Baltimore’s City Solicitor Andre M. Davis told a panel investigating corruption within the city’s police department that he will provide as much information as possible during the probe and that the city remains committed to reforming the plagued department — which will soon have a new leader.
At the second meeting in Annapolis of the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing Tuesday, Davis said Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) is expected to announce a new Baltimore Police Department commissioner in the next week or so.
“Everyone is wondering: when are we going to get stable leadership in the Baltimore City Police Department? Well, stable leadership is imminent,” Davis said. “We’re all happy about that.”
Addressing questions on whether a new commissioner might take a new view on the ongoing consent decree agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to reform the department, Davis, a retired judge, said the document was the guiding template and roadmap to take the police agency in a new direction.
“We are poised in Baltimore City — some would say at long last — to take the step forward that is so critically necessary to bring the police department of Baltimore City into the 21st century,” said Davis, adding that officials hope the agency could someday be a national model for reform and innovative policing.
Davis spoke at length about the city’s devotion to the consent decree process, in light of the parting memo of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That memo — which has no effect on the city’s ongoing agreement being overseen by U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar — was a denigration of the important role the Justice Department can play in police reforms, Davis said.
Davis mentioned ways in which the Justice Department under Sessions had tried to back-peddle from the agreement, but he vowed that the city was committed to the process.
“The parties all understood that consent decrees play a very important and positive role in enhancing and repairing loss of trust,” Davis said.
The Commission to Restore Trust in Policing has broad authority and was crafted by legislation last General Assembly session as knowledge of corruption of the Gun Trace Task Force, an elite police team within the Baltimore Police Department, came to light.
Eight members of the nine-member Gun Trace Task Force have been convicted of federal racketeering charges. The officers’ corruption included robbing city residents and suspected drug dealers, and improperly using police resources to plot their schemes.
Commissioners asked Davis for a number of documents to aid their investigation, including a list of officers who had asked to be transferred out of the Gun Trace Task Force and their reasons why; annual reports about the task force; complaints filed against members of the task force; and information about complaints to the internal affairs division.
Davis said he would get the commissioners the documents they need, but that ongoing court cases, attorney-client privilege and confidentiality laws will require an agreement with the commission to provide some documents only after they are subpoenaed and to accept some documents under seal.
Commission member James N. Robey, a former state senator and ex-Howard County police chief, said he was interested in learning about the earliest signs of trouble within the task force to see if the police department had an organizational weakness in identifying problems.
“There were lots of red flags all over the place,” Davis responded, citing stories of misconduct conveyed to lawyers in the city, motions filed in court cases and formal complaints filed against officers. “…This was a systemic failure of the criminal justice system.”
Davis attributed the failure to inadequate funding. “When you starve a criminal justice system of resources and you try to do it on the cheap, bad things happen,” he said.
Commission members on Tuesday asked for more information including about the Baltimore City Police Department’s technical standing as a state agency and whether that relationship should continue. The city of Baltimore provides the bulk of the funding for the agency and the police commissioner reports directly to the city’s mayor; the city council has no direct oversight, a source of frustration at times for local leaders.
The unique structure means that the agency and commissioner enjoy some immunities afforded to state agencies in federal court cases and can’t be sued for some claims in state court.
Davis also addressed recent concerns by the Civilian Review Board, which reviews complaints of excessive force and abuse by police officers.
Davis and the city’s law department have stopped providing cases to the board for public hearings, citing confidentiality concerns until all members sign a new confidentiality agreement. The board has filed a lawsuit against the city, asking a court to reinstate its authority.
Davis suggested Tuesday that the original law empowering the panel, passed by the General Assembly in 1999, needed to be updated to address confidentiality concerns and bring more transparency to the civilian review board process by allowing more information to be shared publicly.
The commission is expected to file an initial report in December, to include goals for their overall work as well as details on resources or powers the commission might need to author a final report due in 2019.