15 October 2012

UNSHACKLED: Insiders Let Loose On The Baltimore Police Department

By A.F. James MacArthur Ph.A.L.

The Baltimore Police Department (BPD), works hard to present an image to the public that is a far cry from reality on the inside. Over a series of candid conversations with the Baltimore Spectator, several veteran me
Baltimore Police Department
mbers, all commanders with multiple decades on the job, unleashed a fury of criticism, for what they view as a department deeply entrenched in ongoing scandals, and rife with gross incompetence, being hobbled by ineffective leadership and lack of vision at the top.

"If I lived in the city, I wouldn't call the police."

Lowered Standards

It is believed the department now seems desperate in its recruiting tactic. Driven to generate numbers, they feel that many officers coming out of the police academy are of a lower caliber of professionalism than in the past.

A commander remarked he felt a lot of new officers being brought in are largely lacking in common sense, and seem unfit for the job, with a certain level of intelligence and critical reasoning once sought in prospective officers, absent. Heavy frustration was expressed that within a year or two "all of the good ones leave, and what we're usually left with are the ones no one really wants."

Baltimore County Police Department
The uniform many city officers eventually wear.
Two of the commanders sarcastically remarked how terrifying it is that some of the officers are issued guns, saying it's a scary thing to see them with guns drawn, and even more frightening to see them actually shoot (at the target range). It was said a large percentage of current active personnel barely qualify at the minimum standards of required accuracy and proficiency with firearms on the range.

"If I lived in the city, I wouldn't call the police," said one commander to the Baltimore Spectator. He said he had little faith in the competence and ability of a large amount of the current officers on the force.

The department was jokingly compared to as a development league for surrounding counties. A continuous outflow of officers, in the form of lateral transfers to surrounding counties was noted with frustration. A lateral transfer is a sort of fast track recruiting by police departments for experienced officers. It allows new recruit training to be bypassed, with a shortened orientation taking its place. Also credit for length of service is given in pay and pension considerations. Laterals save municipalities lots of money in training costs, leaving the burden to someone else who's already paid for it, but then lose their return on investment when the officers leave.

English: Stephanie Rawlings-BlakeIncidentally, it was made abundantly clear, the vast majority of police command staff do not live in the city. Citing numerous downsides of city living and a basic lack of faith in Baltimore city government to improve conditions, many reasons were given for living in the surrounding counties. When well paid, upper management level staff of city government, chose not to live in the city, it paints a new light on the audacity of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's, oft-touted initiative of moving 10,000 new families into the city. A challenge she'll need more than luck to accomplish.

Poor Internal Communications

A recurring theme of frustration was how secretive and compartmentalized the department is. Even among it's own members, command staff included, it was expressed that one hand often has no idea what the other is doing. The insiders pointed out how often, the first time they learn of shifts in policy or changes within the department is through the media.

When the Baltimore Spectator asked about an incident Saturday involving a pedestrian struck and killed by a police car responding to a shooting, a search through departmental internal networks had no mention of it, it's mention by this writer was actually the first they had heard of it.

State Troopers stand watch on Greenmount Avenue

The State Police initiative on Greenmount Ave., chronicled by the Baltimore Spectator was also completely unknown to the commanders, although none expressed surprise at its taking place. They noted the Northern District has seen a huge spike in violence and things seemed to be moving in the wrong direction in the area.

Doubt was expressed as to whether or not state troopers from largely rural counties would be effective at policing inner city streets.

Morale Destroyed

According to the commanders, police supervisors with their level of rank and length of service would earn $20,000 to $30,000 more annually in Baltimore County. They said this caused a great amount of consternation when they consider how much more difficult their duty in the city is as compared to their county counterparts.

Numerous sources of tension was cited and repeated often. Poorly trained officers, ineffective leadership, continuous scandals and what was described as too many revolving door, short term commissioners was some of what the insiders expressed as issues causing internal unrest (at 6 years of service, the last prior commissioner, Frederick Bealefeld III, was considered one of the longest serving in a couple decades).

For command staff, who typically seek increased training and higher education, one policy change by the prior commissioner was particularly irksome. When a well established policy of tuition reimbursement for officers enrolled in approved study was yanked without notice, officers were suddenly left to pay their own education expenses after being promised the department would take care of them. This led to feelings of betrayal and  many officers felt a sort of bait and switch was pulled on them. In some cases, officers only enrolled in school because of knowing the on-the-job perk of tuition reimbursement would cover them.

