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A Troubled Police Force and Hope for Change

By Barrington M. Salmon, Contributing Author, The Remaining Name

For greater than 50 years, the Baltimore Police Department has earned the popularity as a troublesome, bruising drive that leveled most of its rough remedy and casual cruelty on Appeal City’s Black residents.

Blacks of their 60s and others in their 30s converse of the brutality visited on them by a police drive many came to despise and distrust. They spoke of harassment, beatings, detainment and arrests at the whim of the officers, in addition to anger and frustration at having no public official capable of pressure rogue officers to adjust to the regulation and treat Black individuals humanely.

The Rev. Graylan Hagler, who was born and grew up in Baltimore, recollects the best way Black residents have been treated.

“I’ve been hearing some stuff (about the changes) on the periphery,” he stated. “Historically, the police department was used to enforce segregation even after the Civil Rights Act. We couldn’t go into certain neighborhoods, so they pulled you over on ‘a routine check.’”

Rev. Hagler stated his father bought a Lincoln Continental within the late 1960s and he was pulled over repeatedly. It was additionally well-known in the Black group that initiation for White officers was to grab a Black individual off the road and beat them.

The depth and breadth of the corruption that grips the department exploded in 2018 throughout a trial involving seven of eight members of the elite Gun Trace Taskforce. Witnesses testified taskforce members have been purported to be taking illegal weapons off the street. As an alternative, the officers have been reselling seized weapons and medicine proper back onto city streets.

“That was the ‘Blue Code.’ Everyone in the department had to have blood on their hands,” stated Rev. Hagler, a veteran civil rights and social justice veteran and senior pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in Washington, D.C. “There’s always been this really hostile relationship, especially with poor Black communities. You saw it with Freddie Gray. There’s a high crime rate because the police isn’t engaged, and the city is not engaged with the community either.”

Yet, one specific response by lately appointed Police Commissioner Michael Harrison stunned quite a lot of individuals and held out hope that the department might probably change. Media reviews point out that Sgt. Ethan Newberg, a 24-year veteran, was operating a warrant examine when a person passing by criticized him for putting the suspect on a wet road. Sgt. Newberg chased him down, grabbed him, tackled him, handcuffed him and arrested him. The sergeant filed a report saying the passerby “challenged him and became combative and aggressive.” Nevertheless, after department officials reviewed Sgt. Newberg’s footage from his body digital camera, the actual story came out.

“From what I saw, he did nothing to provoke Sgt. Newberg, whose actions weren’t just wrong but deeply disturbing and illegal,” stated Police Commissioner Michael Harrison in a press conference saying expenses towards Sgt. Newberg. “I don’t know how something like this would have been handled in the past, but I knew as soon as I saw this video, I knew how I’d be handling it.”

Sgt. Newberg, the second highest paid city employee in 2018, was arrested on June 6, charged with false imprisonment, misconduct and second-degree assault and suspended with out pay.

Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper stated he was heartened by Commissioner Harrison’s decisive motion.

“Given its institutional history, that the Baltimore Police Commissioner moved so quickly, and so decisively is a very positive sign,” Chief Stamper informed The Last Name. “Let’s hope that as the story unfolds further, we’ll learn that at least some of Newberg’s superiors and/or peers had also come forward with their own observations of his conduct, past and present.”

“This is an example of major systemic (and workplace culture) failure,” Chief Stamper continued. “Supervisors (and peers) have a responsibility to blow the whistle on alleged wrongdoing of the type you describe. And the department or, preferably, an independent investigative body, has an obligation to conduct timely, accurate, and thorough investigations into all instances of alleged misconduct. Failure to do so sends a message throughout the cop culture: brutality, bigotry, corruption will be excused. It sounds like Newberg’s bosses, and peers, did him no favor by not holding him to account long ago. Although, of course, he had an obligation to conduct himself with dignity, respect, and self-discipline.”

Wake Forest Regulation Faculty Prof. Kami Chavis stated Commissioner Harrison’s determination was sudden.

“Wow!” she exclaimed. “A little justice. When anyone performs a criminal act, he or she should be punished. To have trust for police officers, violence should not go unpunished. You cannot have people operating above the law. This is a very important step.”

“No longer can an officer tell a different story,” added Prof. Chavis, associate provost for Educational Initiatives and director of the Legal Justice Program. “The officer committed an egregious act and then lied. It almost tells us a little bit about the morality of some of the officers. We have so long operated in this type of culture in Baltimore where this type of behavior was commonplace.”

