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by Peter Moskos

February 13, 2018

Baltimore police trial: guilty

Yesterday the verdict came out. I wrote this op-ed for the Washington Post:
This current scandal is more than a case of a few bad apples, though bad apples they were. These officers acted with impunity until the FBI caught wind of their actions through an unrelated criminal investigation in Pennsylvania. A specialized police unit cannot survive for years as a criminal enterprise without the implicit — or overt — acquiescence of higher-ups. Effective leadership could have prevented this. Bad leadership has consequences.
Corrupt units tend to be specialized and selective. Once murky rumors begin about a unit or officer, good cops stay away for fear of trouble. The corrupt and brutal cops work together, as I once heard, as if pulled together by some magnetic force. You don’t just randomly get assigned to a plainclothes “gun trace task force.” This unit segregation removes officers from the otherwise corrective influence of the honest rank and file. There is no formal colleague review in policing; perhaps there should be.

Honest cops — still the vast majority — avoid trouble, as any citizen should hope. The rank and file cannot be blamed for keeping their noses clean, especially when unresolved questions remain about the integrity of internal affairs and the prosecutor’s office. These officers in Baltimore were guilty, but the systemic problems represent a failure of leadership, the same leadership that absolved itself of responsibility by inviting the Justice Department to investigate after Freddie Gray’s death.
Until 2015, policing and Baltimore had been getting better. After an excess of zero-tolerance policing in the early 2000s, Baltimore saw a sustained decline in both murder and arrests. From 2004 to 2011, murders declined from 278 to 197 while arrests dropped from 42 percent. People even began to move back to the city. After six decades of decline, the population increased. These civic and public safety gains reversed in 2015. Last year 343 people were murdered in Baltimore City, and the population and tax base is falling once again.

This year the police scandal is yet another black eye for a bruised city. Mayor Catherine Pugh, in a statement she later walked back, said she was too busy to follow the trial. The acting and presumed next police commissioner, Darryl De Sousa, is well-respected but will have his hands full. Corrupt police officers deserve special blame for committing crimes while in the public’s trust. But for a wounded Baltimore to rise again, city leaders, both elected and appointed, must accept their responsibility and get things done.
Go on, click through for the whole article.

February 5, 2018

Qualily Policing #13: Baltimore, BWC, and more

The first Quality Policing Podcast of the new year is up. Peter and Nick begin in (where else?) Baltimore, discussing the trial of detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, from the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force. The two are accused of a range of criminal activities, including robbing drug dealers, and carrying pellet guns as "drop guns," and using Donald Stepp of Double D bail bonds as a fence for stolen drugs. Also, if you must break into and steal from Kenny Bird Johnson's car, please do not be a "rat punk."

Also on tap is a discussion of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's new guide to the evils of body worn video, which Nick described with not a small amount of revulsion - listen to Nick's QPP Extra on Body Cameras and surveillance here.
This week a cop was shot in the face in Louisville (he will survive), and Peter and Nick discuss that, and the response to it, and Peter raised the story from San Francisco of cops getting run over by car thieves, and the officers not shooting at the moving car that ran over the cop and one of the suspects, not once but twice.

Finally, a story from Christmas-time, the continuation of the monumentally stupid practice of cops stopping people to hand out money donated by local businessmen. This started, we think, a few years ago (here's a USA Today story from 2015) but it's continuing now; here's a story from Ohio about cops stopping cars to hand out cash... And here's the story from Kansas City, KS Nick was discussing.

Handing out charity used to be function of police. While this is unprecedented in recent history, it is not without precedent. In New York City, for instance, under Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, police handed out "relief." Who better to give to the needy than the neighborhood officers who knew the needy (and "worthy") residents of their beat. Peter forget to mention that in the podcast, so thanks for reading.

January 23, 2018

Cops and Robbers in Baltimore

Justin Fenton of the Baltimore Sun has tweeted a crazy account of testimony in today's trial of corrupt Baltimore cops.
Crazy testimony in federal court just now by former Detective Maurice Ward, outlining illegal tactics used by Gun Trace Task Force Officers ...

They’d regularly drive fast at a larger group of people, slam brakes and pop their doors to see who ran, then detain and search them. They had no reason other than trying to provoke someone. 10-20 times on slow nights, as many as 50 times others, he said.

Ward said Sgt Jenkins profiled vehicles - “dope boy cars” such as Honda Accords, Acuras, Honda Odysseys - for car stops and would falsely claim he saw people not wearing seat belts or their windows were too darkly tinted.

Jenkins also had a thing about men over age of 18 carrying a book bag - probably drugs, he guessed, so they would stop them, Ward said.

More outrageous testimony from Det Ward: they kept BB guns on hand in case they hit someone or got into a shootout and needed to plant it on someone.

When they stopped someone suspected of being in the drug game, Jenkins would ask, “If you could put your own crew together and rob the biggest drug dealer you know of, who would it be?” And then they’d go after the person they named, to rob them.

Prosecutors dumped out a giant black bag, like a hockey equipment bag, onto the floor that apparently belonged to Jenkins that had masks, black clothes, shoes, and tools such as a rope with a grappling hook.

One of the craziest stories involved a man who they stole $100,000 from. Ward says Jenkins listened to the man's jail calls after he was arrested, and heard him talking about the officers stealing money from him. /1

The man said he was going to hire a good lawyer and try to go after them. Jenkins learned that the man's wife was handling things for him on the outside, and he wanted to extract her so he'd have to hire a public defender and plead out, Ward said /2

So on one of the calls, Jenkins heard the man talking to another woman. Jenkins, Ward said, had an officer with good handwriting write up a note purporting to be from the other woman saying she was pregnant, and dropped it in the wife's front door /3

This is just the first of four officers who will testify during this trial, and he hasn’t even been cross-examined yet.
The story in the Sun.

This scandal is big. And it starts just as a new commissioner takes over the BPD. And that transition, from Davis to De Sousa, is just about the first good bit of policing news coming from Charm City in three years. Davis, you may remember, took over from Batts in 2015. Batts was the so called "progressive" who led the department into a riot and saw murder nearly double overnight in May, 2015. But rumor has it that Batts, to his credit, wouldn't go along with the futile (and failed) criminal prosecution of the six cops involved in the arrest and subsequent death in police custody of Freddie Gray. Davis, they say, got the job in part because he had so such qualms.

I don't know De Sousa, but I've only heard good things. At least now the possibility of change for the better.

I still can't get over the fact that the DOJ was investigating the Baltimore Police Department at the same time that all this was going on. What did they find? Poorly filled out "statements of probable cause," a few petty gray-area scandals from a decade ago, and, get this, black cops in Baltimore use the "n word." And yet they were totally clueless about all this happening under their nose. But we can't blame the investigators because, well, we don't know who they were since the report was anonymous and with the only the vaguest of "methods" section. But then the purpose of the DOJ report was not to find the truth, but rather show problem to legally trigger a consent decree.

Speaking of which... Keven Rector reports in the Sun:
The two highest-ranking Baltimore police officials in charge of instituting reforms, overhauling policies and ensuring compliance with the city’s consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice have both resigned following Mayor Catherine Pugh’s firing of Police Commissioner Kevin Davis last week.
Well, there you have it.