BALTIMORE (AP) — The judge enforcing a federal oversight program in Baltimore requiring sweeping police reforms said Thursday that the city’s troubled force appears to have a “culture of timidity” in confronting corruption within its ranks.
At a public court hearing to review progress implementing a federal consent decree, U.S. District Judge James Bredar said he believes the Baltimore Police Department has been greatly harmed by “pockets of corruption” and encouraging whistleblowers while breaking a code of silence will be critical in transforming the force.
Bredar stressed that the police department’s “timidity must be replaced by a culture of absolute intolerance for those who misbehave.” Speaking of corruption, he said police authorities must “root it out, condemn it, crush it.”
The judge’s comments come days after the independent monitor overseeing the reform process told state lawmakers he believed Baltimore’s beleaguered force suffered from a “culture of corruption.” The Baltimore police union’s leadership blasted that portrayal as “irresponsible.”
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Confidence in Baltimore’s sworn protectors has badly deteriorated over many years. However, it might have hit rock bottom last year after admissions by corrupt detectives on an out-of-control unit that members resold seized narcotics, conducted brazen robberies and falsified evidence. It was a federal investigation that brought them down.
At the Thursday hearing, Bredar also disputed a growing chorus of criticism suggesting that Baltimore should focus less on the decree’s court-mandated reforms and more on effectively curbing its high rates of violent crime. On a recent trip to Baltimore, Gov. Larry Hogan said he thought the focus on implementing various reforms was “out of balance” when taking into account the ongoing crime scourge in Maryland’s biggest city.
The judge rejected such thinking as “misguided,” saying constitutional policing and effective policing must be twin objectives tackled simultaneously. “You simply can’t get one without the other,” Bredar said.
Baltimore’s federal consent decree was authorized in January 2017 after the U.S. Justice Department released a scathing report detailing longstanding patterns of racial profiling and excessive force within the city’s police force. Federal authorities began investigating city police following the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a young black man who was fatally injured while in the custody of officers.
Filed in federal court and overseen by a monitor, a consent decree is generally a road map for changes in fundamental police department practices. In Baltimore’s case, the Justice Department agreement mandates changes in the most fundamental aspects of daily police work, including use of force, searches and arrests.
So far, the reform effort has largely focused on rewriting policies. Bredar said Thursday that much foundational work has been done by the consent decree team but “very little of it has hit the street.”
As with other cities, the sweeping consent decree process in Baltimore will take years to implement. Bredar said last year he wanted officials to tell him by April 2019 when they believe full compliance will be achieved and when they think the city can be released from federal oversight.
City Solicitor Andre Davis told the judge that New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison will start as Baltimore’s acting commissioner on Feb. 11. The City Council will vote on his nomination after numerous public meetings with citizens, elected officials and others.
“We fully expect that this process will lead to his confirmation,” Davis said.
Bredar also called for the state of Maryland to contribute funding for a badly needed police training academy to take the place of the existing one described by acting Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle as “totally inadequate.”
A lawyer for the Justice Department, Cynthia Coe, said the training academy building was “decrepit” and occasionally had no running water or functioning heating system.
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