October 11, 2016
The Honorable Vanita Gupta
Assistant Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Office of the Assistant Attorney General, Main
Washington, D.C. 20530
Dear Assistant General Gupta,
On behalf of our over 4500 Police Officers, Sergeants, and Lieutenants, active and retired, we are eager to join the discussion to reform the Baltimore Police Department. We are an organization of professional law enforcement personnel and our experience, views, and commitment to a safer city bring much to the conversation that currently surrounds the implementation of the Consent Decree that will dictate the future of not only the Baltimore Police Department but our profession.
The Baltimore Police Department has a very long and storied history. Our members are extremely proud of the badge we wear and have a vested interest in insuring that the future is more successful than the past. We are proud of our many decades of serving the citizens of Baltimore and it is our greatest hope that any reforms generated by the involvement of the Department of Justice will foster an improved relationship with all stakeholders.
In the spirit of a productive reformation, we recently held numerous focus groups in which our active members were encouraged to freely express their own thoughts and ideas for ways in which the BPD can improve its patterns and practices. We emphasized repairing the current climate of dissatisfaction that exists not only within the community but within the agency. Our members are the core of the Baltimore Police Department. We are the men and women who are tasked with the extremely important and highly dangerous job of securing the safety of our citizens. It is our membership who work daily to guarantee that Baltimore City remains a viable place to live and work.
With an eye on the problems outlined in the DOJ’s report, we brought our members together. The following are our suggested reforms to repair the damaged relationship between Police Officers and the community they serve. Those we represent have recognized that the policies and practices put in place by past administrations have led us to this point. Our union as a whole welcomes the Department of Justice and the reforms that they can bring to the Baltimore Police Department to better the agency and Baltimore.
Professional and successful law enforcement is incumbent on clear and concise policies including the communication of those policies through regular and consistent training. At the current time, there exist serious deficiencies not only in the clarity of the BPD policies but also in how they are communicated to rank and file Officers for whom they are intended. Many of the current policies are too vague and open to subjective interpretation or are too broad to be effective. Departmental policy as it relates to law enforcement tends to change rapidly and without any explanation as to why the changes are made. Supervisors at all levels interpret policy as it suits their own operational needs, at times using phone communication to order the circumventing of policies. Officers at times are told to disregard policy altogether. Commanders often require enforcement action that is not consistent with policy and there is no structure in place to require that policies are properly implemented. Much of the departmental policy is negative in tone and infeasible.
- Citizen interaction reporting policies are too vague and cumbersome
- Legal updates should be written in more accessible language
Exceptional training is of the utmost importance to the success of any reform of the Baltimore Police Department. A cultural change within the department will require long term, sustained, and focused training to offset decades of indoctrination by past failed policies. Currently, our training program is less than adequate in terms of both recruit training and continuing education. The Professional Development Training Academy is woefully insufficient in terms of staffing and resources in its ability to communicate policies and requirements. Training requires a major overhaul of curriculum, standards, and facilities. The BPD and our members would be better served by instructors who are proficient in their subject matter and are qualified to offer specialized training. In-Service Training is not enough to effectively equip our officers with the skills and knowledge that they need to properly perform the duties required of them in a rapidly evolving profession. Training should be ongoing and include practical scenario based exercises. Over the past few years, the Academy has seen several command changes. Each new commander has brought these issues to departmental leadership, yet the problems persist.
- DMS is not a substitute for training
- DMS issues policies at an unmanageable pace and appears to be less about education than it is about ensuring that the BPD has covered all of its liability considerations
- Continued Roll Call training is imperative for all units
- Time to complete the requirements of the Policy of the Period must be given during work hours rather than personal time
- New policies should allow for a notice and comment period through PowerDMS prior to finalizing
- There should be more scenario based training exercises
Our membership agrees that the current use of bad practices has contributed to the present climate of distrust between the citizens of Baltimore and the Baltimore Police Department. For too many years, the focus of the agency has been stat driven. This single minded focus on crime stats blinded the department to the long term benefits of public education and sustainable crime prevention. COMSTAT is often named as the major cause of these numbers driven practices.
- Officers are pushed to produce results based on crime numbers rather than on quality of cases or the needs of the community
- The drive for numbers increases aggressiveness
Use of Force
Recent policy changes to when and how force is used has become a topic of both confusion and concern. The focus groups found that the new policy failed to differentiate between a use of force and a show of force. The definitions of a use of force are far too broad and encompass many de-escalation and deminimus tactics. The negative connotation of the large number of uses of force being documented today hinder our members’ ability to be promoted, apply for employment with outside agencies, and seek new assignments within our agency. There should be guidelines on the length of time low level, justified, uses of force remain on an Officer’s record.
- Our Officers are concerned with our current Early Intervention Program. As implemented, it captures too many standard police practices that are now defined as a use of force when they were not at the time the program was first enacted. Separating out a show of force and deminimus action from a use of force would return the Early Intervention Program to its original intent
- Policies regarding drawn weapons should be department wide rather than determined by specific units. At this time, Patrol Officers who draw their weapons while clearing a property are reported as a Use of Force report while Officers in TAC who perform the same action are not
- Use of Force report paperwork is overly cumbersome. Reporting requirements should be streamlined and more supervisors brought online to handle the increased workload.
