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by Peter Moskos

June 19, 2015

Batts says he'd reform the police department if only it weren't for all those pesky police officers.

Batts doubles down against the rank and file.

I'm not quite certain whom Batts is trying to win over with his op-ed in the Sun. It seems like maybe he should have thought twice before pressing the send button.

The first half of Batts' article is spent recounting how bad the police department used to be, before Batts showed up to save the day:
The decade before I arrived saw more than 50 officers arrested, according to news reports. The public consciousness is filled with names like William King and Antonio Murray, who were sentenced to hundreds of years in federal prison for robbing drug suspects.... The cycle of scandal, corruption and malfeasance seemed to be continuing without abatement.
Now I was already gone a decade before he arrived. So maybe the department went to hell the second I left, but I doubt it. Now King and Murray were criminal cops caught up in the war on drugs. They were arrested (thanks to the Stop Snitching video) and convicted after taking the stand in their own defense.

The tow-truck scandal was less serious but more odd. It was like a throwback to low-level corruption from the 19 friggin' 60s. But since it involved more officers, it is worth looking at. This scandal was also very much linked to a 2006 effort to hired Spanish speakers officers: "Baltimore can also lure Puerto Rican applicants with higher pay: The department's starting salary is $37,000, compared with $25,000 for a starting job in a Puerto Rican police agency."

Well perhaps it would have been better to simply offer Spanish classes in Baltimore.

Because in 2008 it seemes like the whole damn Puerto Rican police department got busted. (And the Puerto Rico PD apparently still hasn't cleaned up their act.) So apparently some high-ranking genius went down to Puerto Rico and poached a dirty police department of some of its dirty police officers. But hey, you want US citizen Spanish speakers and only have $37 grand to pay? I got a deal for you! (To be clear, many but not all of the officers caught in that scandal were linked to that hire. Likewise, not all the officers hired were dirty.)

Anyway, Batts is right about this:
Many officers will be unhappy reading these words. Many want me to outright defend the department and say nothing is wrong with the way this organization engages in police work. For the overwhelming majority that is true. However, when people go on television wearing masks, allege themselves to be police officers and are cloaked in the shadows espousing their own indifference to violence as children are shot, I am troubled. This is not the Baltimore Police Department that I know.
One problem is that Batts has never known the Baltimore Police Department. Or Baltimore.

Then Batts takes on black officers:
I challenge the leadership of The Vanguard Justice Society, an African American advocacy group for police officers, to stand and project their voice in this African American city, where people who look like them feel treatment is unfair. Speak out against the beating of a resident at a bus stop or the selling of narcotics on the back porch of a police station. Where is the concern over scores of African Americans arrested and college scholarships lost? Don't allow yourself to be used as a tool of a bygone strategy from times long since past.
Did the police commissioner just call his black officers a bunch of Uncle Toms? Well, that's not going to go over well. Now the Vanguard Society has never been an advocate for business as usual in the policing world. In some ways black police organizations exist as opposition to the older, whiter, more conservative FOP/PBA world. And to the credit of the Vanguard Society, they've also called out Batts for his job poorly done.

Batts continues, taking credit where none is due:
I will not apologize for bringing professionalism and integrity to the forefront while eliminating greed, corruption and intolerance from the rank and file. Policing in any environment is difficult on a good day. That does not mean we have, or should ever have, a blank check to treat the public with callous disregard.

Continuing these reforms also means that organizations and individuals, who have profited, either materially or through position, will continue to fight against the reforms we are enacting. It means that people will throw mud, call into question my leadership, or lament days gone by. They will attack with innuendo, rumor and supposition. We will respond with fact, with evidence, with the things we have done.

Reform is not easy. It comes with a cost. It is a cost we should be willing to pay for the future of our city.
So what exactly are Batts' reform accomplishments? Because I honestly do not know. Or is his vague call for "reform" simply be a cover for incompetence, a riot, a demoralized police department, and a homicide rate that has more than doubled? Because I think it's the latter. So let me be the first to nominate Paddy Bauler for commissioner. He's the Chicago politician famous for one line: "This city ain't ready for reform!"

