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00000176-4d06-d3bc-a977-4f6ee7e10000 "On The Watch: Fixing The Fractured Relationship Between Baltimore's Police And Its Communities" is a special series from the WYPR newsroom. Please email the reporter at [email protected] with any comments or suggestions.This special series is supported by grants from the Bendit Family Foundation, Sig and Barbara Shapiro, The Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund, and Open Society Institute-Baltimore.

FOP warned police about problems four years ago

P. Kenneth Burns

A report issued four years ago by the Baltimore police union expressed the same concerns about zero-tolerance enforcement and training issues as the caustic Justice Department report on the Baltimore Police Department two weeks ago.

In fact, the federal report cited several times a “Blueprint for Improved Policing” published by the city Fraternal Order of Police in 2012.

Former union president Bob Cherry said he and current FOP President Gene Ryan put together the 15-page report to document many concerns they heard from rank-and-file officers.

“One of the biggest complaints coming from the rank and file… from a lot of our own members who we're representing that some of the problems we face are our own hiring standards,” Cherry said.

Currently, city police require only a high school diploma or the equivalent. The union’s report suggested new officers be required to have a two-year associate’s degree or two years of honorable military service.

The report touched on training, retention and crime fighting strategies. It found that zero-tolerance was not effective and proposed ideas on how to attract more officers to live in the city.

Cherry said they also looked to other departments, like New York City and Howard County, for ideas.

He said they were hoping that the department would be able to fix the problems on its own without having the Justice Department come to Baltimore.

“I think that we know how to police the city,” he said.  “Our officers deserve a lot of credit for the good work we have done.  I mean, this is a city that a lot of people forget used to have 320 -- 330 murders a year, over 12-hundred shootings a year.  And so we worked hard to bring those numbers down, but we knew still needed more improvement.”

But the Justice Department came anyway at the request of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and then-Police Commissioner Anthony Batts.

The Justice Department began a collaborative review in 2014 before expanding into a full scale investigation after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in April 2015.

Investigators found that Baltimore police have routinely violated the civil rights of its citizens; African-Americans more than others. 

Criminologist Jeffrey Ian Ross, with the University of Baltimore, said there was a “garage” full of reports about what was not working properly in the police department. 

And that the FOP was one of several organizations that called for changes in police policies and practices.

“These sorts of recommendations are made on a daily basis in all police departments but having the force and legitimacy of the FOP was important,” Ross said.

Ross called the FOP plan “sound and rational” and said he was “surprised that the recommendations were either ignored or shelved and it would be important to find out exactly which ones were ignored and why.”

Mayoral spokesman Anthony McCarthy said the mayor read the FOP’s blueprint and implemented several of the reforms at the time. 

But he couldn’t say which specific reforms were implemented.

Cherry said that when the union released the blueprint they read in The Sun that the mayor would review their suggestions.  But the union has not met with the mayor to discuss those recommendations.

“I don’t believe that anyone involved with putting the blueprint together had an opportunity to sit down and actually go through it page by page and talk about some of the issues,” he says.

Cherry says he and Gene Ryan talked to the Justice Department about their blue print.  Ryan failed to return calls for comment.

He adds it’s unfortunate that it took four years and the Justice Department probe to talk about some of the issues the union raised.  But hopes that some of the union’s suggestions be part of a consent decree being negotiated between the city and the Federal Government.

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