When questioned or confronted about the sudden shift, then Police Commissioner Bealefeld would often remark a college degree is not needed for police work, pointing to how far he rose through the ranks with his level (or lack) of education. Bealefeld's highest level of education is a G.E.D.!

The firing of Ofc. Salvatore Rivieri after a controversial video went viral on YouTube also sent shockwaves throughout the ranks. For an officer with nearly two decades of service, and good performance record, the message sent out was there's no room for human errors in judgement. 

While insiders agree his behavior was wrong, there was unanimous consensus that his actions could have been disciplined in a far less harsh manner. Citing numerous incidents of officers who've been caught doing much worse on the job, and receiving minimal punishment, it is said the Rivieri incident sent the message that a well intentioned officer could be fired for simple making a mistake brought about by his immersion in the way things have always been done in the department, even if the mistake caused no physical harm or injury, or loss or destruction of property.

Disagreeable Directives

Photos by Jay BakerIt was said that at one point, Bealfeld wanted to institute "clean sweep" style tactics, reminiscent of the Martin O'Malley years, but commanders balked, not wanting to see the department return to what many feel was a regrettable dark era of the department.  Bealefeld had specific areas in which he wanted to deploy this tactic including the Greenmount Ave. corridor and nearby Barclay neighborhood.

Note, Bealfeld has often stated in public on various talk shows and interviews how much he would not want the department to go back to mass arrests and the type of sweeping, indiscriminate crackdowns, that often found many young black males being arrested but never formally charged. This policy was a staple during the years Martin O'Malley was mayor.

While the insiders claim Bealefeld wanted to use the controversial tactics, Bealefeld often gave himself credit by repeatedly saying how many less arrests were being made during his tenure, as compared to his predecessors.

On Race

The commanders, who were of different races, noted the majority of command staff is white. In a city that has a black population near 70%, the belief was the department and especially command, should portray more of a representation of the city.  There's a pervading belief that many of the white commanders received promotions that were often undeserved. It was pointed out, there are numerous educated, highly qualified Black members of the department who seem to be regularly passed up for promotion to higher ranks.  In 2009, the city had to settle a multi-million dollar suit, brought by a group of black officers alleging this offense among a long list of grievances found legitimate by the federal courts.

The insiders say not much has changed since the suit and conditions that led to it largely remain in place.

Major Change Needed

A consistent recurring theme coming up in conversation was how the department was inherently flawed and needed massive change in order to be effective. A certain old-line culture is said to be so deeply ingrained in the department that none believed true reform could ever come from within. "We need someone strong to come in from the outside with fresh and innovative ideas. We need to do things differently here," said one commander with nearly 30 years on the job.

When asked for a straight-up opinion of brand new Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, less than a month on the job, across the board the response was one of reserving judgement and taking a wait-and-see attitude. After being pressed, one of the insiders said he didn't believe Batts would be on the job more than 18 months.

According to sources, Batts, who holds a doctoral degree and has a consulting firm and has university faculty experience, will be allowed to retain his private consulting firm and permitted to conduct outside business while sitting as chief. Further pressing by the Baltimore Spectator saw doubt expressed as to weather his heart would be in the job. 

It's widely believed Batts stop in Baltimore is more of a resume builder to be able to add being head of multiple big city departments to his list of accomplishments, than it is a reflection of motivation to truly make a difference in the city.. Concern was, since Batts often took Fridays off, and spent weekends away from the city of Oakland, the location of his last job, he might do the same here.

Commanders referred to the violence over the weekend which saw seven people shot in the city, as an example how, at any moment, Baltimore can experience unexpected sudden surges of violence. They said a visible leader, in the city, on scene, is necessary to guide the department during times of multiple serious incidents. This is needed in order to make sure staff stays on task and on the job, with a trickle down effect starting from the highest commander down to the rank and file officers.

No comment was given in regards to allegations dogging the commissioner, of domestic and spousal abuse, womanizing and chronic dishonesty.

Much of what was revealed to the Baltimore Spectator is a stark contrast to the carefully crafted image presented to the media and general public. This account will no doubt be hotly disputed by some, and cause controversy among many readers. The comment section below is available for those wishing to offer a differing view or to add to the conversation.

A.F. James MacArthur may be reached at 410-205-NEWS (6397) voice or text message, MacArthurMedia@gmail.com, and followed via an ever expanding universe of venues:@BaltoSpectator on twitter , Spreaker web radioBlogTalk RadioBaltimore Spectator on Facebook,YouTube channel

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