[Batts, known for his fuzzy math (though he may be basically right about the number of officers terminated), comes out with these stats:
We have seen the lowest police involved shootings since 2004, a 54 percent decrease in discourtesy complaints, a 45 percent decrease in excessive force complaints and lawsuits at the lowest levels in years.
If true, that's interested. Especially when combined with arrests being down 65 percent from their peak. It sure seems to go against the idea that the "uprising" was some inevitable rebellion against bad and over-aggressive policing.]


Adam said...

I agree. I don't understand who he thought his target audience was. The city's police officers need motivation, and this certainly didn't provide it. And it's not as though the rank-and-file needed to be told that they might get arrested or fired. Christ, that's the reason for the slowdown!

The Sun did a follow-up with reactions from the police union, Vanguard, and city politicians. Seems like Batts pissed everybody off.


Anonymous said...

Is there any measurable of quality of police force because PCM's anecdotal stories of the BPD no longer have any credibility with me. Everybody else seems to think the BPD has been this way for years (including the time PCM was on the force).

campbell said...

it's not as though the rank-and-file needed to be told that they might get arrested or fired

Right? God, Batts is an idiot. Trying to pass off the reluctance to do proactive work like it's the police having a tantrum is nuts. Mosby's very questionable legal reasoning isn't something from their imagination.

Anonymous said...

Except it is a tantrum. I don't know how you can be in such denial. In word and deed that is exactly what is going on. You all are delusional.

Moskos said...

Thanks for that insightful comment. Nothing like anonymity backed up with no experience to add intelligence to any discussion.

Anonymous said...

heres a great video where an ex cop eric potts rants about fb police academy graduates and lawyers out there who think they understand police procedure


Moskos said...

I don't know if ranting ever really helps the cause. I see what he's saying. And I understand his anger. And I like his defense of sometimes having to use bad language. But I don't think anybody who already hates cops is going to watch that and say, "Gee, now I understand. You guys are great!"

Moskos said...

I guess what bothers me a bit about that video is the idea that the cop is always right and the public is always wrong. Is there any police action he would criticize? Cause I can think of a few.

About that recent pool incident. If I were a betting man I'd say the cop handled that scene horribly. Tactically you can't go into a situation and tell 20 screaming people to get on the ground and comply. Not because it's not an ideal state of affairs, but because it ain't gonna happen. You can't put yourself in a situation where you end up running around like a chicken with his head cut off.

But you do need to see what lead up to a police action and not just, as he described, a cop using force on an 80-year-old woman. I can imagine a situation, possibly, that would make what happened at the pool OK (ironically the only thing that *didn't* bother me was the cop pulling the gun). I doubt it. But it's possible. And since I wasn't there. And since I don't know, I shut up.

That said, I've watched too many cops fuck things up using bad language, bad attitude, and having zero empathy. And I'm thinking of situations that were fine before the cop tried to "help." There's a certain level of testosterone and anger that reminds me of cops who demand compliance... and then rarely get it.

Still, I liked watching it!

Anonymous said...

Except my opinion of police has always been unpopular; since I am from a demographic where I could be a very minor public figure at some point (and have been in the past), I do not choose to have my relatively unfiltered and easily cherry-picked words attached to my name. I will tell you that whatever the "truth", you are losing the perception battle. My criticism of police in my social circle is less restrained and more readily accepted than at any time in the past. My African-American friends are apoplectic about what's going on to the point of talking in an almost irrational way. The Baltimore Sun did a poll and 3:1 it felt the slowdown was deliberate (unscientific internet poll, but there it is). The Mayor, the Chief, and several Council members have weighed in (I don't know if a majority has, maybe PCM can tell us). So you can dismiss what I am saying but there is no doubt in my mind that change is coming.

campbell said...

Except it is a tantrum. I don't know how you can be in such denial. In word and deed that is exactly what is going on.

