Lt. Victor Gearhart of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) has drawn attention to himself on Twitter with a series of tweets expressing his personal views on current events in the city, including referring to demonstrators as “animals” and questioning why black-shirted members of the 300 Men March anti-violence group “dress like ISIS.” He suggested that both State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and her husband, Councilman Nick Mosby, should be deported; both are African-Americans and the implication seems pretty obvious. [“City police union official is reassigned after tweets,” The Sun, January 27, 2016.]
Gearhart’s views may not reflect the views of the police department, and I know from working with Commissioner Kevin Davis while he was the Anne Arundel County Police Chief that the tweets do not represent his views. Much more problematic, however, is whether the tweets reflect the views of the members of the organization that elected Gearhart to represent their interests as officers, sergeants, and lieutenants in the BPD. Gearhart is the first vice president of Lodge No. 3 of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), a position that he has held since 2014. Gearhart is not an official spokesperson for Lodge No. 3 but union members will have a hard time persuading anyone that they elected persons to lead them who have attitudes and beliefs contrary to their own.
Lodge No. 3 has been an unyielding opponent of all efforts to reform the BPD, to the extent of denying the existence of any problems needing reform. The union has vigorously opposed any changes to the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation requested by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. [“Baltimore police union critical of upcoming probe,” The Sun, October 6, 2014.] The mayor, State’s Attorney Mosby, and former Police Commissioner Anthony Batts all have been the subject of vehement attacks by the union. Gearhart’s public comments took a particularly negative turn last year, after he sent an email urging younger officers to leave the BPD if they had a chance: “Any officer with less [than] 10 years on [the force] is a fool if they are not looking for a better police force to jump to. Youngsters, vote with your feet!”
I do not know whether Gearhart is an example of the “embedded racism” of which the BPD has been accused but I do know he sets a terrible example as a supervisor within the department and as a leader within the union. How can a police lieutenant justify speaking like this in public? His destructive attitude is precisely what the city does not need and, in my opinion, he should be fired.
January 27, 2016