Hold­ing po­lice to ac­count

Our view: Re­gard­less of whether they would have changed the out­comes in the Gray cases, Mosby’s po­lice ac­count­abil­ity pro­pos­als war­rant con­sid­er­a­tion

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

When Bal­ti­more State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn Mosby an­nounced she would drop all re­main­ing charges against the of­fi­cers in­volved in Fred­die Gray’s ar­rest, she mounted a blis­ter­ing at­tack on the Po­lice Depart­ment, ac­cus­ing it of all but ac­tively sab­o­tag­ing her ef­fort to bring them to ac­count. Con­se­quently, crit­ics are likely to view her re­cent pro­pos­als for chang­ing the way al­leged po­lice mis­con­duct is in­ves­ti­gated as an at­tempt to ex­cuse her own fail­ings and cover up for what they al­lege was a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated pros­e­cu­tion.

We don’t buy Ms. Mosby’s ex­pla­na­tion for the ac­quit­tals in the Gray cases. All in­di­ca­tions are that the Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment as a whole took se­ri­ously its duty to in­ves­ti­gate Gray’s death, and the sub­se­quent con­vic­tion of an of­fi­cer who shot an un­armed man — a case that turned on the tes­ti­mony for the pros­e­cu­tion of his fel­low of­fi­cers — shows the BPD can in­ves­ti­gate its own. But we don’t sub­scribe to the cyn­i­cal view of her pro­posed re­forms ei­ther. On the con­trary, we are glad to see the out­rage she ex­pressed on the day she dropped charges trans­formed into a set of con­crete rec­om­men­da­tions to strengthen po­lice ac­count­abil­ity and ad­dress the po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est faced by pros­e­cu­tors in these cases. We don’t nec­es­sar­ily agree with them all, but they are all worth dis­cussing.

One pro­posal calls for the BPD’s in­ter­nal af­fairs unit that in­ves­ti­gates use-of-force in­ci­dents by of­fi­cers to be re­placed by an in­ter­a­gency team of in­ves­ti­ga­tors drawn from the depart­ment, the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice, the Mary­land State Po­lice and the city’s Civil­ian Re­view Board. In a re­cent Sun op-ed, Ms. Mosby ar­gued that a col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach not only would im­prove trans­parency but re­duce the po­ten­tial for con­flicts of in­ter­est and bias that are in­her­ent in po­lice in­ves­ti­gat­ing fel­low of­fi­cers, es­pe­cially in the early stages of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It would also leave the public less skep­ti­cal about the out­come of such cases. That may not be nec­es­sary in all cases, but it could be use­ful in some — the fact that the Po­lice Depart­ment has brought in out­side in­ves­ti­ga­tors from Mont­gomery and Howard coun­ties to han­dle the in­ter­nal dis­ci­plinary cases in­volv­ing the Fred­die Gray of­fi­cers is it­self ac­knowl­edg­ment that out­side eyes can be use­ful.

We are skep­ti­cal about her pro­posal to grant full po­lice pow­ers to in­ves­ti­ga­tors from the state’s at­tor­ney of­fice, which would al­low them to is­sue war­rants, make ar­rests, carry firearms and en­gage as equal par­tic­i­pants in mis­con­duct in­ves­ti­ga­tions. The idea ap­pears to stem from the par­al­lel in­ves­ti­ga­tion she says she con­ducted into Gray’s death but which ap­pears — at least based on the ev­i­dence her deputies pre­sented in court — not to have turned up much if any­thing in ad­di­tion to what po­lice found. The need for this sec­ond pro­posal would seem to be ob­vi­ated by the first.

A third idea calls for “the cross des­ig­na­tion” of fed­eral Last week, Bal­ti­more State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn Mosby an­nounced sev­eral pro­posed po­lice ac­count­abil­ity re­forms. pros­e­cu­tors as po­ten­tial part­ners in bring­ing charges against po­lice of­fi­cers in state courts, an ef­fort to avoid po­ten­tial con­flicts in cases where a state’s at­tor­ney, who must work with city po­lice every day, might be re­luc­tant to bring charges. It’s worth ex­plor­ing whether that’s the right ap­proach or whether hand­ing cases to pros­e­cu­tors in neigh­bor­ing ju­ris­dic­tions or to the state pros­e­cu­tor would be more ef­fec­tive.

We dis­agree with her pro­posal to give pros­e­cu­tors and judges veto power over a de­fen­dant’s re­quest for a bench trial rather than a jury trial. The de­ci­sion of whether to ex­er­cise the con­sti­tu­tional right to be judged by a jury of one’s peers should rest solely in the hands of the de­fen­dant. But we en­dorse whole­heart­edly her call to re­quire civil­ian par­tic­i­pa­tion on po­lice trial boards. Leg­is­la­tion the Gen­eral Assem­bly passed this year au­tho­rizes the in­clu­sion of civil­ians but leaves the de­ci­sion up to lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions — and al­lows it to be sub­ject of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing. It’s too im­por­tant for that. We also like Ms. Mosby’s idea to limit the over­all size of trial boards to pre­vent civil­ian voices from be­ing drowned out.

Crit­ics may look at Ms. Mosby’s de­mand for these re­forms as be­ing like an ath­lete blam­ing the ref­er­ees for her loss. But the rea­son to con­sider Ms. Mosby’s pro­pos­als is not whether any of them would have changed the out­come in the Gray tri­als. It’s that the public is now uniquely fo­cused on the is­sue of po­lice ac­count­abil­ity — not just be­cause of Gray’s death but be­cause of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s find­ings in its in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment and the broader Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment. We ap­plaud her will­ing­ness to lead that dis­cus­sion and look for­ward to a ro­bust de­bate in the Gen­eral Assem­bly.


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