When a prosecutor decides to pursue false imprisonment charges on cops where there was obvious and fully legal reasonable suspicion for a detention then proactive police work will stop. It's delusional to think there was going to be any other outcome. Are you risking jail at your job every day in order to take the moral high ground? I think not.

there is no doubt in my mind that change is coming

In Baltimore that change is here. Be careful what you wish for. You know what change I bet we don't see? A bunch of liberals applying to be cops.

Anonymous said...

Campbell, you are one sorry excuse for a cop is my best bet. The false imprisonment charges are not part of the case going forward. They were dropped with the grand jury indictment. But you are too stupid to know that just like you have no clue about liberals applying to be cops. When Batts talks about the rank and file being out of step or needing reform, you should see the dagger pointed at your badge because he (or someone like him if BPD police unions force him out) is coming for you.

Adam said...

Anonymous: I don't blame you for remaining anonymous, as I can understand the desire to not have your comments cherry-picked. For the same reason, I only use my first name here. But I think it's pretty annoying when people resort to personal attacks while hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. "You are to too stupid to know that..." Really, dude? Not only is that childish, but you really make yourself look silly when you tell someone they're too stupid to know something, and then the "something" isn't accurate.

First of all, Mosby *charged* the cops with false imprisonment, which is significant in itself. No cop is going to think "Well, I might get charged with false imprisonment for a reasonable mistake of law, but at least there's the chance the grand jurors won't indict on that charge when the prosecutor asks them to."

Second, and more importantly, the Baltimore SAO has stuck to their false arrest theory. It's the basis for the assault and misconduct-in-office charges against the arresting officers. The SAO made that clear in a recent court filing, which you can read about here: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/freddie-gray/bs-md-ci-mosby-filing-20150611-story.html

Adam said...

I can understand your desire to not have your comments cherry-picked. For that same reason, I only use my first name on here. But when you're cloaked in anonymity on an internet blog, you come off as rather silly when you hurl personal insults at another poster. "You are one sorry excuse for a cop"? "You are too stupid to know..."? Really, dude? You just sound childish. Worse yet, you accused Campbell of being too stupid to know something that you yourself are uninformed about.

First, it's significant in itself that the State's Attorney's Office *charged* the officers with false imprisonment. No cop is going to think, "Gee, I could get arrested for making a reasonable mistake of law, but at least there's a chance the grand jurors won't indict on those charges when the prosecutor asks them to."

Second, and much more importantly, you overlook the fact that the SAO is still pursuing the false arrest theory. That's the basis for the assault and misconduct-in-office charges against the arresting officers. You can read about that here. (And you *should* have read up on this before you posted).

Adam said...

Anonymous: You sound ridiculous with all these personal attacks. "You are one sorry excuse for a cop"? "You are too stupid to know ..."? Grow up, dude.

Also, you're mistaken about the nature of the case. True, the grand jury declined to return false imprisonment charges, but the SAO is still pursuing the false arrest theory. That's the basis of the assault and misconduct-in-office charges against the arresting officers. See here.

Anonymous said...

Adam, the charges for false imprisonment are not on the table. All other charges relating to the knife and its illegality have been dropped. There are no false arrest charges that I can see clearly (the article is hard to follow). It seems there is one charge of officer misconduct regarding lack of probable cause that remains against Rice. So dude, when Campbell comes around with his cop swagger and cop BS and cops an attitude, I am going to respond. 1. He made a specific factual statement that was false and then followed through. 2. He called me delusional to say that this was not about accountability, but instead a reasonable response to circumstances. Guy died. charges were brought. Happens in other jurisdictions and nothing like this slowdown has occurred. It is a tantrum. The public thinks so, the politicians think so, and the rhetoric of the police spokesmen suggest it strongly. 3. He ends his post with explicit support of the BPD not doing their jobs and a suggestion that good policing is only for conservatives. These three things combined with reading Campbell in other threads perfectly justifies me in calling him stupid and a bad cop.

Anonymous said...

PS. I'm done engaging Campbell and PCM if you want to delete posts above, I won't take offense with you although I am and will remain offended by Campbell.

