Holding bad cops accountable.

At his confirmation hearing before the Baltimore City Council, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis testified that disciplinary action against officers who violate department standards must be “swift and certain” in order to restore confidence in the department.  In an op-ed in The Sun this month, I argued instead that disciplinary action in the BPD has moved at a glacial pace (“Swift and certain’ discipline for the Baltimore Police Department,” Nov. 12).  Mr. Davis responded with a letter that accused me of misleading readers and described actions that he has taken to improve the disciplinary process (“We hold bad cops accountable,” Nov. 16).

Mr. Davis apparently disagrees with the head of his internal affairs division, Chief Rodney Hill, who on November 10th acknowledged to Jayne Miller of WBAL-TV that the process is indeed slow, with investigations alone taking from eight to 11 months because of what he described as the “thin staffing of investigators.” For some reason Mr. Davis did not mention a backlog in investigations or a staffing shortage in his letter. Who is misleading whom?

Mr. Davis also accused me of making it sound like the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights applied only to Baltimore. The LEOBR is a law of state-wide application, but the problem to which I referred in the case of Sgt. Robert Messner of the BPD, who is accused of spitting on a suspect, is not a matter of state law. It is the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the FOP, not the LEOBR, which requires that any disciplinary action must be suspended until criminal charges have been resolved.  That is an unnecessary requirement that further slows a process already fraught with interminable delays.

Finally, Mr. Davis urged the citizens of the city “to watch our organization closely in the months and years ahead” as “we will work within the law to ensure police officers are held accountable for their actions.”  I am certain that he did not intend this admonition as a joke, but he must be aware that under current law police disciplinary actions are shrouded in secrecy. There is no information on police discipline made available by his department that can be watched, closely or otherwise.  Perhaps the commissioner will join others who seek an end to this secrecy because he cannot expect citizens to rely upon his assurances that bad cops are being held accountable.

[Published as a Letter to the Editor by The Baltimore Sun on November 25, 2015.  I did not post the letter until May 31, 2016; the date of posting listed above was backdated to place the letter on the blog in the order it was written.]

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