I wrote about the federal indictment of seven Baltimore City police officers yesterday (the actual indictment is here) and said: "This is about bad apples. But it's not just about bad apples. There's the barrel that allows these apples to rot."
Who else is to blame? How do we prevent this from happening again? Who said, "Crime is up! Get me guns! And take all the overtime you need"? Who ignored complaints because the "numbers" were good?
I don't have the answers. But these are sincere questions. Because true organizational change best happens from within. Things sure didn't improve when innocent Baltimore cops were criminally charged after the death of Freddie Gray. And the solution sure won't be found in some faddish mandatory training course in implicit-bias or gender-based stereotypes. Bad reform does more harm than good. Good cops will work less; bad cops work harder.
Last year I spent a fair amount of time criticizing the DOJ's report on the Baltimore City Police Department. And for good reason. The DOJ report was anonymously written, horribly researched, and basically per-ordained boilerplate designed to document just enough systemic bias to activate the legal trigger needed to implement a federal consent decree while simultaneously absolving current political and police leaders of any and all accountability for the current mess Baltimore is in. These so-called investigators went to Baltimore while this crap was going on and the worst they could find were some poorly written arrest reports from five years ago?
But I also wrote this:
Mixed in with questionable methodology, intentions, and anecdotes, there's some of God's awful truth in this DOJ report. Yes, the department is a dysfunctional organization that keeps going only because of the dedication of rank-and-file who do their best, despite it all.I tried to highlight what the report got right. I hoped things would get better, but I didn't think they would:
Maybe this DOB report will improve the department despite itself. Though I might be wrong, I doubt it. I suspect people will ignore [what's wrong with the organization] and just focus on eliminating discretionary proactive policing that saves lives. If policing has taught me anything, it's that things can always get worse. Or, as has been said: "I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse."It did get worse.
I also wrote this about the DOJ report:
Accountability ends above the civil-service ranks. Why is that? Where is the leadership and accountability on high? Nobody blames the bosses -- the mayor and police commissioner in particular -- for the dysfunction of the department they control.How much do you want to bet that one or more of the just-indicted officers are on that list? But did anybody do anything?
You think cops like working with (the very small minority of really) bad cops? Hell, no. But the system has no way to get rid of them. So you make do. You have to.
I defend most police officers because I've been there. ... I've had to work with cops I wouldn't trust as far as I can throw.
So fix it, dammit. Good cops want to, but they can't.
And then we get to a failed discipline process.
[From the DOJ Report:] The system has several key deficiencies.
It is clear that the Department has been unable to interrupt serious patterns of misconduct. Our investigation found that numerous officers had recurring patterns of misconduct that were not adequately addressed. Similarly, we note that, in the past five years, 25 BPD officers were separately sued four or more times for Fourth Amendment violations.
You might call that a red flag.
You know what might help: figure out who didn't do the wrong thing. What you have here is an inadvertent integrity sting. Now I know you're not supposed to get credit for doing what you're expected to do. But you might find something out from who (if anybody) in that squad didn't abuse overtime. Whose name didn't come up in a wire tap? Who entered the squad, had a look around, and left right away thinking, "maybe uniform patrol isn't so bad after all"? But that's not the way these things work.
[Update: According to Justin Fenton in the Sun these seven were the entire squad. As to spending your career "risking your life" to protect others as a defense, this clip from Scott and Bailey comes to mind.]
It's not that good cops cover for bad cops as much as they stay the fuck away from them. Why? Because if you know enough to rat somebody out, you're already in way too deep. And if you don't know enough, well, what are you supposed to do? Go to Internal Affairs and say, "I've heard rumors"? And what if some of the rumors happen to be about Internal Affairs? Nope. What you do is put on blinders to cover your ass. Why? Because when the shit hits the fan, you don't want to be anywhere near it. This is not a Blue Wall of Silence as much as a Blue Cone of Silence. And when the bad cops are off segregated in their own unit, it makes it so much easier to see no evil. If your Spidey Sense tingles, you stay the hell away.
And the solution -- and this is always the case -- needs to focus on the wrongdoers rather than be collective punishment on the majority, who are good. From my book, Cop in the Hood:
Some officers enter the police department corrupt. Others fall on their own free will. Still others may have an isolated instance of corruption in an otherwise honest career. But there is no natural force pulling officers from a free cup of coffee toward shaking down drug dealers. Police can omit superfluous facts from a police report without later perjuring themselves in court. Working unapproved security overtime does not lead to a life in the mob. Officers can take a cat nap at 4 a.m. and never abuse medical leave. There is no slope. If anything, corruption is more like a Slip 'N Slide. You can usually keep your footing, but it's the drugs that make everything so damn slippery.As to overtime, from 15 year ago:
To control overtime pay, superiors also discourage late discretionary arrests. While a legitimate late arrest may result in a few extra hours of overtime pay, the sergeant signing the overtime slip is likely to ask details about the arrest to confirm the legitimacy before adding an extra hour or two and giving very explicit instructions to "go straight home."This "rounding up" of overtime was pretty common. And I'll even defend it as one of the only carrots a boss has to reward somebody for doing a good job. Regardless, it is a far cry from what seems to have happened here.