Dear Councilman Scott:
As Chair of the Public Safety Committee of the Baltimore City Council, you take an active and constructive interest in the affairs of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). You long have advocated for a return of the BPD to “city” control.
You and I both know that a full transfer of power is not going to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, there are things that the city council can and should do; the absence of complete control over the police department is no excuse for doing nothing.
You may have seen my op-ed that was published in the Baltimore Sun describing how the senators and delegates that represent the residents of Baltimore could open the disciplinary records of officers of the BPD to reasonable public scrutiny. In my opinion (and in the opinion of many others), full trust in the BPD will never be achieved until that is done.
What can the council do about that? Answer: Pass a resolution supporting introduction and enactment of the local law described in the op-ed. For one thing, such a bill will not pass without the support of city officials. There is a link to the bill that I drafted at the end of this letter.
Generally, city or county council resolutions asking state legislators to introduce specific legislation are about as welcome as suggestions by members of the General Assembly on which bills a local council should pass. But, as you know, the situation here is a different one.
The city council has a profound interest in an agency that, in every chartered county and other municipal corporation, is locally-controlled. It hardly is an intrusion upon state legislative prerogative for the council to express its views on such an intensely local concern as policing.
I am going to digress and vent a bit on what I believe will be the barrier to introduction of the bill I proposed. In my opinion, there are too many legislators from the city, both on the city council and in the General Assembly, who are more interested in avoiding blame and adverse political consequences than in accepting the risks necessary to get something done about the BPD. It is safer to point fingers at “Annapolis,” the mayor, or elsewhere than to take any sort of initiative.
Have you heard any discussion among your counterparts in the General Assembly from the city about the possibility of a public local law introducing some sunshine into disciplinary system of the BPD? I bet that you haven’t, and I bet that the reason is that they don’t want to stick out their necks. A lot of talk and political grandstanding goes on, but little else.
Not that the city council has been much better in the political courage department. In fact, among the rumblings one hears about the reluctance to turn full control of the BPD over to the city are comments about the council’s track record of not exercising the power that it does have.
I saw that first hand with the council’s reticence to exercise its control over the collective bargaining process in a manner that might offend Lodge 3 of the FOP. Council members, including yourself, told me that the council lacked the power to end the ridiculous impasse over the BPD patrol shift schedule. I wrote a number of op-eds pointing out that the council did have the power to end the impasse, including an op-ed that appeared in the Baltimore Brew.
After the op-ed was published by the Brew, I was informed by a city official that a member of the city council had a bill drafted that was “inspired” by the op-ed. The bill would have permanently removed the subject of shift schedules from the scope of collective bargaining in the city.
The draft bill was dated October 29, 2018. Five days later, the leadership of Lodge 3 announced that it reluctantly had capitulated on the issue of changing the 4×10 shift schedule:
“While our members agreed that this proposal [returning to a 5×8 shift schedule] was less than ideal, the alternative to acceptance was dismal, at best. Instead they made the hard choice to preserve our contractual rights, going forward.”
Was the timing a coincidence? Of course not. The union agreed to the shift schedule change while still able to get something in return for its concession. Had the subject of shift schedules been removed from the scope of collective bargaining, it would have lost all its value as a bargaining chip. One shot by the council over the union’s bow and the impasse ended.
The council allowed the impasse to continue for almost three years, costing the city millions of dollars. Council members like President Jack Young and Ryan Dorsey took occasional verbal pot shots at the FOP for its alleged intransigence, but that was all part of the game that it is run on Baltimore citizens by the city’s politicians: Point fingers at someone else and hope that citizens don’t catch on.
In summary, Councilman Scott, I urge you to focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t. If the senators and delegates that represent city residents do the same, some very important things can be accomplished. One of those things is bringing a reasonable amount of transparency to the BPD’s malfunctioning disciplinary system.
David A. Plymyer
[Draft public local law making BPD disciplinary records subject to limited public inspection: draft bill pll balt city disciplinary records 1 12 19 ]