor is it al­ways eas­ily un­der­stood. I re­main con­vinced that in­creas­ing our trans­parency will result in a greater un­der­stand­ing of the chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties fac­ing po­lice in 2016.

In the mean­time, we will con­tinue to eval­u­ate any and all rec­om­men­da­tions to im­prove our pro­fes­sion. The res­i­dents of Bal­ti­more de­serve a po­lice de­part­ment that re­spects them and rep­re­sents their val­ues, while the brave men and women who wear the BPD uni­form de­serve the sup­port, re­sources and tech­nol­ogy re­quired to po­lice in a 21st-cen­tury Amer­i­can city.

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