Vote ‘no’ on Fitzger­ald

BPD struc­ture needs over­haul first

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Todd Op­pen­heim

n vet­ting her nom­i­nee for Bal­ti­more po­lice com­mis­sioner — an ap­point­ment the City Coun­cil is set to vote on in Jan­uary — Mayor Cather­ine Pugh said her ad­min­is­tra­tion “turned him up­side down, [shook] him out,” and “turned him back around.” Her words were un­com­fort­ably rem­i­nis­cent of the un­con­sti­tu­tional tac­tics the Po­lice De­part­ment has used in the past.

Per­haps it’s time we called a time­out on this whole nom­i­na­tion process.

First off, things are re­ally, re­ally bad at the BPD, which is un­der a fed­eral con­sent de­cree be­cause of its il­le­gal and dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices, so this ap­point­ment is of huge con­se­quence. Sec­ond, the mayor’s method to pick Joel Fitzger­ald of Fort Worth, Texas, to take over the top post was not trans­par­ent, which even fur­ther di­min­ishes trust for the de­part­ment among cit­i­zens. And fi­nally, there are other mod­els for struc­tur­ing po­lice de­part­ments that should be se­ri­ously con­sid­ered to re­place our cur­rent setup.

The last sev­eral months have been par­tic­u­larly em­bar­rass­ing. An of­fi­cer, who’s since quit, re­fused to act af­ter Fire De­part­ment per­son­nel in­formed her of an armed in­di­vid­ual nearby be­cause she wasn’t in her district. An off-duty sergeant was charged with driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence (and in­ex­pli­ca­bly ac­quit­ted). An­other of­fi­cer, al­ready sus­pended, was ar­rested for sell­ing drugs. That was July.

In Au­gust, an­other sergeant, whose job it is to train re­cruits on law­ful polic­ing, was ar­rested for dis­or­derly con­duct on at a strip club on The Block (she also com­plained about a male cop punch­ing her in the face dur­ing the ar­rest). An­other of­fi­cer re­signed — and was charged with as­sault — af­ter a video went vi­ral show­ing him beat­ing up a sus­pect.

In Oc­to­ber, an­other of­fi­cer was fired af­ter be­ing found drunk in his pa­trol car, and the city set­tled law­suits filed by nine pro­test­ers for il­le­gal de­ten­tion and harsh treat­ment dur­ing an arts fes­ti­val 2016. They were each paid $17,000.

And ear­lier this month, a judge con­victed the BPD’s orig­i­nal vi­ral body cam­era sen­sa­tion — an of­fi­cer who claimed to be merely “re-en­act­ing” the seizure of drugs rather than plant­ing them in a va­cant lot — of fab­ri­cat­ing ev­i­dence. Fi­nally, let’s not for­get the do­mes­tic quar­rel be­tween two mar­ried city sergeants at their Har­ford County home, lead­ing them both to the slam­mer and

Isus­pen­sions.

All of this oc­curred well the De­part­ment of Jus­tice’s scathing 2016 re­port de­tail­ing il­le­gal stops and seizures, mis­han­dling of sex­ual as­sault cases and other abuses of power by the BPD, not to men­tion the re­cently con­cluded fed­eral cases against Gun Trace Task Force mem­bers, which ex­posed bla­tant crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity by cops, in­clud­ing steal­ing from and as­sault­ing cit­i­zens and grossly fraud­u­lent over­time pay­ments.

We are past the tip­ping point and mis­con­duct con­tin­ues, which means rad­i­cal change is needed.

Mr. Fitzger­ald has been of­fered up as a part of the so­lu­tion, but we’ve had eight BPD com­mis­sion­ers over the last 18 years with vary­ing records of suc­cess — and crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity. Fred Beale­feld lasted nearly five years, but he now works for Un­der Ar­mor. Kevin Clark was run out amid do­mes­tic vi­o­lence al­le­ga­tions. Ed Nor­ris went to prison. Dar­ryl De Sousa, also se­lected by Mayor Pugh, hadn’t filed his taxes and was un­der in­dict­ment.

This should make us pause. What are we get­ting in Mr. Fitzger­ald? He’s never led a force the size of Bal­ti­more’s nor man­aged a city with our level of crime. In less than a decade, he’s worked in three dif­fer­ent places, and he’s been linked to over­time abuse in Al­len­town, Pa.

Mayor Pugh calls him a re­former with­out men­tion­ing the specifics or out­comes of his re­forms or how she se­lected him. Maybe he can fix Bal­ti­more, but it just does not seem likely that he will even re­main here for the bare min­i­mum of five years that we need from a com­mis­sioner.

In­stead of re­peat­edly throw­ing our eggs into the prover­bial com­mis­sioner bas­ket and then ax­ing them like failed big-time col­lege foot­ball coaches, we need to change the BPD’s struc­ture from the top down.

Elim­i­nate the idea of a sworn of­fi­cer com­mis­sioner. In­stead, hire a civil­ian, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer type or a panel of such and let those folks man­age the money. Ad­di­tion­ally, let them han­dle BPD dis­ci­plinary ac­tions rather than the in­ef­fec­tive In­ter­nal Af­fairs Di­vi­sion, which is run by of­fi­cers in-house.

We can still have a com­mis­sioner of sorts to make strate­gic and tac­ti­cal de­ci­sions in the de­part­ment. Cities like New York, Bos­ton and Ne­wark have all im­ple­mented mod­els like these to vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess. Plus, some­one needs to re­pair re­la­tions with the State’s At­tor­neys’ Of­fice, and a new com­mis­sioner could do that. The chances of Mr. Fitzger­ald be­ing the BPD’s mes­siah are not great, but if he’s com­mit­ted and smart, he can still fit in. Mis­con­duct and spend­ing must be curbed in the BPD — and that isn’t go­ing to hap­pen with­out civil­ian man­age­ment.

Our City Coun­cil should rec­og­nize the grav­ity of this mo­ment and study other mod­els of po­lice de­part­ments, rather than lim­it­ing their in­quiries to this lat­est nom­i­nee. Ul­ti­mately, the Gen­eral Assem­bly needs to act to re­struc­ture the BPD, but change starts with the coun­cil's vote. They can force state leg­is­la­tors to ei­ther re­struc­ture the BPD or give the city more con­trol. We’ve been here be­fore and we have noth­ing to show for it.

Jan­uary is too soon. Vote "no" for the com­mis­sioner ,and take some time to make a rev­o­lu­tion­ary change for our city.

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Joel Fitzger­ald, Bal­ti­more Mayor Cather­ine Pugh's choice to head the city Po­lice De­part­ment, speaks at a press con­fer­ence at City Hall.

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