"We've Got A Long, Long Way To Go," Consent Decree Monitor Tells Delegates In Annapolis | WYPR

"We've Got A Long, Long Way To Go," Consent Decree Monitor Tells Delegates In Annapolis

Jan 18, 2019

Kenneth Thompson, partner at the Venable law firm in Baltimore and Consent Decree Monitor, briefs the Judiciary Committee in the House of Delegates.
Credit Mary Rose Madden / wypr

The Baltimore City Police Department is in a state of disrepair - worse than people originally thought, and it will take millions of dollars and years longer than anticipated to fix it, according to the monitor overseeing the reforms.

The department “is a dysfunctional organization, a highly dysfunctional organization,” Kenneth Thompson, the monitor, told the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee Thursday. “Its policies were poor, its staffing is poor, its technology is poor.”

The system for keeping track of simple things like how often officers stop and frisk people is so outdated that it’s backed up for years, he said.

The city entered the consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice after an investigation into the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody found a pattern of unconstitutional policing. That decree will be two years old in April.

Thompson heads a monitoring team appointed by U.S. District Judge James Bredar.

He told the committee Thursday the accountability systems –the Offices of Professional Responsibility (OPR) which includes the Internal Affairs Division, are at the height of the dysfunction.  They are operating with only a fraction of the investigators they need, out dated policies, and a lack of knowledge as to how to perform the investigations. 

“The OPR is still in shambles,” he said. "The culture of corruption has to be addressed."

Delegates wanted to know what progress the department has made over the last 19 months. When will these problems be fixed? And, of course, how much will it cost?

Despite the problems, Thompson said, the progress in fixing them has been “reasonable.”

For one thing, they’ve created new policies in the department.

“Old policies were confusing. They didn’t meet best practices,” he said. “Bad policies lead to bad training and bad training leads to bad cops...So, we wanted 'state of the art' best practices."

Seth Rosenthal, the consent decree’s deputy monitor, told the committee they have finished revising policies.

“We’re done with policy revision,” he said. “We’re headed into training revision.  Now, there are only a handful of officers in charge of curriculum.”

The new policies cannot be put into action until all the officers have been trained on them - and with the academy lacking staff, that training isn't possible. 

Although they have made some progress, Thompson added, the problems won’t be fixed in the five years that he could serve as monitor and the cost will be at least $50 million to $60 million.

Some lawmakers suggested bringing in police officers from outside police departments to facilitate training at the academy.

Delegate Emily Shetty, a Montgomery County Democrat, wanted to know if the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 3, has "bought into" the changes.

Thompson said it’s hard to tell.

“You hear comments from different quarters that somehow the consent decree is an impediment to police work,” he said. “I will say to you that I have a strong disagreement with that.” 

Thompson also raised the issue of the now disbanded Gun Trace Task Force, officers convicted of various charges of robbery and extortion, targeting suspected drug dealers.

"They were bandits,” he said. “These were Jesse James on steroids, and we have requested that they do a forensic review of that unit.”

Thompson said he wants to know how those officers got into the police academy in the first place, how they were trained and who they worked for. He asked whether their supervisors should have noticed issues as long as five or six years ago that “would have been a red flag and you would have looked at that person and said this person needs to get out of this department.”

He said the monitoring team has ordered a staffing study to figure out how best to organize the officers they do have. And the team has brought on an advisor to help upgrade the department’s technology.

Thompson told the committee they were just getting started, using a football metaphor.

“We’re in the first quarter and this is the first drive,” he said.

Next week, the team goes before U.S. District Judge James Bredar to give a more detailed report.