Critics of the department and officer conduct would find a terrific cope with which to agree with Prof. Chavis.

The division has lurched from disaster to crisis for years, with office-involved shootings, harassment of residents and beatings caught on physique cams or videos. The depth and breadth of the corruption that grips the division exploded in 2018 during a trial involving seven of eight members of the elite Gun Hint Taskforce. Witnesses testified taskforce members have been alleged to be taking illegal guns off the street. As an alternative, the officers have been reselling seized weapons and medicine proper again onto metropolis streets.

In a trial where one prosecutor referred to as the officers “gangsters with a badge,” eight cops have been indicted, six pled responsible, and four opted to testify within the case as government witnesses. Through the trial, Gun Hint Process Force member Detective Maurice Ward testified that officers would use illegal GPS units to trace targets, break into houses to steal money, and hold BB weapons in their automobiles “in case we accidentally hit somebody or got into a shootout, so we could plant them.”

Mr. Ward, who pled guilty, recounted an incident the place cops “took a man’s house keys, ran his name through databases to find his address, went into the home without a warrant and found drugs and a safe. The officers cracked open the safe, which had about $200,000 inside. They took $100,000 out, closed the safe back up, then filmed themselves pretending to open it for the first time.”

This corruption case deepened public suspicion that piqued following the 2015 demise of Freddie Grey. The 25-year-old Black male was chased, detained by police, taken on a rough experience, suffered severe spinal accidents and died in a hospital. His arrest was captured on video as officers dragged him right into a police cruiser and Mr. Gray appeared unable to stroll.

Mr. Grey’s dying triggered civil unrest, the torching of a variety of companies, looting, arrests of many who’d taken to the streets and dozens of officers being injured.

After the trials and acquittals of three of the six cops who have been charged and indicted, public anger, resentment and frustration ratcheted up.

The riots following Mr. Grey’s dying crystallized the divide between each side.

On Pennsylvania Avenue, a serious Black thoroughfare, indignant residents burned stores, businesses, and automobiles and shattered glass.

Baltimore activist Rev. C.D. Witherspoon echoed the emotions of a number of activists, residents who keep the town’s whole political structure is compromised by corruption, cronyism and greed, adding that the needs and wishes of Blacks are sometimes ignored.

“I think the current commissioner has a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective, but you can’t put individuals in place to reform a system,” he stated. “The department isn’t doing what’s in line with what citizens want and need. Corruption is like an in-grown toenail. We’re talking about a system here, a system not just locally but nationally. The police department needs to be dismantled and reconstructed. Needs to revisit what policing looks like.”

Rev. Witherspoon, an elder at The Mild Baptist Church and a former Baltimore Metropolis chapter president of the Southern Christian Leadership Convention, stated city leaders and coverage makers have to cease criminalizing health issues like drug habit and as an alternative deal with it for the problem it’s, a public well being disaster.

“Public safety should not just be policing, there has to be a public health and mental health component that’s fully funded,” he stated. “The people need to take control downtown and invest in schools, recreation and public health versus building on the waterfront.”

“A lot of people benefit from this plight. We know about private prisons and people getting rich. Other non-profits, in some instances, are profiting by offering employment and other opportunities. Yet this should always be community-driven, and residents should be in charge.”

Rev. Witherspoon, who lives within the Sandtown neighborhood, as did Freddie Gray, stated little has changed because the young man died after an encounter with police.

“The only thing that has come to the community is a new police station,” stated Rev. Witherspoon, who led several demonstrations after Mr. Gray’s dying. “There are no new developments, jobs or rec centers. I don’t see how peoples’ minds have been changed since Freddie Gray’s death. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said riots are voices of the unheard. Frustrations could rise. It is like a powder keg.”

He stated there have been “meeting of minds” and capacity constructing amongst and between grassroots communities.

“Grassroots people are talking but there has to be conversations about systemic and structural racism, the role of police in our communities and jobs beyond redevelopment of the Inner Harbor,” Rev. Witherspoon stated.

In 2015, the police division began working beneath a consent decree. As defined on the internet web page of the Consent Decree Monitoring Group, “Following an investigation that began in 2015, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) found reasonable cause to believe that the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) was engaged in a pattern or practice of constitutional violations, which allegedly included making unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests; using enforcement strategies that produced severe, unjustified disparities in stops, searches and arrests of African Americans; using excessive force; and retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally protected expression.”