Adam said...

Anonymous: first, I don't think you should overstate the importance of the grand jury not indicting on false imprisonment. It's significant enough that cops were *charged* with false imprisonment. Campbell's point, with which I agree, is that officers have legitimate reason to feel reluctant about doing their jobs, because they think they might be criminally charged for making reasonable mistakes. (I'm not talking about the conditions that led to Gray's death; I'm talking about the initial stop and arrest). No cop is going to say, "Gee, those officers got arrested for misjudging whether they had probable cause, but it's all good, because the Grand Jury didn't indict on the false imprisonment charge."

More importantly, as I said, prosecutors are still pursing the false arrest theory against three officers. As you pointed out, Rice (the lieutenant) is one of them. But just before that, the article states that "In explaining second-degree assault and misconduct charges against Nero and Miller, they [prosecutors] said the officers lacked probable cause to arrest Gray." So the officers' interpretation of the legality of the knife is still central to those charges. Prosecutors are arguing that the officers committed assault and misconduct by physically arresting Gray, who possessed what they say was a legal knife. The prosecutors' fallback theory (as articulated in other filings) is that even if the knife was illegal, the officers handcuffed Gray before they found it, thereby transforming a Terry stop into an illegal arrest.

Whether the knife was legal or illegal appears to be open to reasonable, differing interpretations. Police investigators and BPD lawyers thought it violated City Code; prosecutors think it's legal. Whether the manner in which officers detained Gray transformed their stop into an arrest is an even fuzzier legal issue. So, ultimately, prosecutors criminally charged three officers for making alleged mistakes of law on the sorts of issues that lawyers routinely disagree about.

Your point, I take it, is that a man died in police custody and, as a result, it makes perfect sense that criminal charges were brought against the cops involved. I understand that sentiment, and I think (based on what we know so far) that some charges were indeed warranted against the officers who created the conditions that led to Gray's death. But Marilyn Mosby appears to have swept up every cop that had contact with Freddie Gray that day and charged all of them with everything she could think of.

The point is, you can believe that some criminal charges were warranted in Gray's case while also thinking some of the cops were overcharged or altogether improperly charged. And if that's the case (as I believe it is), then Baltimore cops do have rational reasons to be extremely cautious about how they do their jobs.

Moskos said...

Thanks for that very good summary, Adam.

Anonymous said...

But the charges were brought because Gray died. The overcharging argument, the improper charge argument, the discipline argument of the cops all hangs on the idea that if they do their job, they risk these consequences. I do not believe they are thinking that way and nothing the cops I have seen interviewed suggests this is their motivation. The motivation seems clearly to be a response to their fury at the perception of overcharging in the Gray case. Any rational observer knows this and it is broadly implicated in the way the union leadership talks. Since people don't die in the normal course of even aggressive policing and that is what happened in the Gray case, the argument that this is rational just simply blows up.

Moskos said...

I suspect I've spoken to more Baltimore cops than you've "seen interviewed." Police are very much afraid of being caught in the next legal dragnet of "guilty if you were on scene and something bad happened."

And no, until this mess in Baltimore, cops have not generally risked consequences when they make mistakes that don't rise to the level of negligence or malice or unreasonable in the view of a reasonable police officer. And this includes when people die. It happens quite a lot, I'm sure you're aware of. Now you can argue if cops not facing legal consequences is good or bad, but that benefit of the doubt is needed if you want cops to do anything other than answer calls for service and investigate crimes that already happened.

Anonymous said...

Well we can disagree about whether the benefit of the doubt is needed for more than the minimal level of service, but I assume you do understand people expect more than the minimal level of service. Everyone agrees about that; the problem is that the BPD thinks they can go back to business as usual by showing people what a slowdown looks like. I contend they are losing the PR battle, and will end up being disciplined for this type of behavior. The model of policing that emerges where there is more accountability AND more than minimal service will be interesting to see, but I contend that is the future and that some/many cops will have a choice of either changing their attitude or losing their jobs.