Clean up Police Department internal affairs
We have gotten more evidence recently that the Baltimore Police Department has a long way to go in rooting out bad behavior by its officers.
The first came in the latest consent decree report that found that investigations into misconduct have improved but are still “deficient.” Then there was the investigation by Sun reporter Kevin Rector that revealed that, since 2016, internal affairs has allowed 76 inquiries into complaints against officers expire. Basically, there are officers walking around who could very well be guilty of breaking the law and violating the rights of citizens.
We have said consistently that weeding out the dirty cops is key to regaining trust in the community and ultimately cleaning up crime. The consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department also listed addressing misconduct as a goal for the department. The latest data provides more reason to make this happen.
Now that Commissioner Michael Harrison has released his crime plan, he should focus on this crucial component of overhauling his department.
We think that Mr. Harrison is the right person to do it. After all, he had hands-on experience as an undercover agent in internal affairs in New Orleans, where he was also chief before coming to Baltimore. That knowledge about how cops end up performing bad deeds should serve Baltimore well.
The commissioner’s crime plan includes several initiatives that will hold officers more accountable and, perhaps, make them think twice before doing something they shouldn’t. The department will better track allegations against officers and look for signs of behavior that may warn of a problem. Training will be provided to officers to help them speak up when they see troubling behavior by their colleagues and even their bosses. A civilian review board now also reviews misconduct cases and recommends disciplinary action.
But there is more we want to see from the department once an officer is accused of wrongdoing. For one, investigations need to be conducted in a timely manner, and when they are not, people need to be disciplined. A criminal would never be let off the hook because an investigation wasn’t completed by a deadline and neither should a police officer. The department hasn’t even finished the internal investigation into the Gun Trace Task Force, and those officers are already serving prison sentences for their indiscretions, the consent report found. Knowing the weaknesses that led to the rogue behavior of the seven cops on that task force can be used in strategies to prevent other scandals.
We suspect we will see more vision now that Mr. Harrison has named a new deputy commissioner in charge of the Public Integrity Unit, which oversees officer misconduct investigations. Brian Nadeau is now the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office.
Mr. Nadeau is not a homegrown Baltimore police officer, which could help in this role. We wouldn’t expect him to have the close personal relationships that might impede an investigation as officers who have served together for years and might not want to turn in a fellow colleague. Mr. Nadeau worked as a police officer in Maine and then came to the FBI in 1997 working crime investigation in New York. At the same time, he knows Baltimore from his work in the FBI’s field office here. Time will tell if his experience will help clean up the bad apples in the department.
Another simple thing Mr. Harrison could consider is to better track when corruption cases are about to expire and put all hands on deck to complete the investigation. There should also be a mechanism in place to extend deadlines if there is a good reason for why a case is being held up, something that would have to be changed in state law. So far this year, 25 cases have already expired without any conclusion. This despite the heated scrutiny on police misconduct.
Lastly, the commissioner should support transparency efforts, such as a bill pending in the City Council that would get rid of “gag orders” that prevent victims of police malfeasance from talking about settlements with the city. He could also speak out in support of transparency laws that give families of victims access to body camera footage, autopsy reports, investigation files and complaints against an officer that don’t result in death. This will show that departments aren’t trying to cover for officers.
Police spokesman Matt Jablow told Mr. Rector that the commissioner “recognizes the significant issues facing our internal affairs operations and the importance of correcting those issues as quickly as possible.” Mr. Jablow also said a more “robust, efficient and effective internal affairs unit” will be created.
Police will find their jobs will become easier, and crime fighting more effective, when the community trusts their integrity once again.