Baltimore Lawyer Kenneth Thompson heads the Consent Decree Monitoring Workforce which is working to help the police department adopt quite a lot of reforms aimed toward making certain efficient, protected and constitutional policing. The staff’s work is mandated by U.S. District Courtroom Decide James Okay. Bredar.

“This (consent decree) is driven by decades of perceived mistreatment. Folks have felt police has always gotten a free pass,” Mr. Thompson stated. “Sometimes there are officers with problems. They may have issues, problems at home and domestic problems. The proper technology would red flag officers who need help to supervisors.”

Mr. Thompson stated his workforce is comprised of former police chiefs, different specialists in policing and police reform, members of the civil rights group, and teachers versed in psychology, social science, organizational change, knowledge and know-how and group engagement.

“The personnel in DOJ, to their credit, have been good stewards,” he stated. “This is a lawsuit. The plaintiffs are kicking ass. They want change. It’s possible that the department resents us coming in. I don’t know. The city and police department have been true partners. The will is there. They want to save culture. The question is whether they will have money and capacity to do the job but I’m confident we’ll do it.”

He identified three of the most important challenges that hinder successful implementation of the reforms. They’re strengthening Inner Affairs so that the division correctly investigates situations of misconduct or other deleterious conduct by cops; outdated know-how and staffing issues.

“The old unit had to be disbanded. It was so dysfunctional,” he stated of the Inner Affairs Unit, which has been renamed the Police Integrity Unit. “In the old days, it wasn’t a very hospitable environment. It’s clear that there was favorable environment for those doing wrong. The DOJ saw minimization of charges. Now, it’s easier to file complaints and we’re making sure offenses were filed properly.”

Mr. Thompson stated the staff is setting up a classification guide and is revamping the investigation guide.

“The unit is short-staffed and the technology is not up to par,” he stated. “And it’s difficult to follow data. We’re making sure that the investigators are trained properly. We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress but we’re still dealing with challenges. The department has indicated a really strong desire to change. But we still have a lot of things to do.”

Dr. Natasha C. Pratt-Harris is the principal investigator accumulating knowledge from a survey on group experiences and perceptions of city police that she and her colleagues carried out on the behest of the Consent Decree Monitoring Group.

After plumbing the group’s ideas over a two-month period, she stated she believes that vital and sustained change is coming to Baltimore City. However, she added, a prevailing sentiment from residents’ comments is the feeling that nothing will change. A major discovering from the 640 individuals polled is that the group needs to see the police partaking and engaged with the group, stated Dr. Pratt-Harris, an affiliate professor and coordinator of the Legal Justice program in the Division of Sociology and Anthropology with Morgan State College in Baltimore.

Chief Stamper and Capt. Joseph Perez stated it’s going to be very troublesome to rework a division with entrenched bias, suspicion of the individuals they’re presupposed to serve and a way of entitlement that makes certain officers act with impunity.

“The biggest challenge is dealing with the public, mostly because there’s a lack of trust and a lack of community on our part,” Capt. Perez stated. “The biggest thing is building that trust. Traditionally, in police departments across the country, they like the heavy-handed officers. You almost never see officers recognized for work in the community. We have to go back to basics, go back to the community. I’m not talking about optics. We have to go into the community, build trust.”

Capt. Lopez, a New Yorker who has been in regulation enforcement for greater than 20 years, stated it’s a very good move by Commissioner Harrison who has stated cops ought to go into the group for 20 minutes a shift.

“(But) many officers are resistant. It’s culture and begins in the academy. You can absolutely guarantee that every single person will say they want to help people, serve. But the academy fosters an ‘us vs them’ mentality. They see the community is a threat and they’ve got to have each other’s back. It’s the thin blue line, not reporting each other.”

Rev. Hagler, Prof. Pratt-Harris and longtime Baltimore Metropolis resident Nick Dorsey each noted problems within the division mirror issues in the metropolis and the nation.

“As with individuals, issues of race and what it means to strive and struggle are playing out. The problems found in BPD are found in the system, every school system, hospitals and elsewhere. The police department is mimicking larger society. We have to accept, acknowledge and address these issues,” argued Dr. Pratt Harris.