- Returns for correction related to use of force reports should include the reviewers concerns and required corrective actions.
Oftentimes, our members are required to take action in the enforcement of laws for the purpose of public safety only to find their movements hindered by the close proximity of citizens with recording devices. The union recognizes the right and merit of recording Officer actions and limit our concerns to the close proximity to Officers focused on a potentially dangerous suspect. The close proximity of citizens recording Officer actions forces Officers to split their attention between the suspect and the camera. In the current environment of terrorism and anti-police violence, Officers cannot assume that those surrounding them with cell phones are devoid of violent intent. Our members request that there be a very clear written policy, communicated to the citizenry, that clarifies the boundaries required for a safe operational space, for example a minimum 21-foot rule would be in line with current training.
Now that the Body Worn Camera program is being deployed department wide, we commend our members on their swift acceptance of, and adjustment to, the use of these cameras. We have, from the first mention of such a program, congratulated the agency and the City of Baltimore for adopting this technology. Having said that, however, there are obvious issues that need to be worked out.
The camera program has caused some conflict with the public where citizens do not want to be recorded by law enforcement cameras. Some citizens mistakenly believe that they have the right to order the Officer to deactivate the camera. In the interest of transparency and overall citizen education, we ask that the department develop a public service announcement program where citizens can be educated on departmental policy and understand when an Officer can professionally decline a citizen’s request if doing so is in the interest of the Officer, the department, or the public good.
In our focus groups, there was some discussion about the findings of the DOJ investigation as it related to the reporting and investigation of sexual assault crimes. We look forward to working with the DOJ to continue this trend towards better practices.
As the investigation of all cases of sexual assault is a highly sensitive and specific skill, we ask that anyone tasked with monitoring the unit have experience investigating sexual assaults.
Supervision, Accountability, and Coordination
Without question, any discussion of departmental supervision must begin with the fact that the BPD is, currently, severely understaffed in terms of front line supervisors; i.e., Sergeants and Lieutenants. This is an enormous issue as it relates to operational function and accountability. It is imperative that the agency increase the number of supervisors to an acceptable level of span and control.
Increasing the number of supervisors is only the first step towards improving departmental supervision. Equally important is to require ample supervisor training. A longer, more effective, supervisors’ “school” should be mandatory prior to the start of a promotional assignment. Our members suggested that there be a field training process for new supervisors, similar to that required of new Officers. This will allow newly promoted supervisors to better understand the requirements of their positions.
Throughout our focus groups, our members strongly suggested a new rank between Officer and Sergeant, such as a Corporal or Master Police Officer. Unlike the current OIC (Officer in Charge) practice, this newly created rank would allow for the same managerial authority as a Sergeant in order to allow for consistent supervision regardless of daily staffing. This was also called for in the FOP’s Blueprint for Improved Policing.
- We call for a best practices review of our promotional testing process to ensure transparency and remove bias. Patrol supervisor vacancies must be the first priority to be filled with each round of promotions
- Supervisors need specific assignment training; i.e., Sexual Assault, TAC, etc.
- The rank of Captain should be restored to a Civil Service position
- Officers are reporting that they’re given direct orders and pressured to continue practices that have been identified by DOJ as problematic and possibly unconstitutional. Whistleblower protections should be instituted so that members of the BPD who bring violations of the Consent Decree directly to the Federal Monitor will be shielded. This is especially important as current BPD policies prohibit Officers from disclosing internal police communications.
Technology and Infrastructure
Implementation of new technology will go a long way to further aid in Officer efficiency and timely data collection. As shown in departments across the nation, an integrated technology package permits the type of intelligence dissemination that negates the need to conduct mass stops to obtain information. Currently, our systems are outdated and fragmented. The department cannot determine where everyone is assigned, what equipment is issued, or who stopped an individual without a great deal of manual research. Officers are hindered by having to respond back to the district to complete required paperwork when they would better serve the community on the street. We assert that investing in a department wide technology overhaul and upgrade would pay dividends in the long term for information management and data oversight.
- Individually issued laptops with in vehicle docks and printers to allow a consistent user interface for all Officers regardless of assignment
- More computer training in the Academy for new Officers and continuing education to improve computer skills as careers advances
- Operational databases and software need to be streamlined and integrated, ideally one database for all departmental data that is properly integrated and accessible
- Personnel should be held accountable for the care and maintenance of issued technology equipment
- Expand the rifle program to the entire department
- Personnel should be issued higher threat level protective vests
- District building security needs improvement, including the parking lots; i.e., bullet proof glass, armed security, etc.
- External vest carrier to increase Officer comfort, provide a solid mounting point for body cameras, and move weight off of the hips, a leading cause for chronic back issues
Good morale is vital to the good working order of a police department. Inadequate staffing leads to overworked Officers who are expected to work long hours with few days off. The practice of drafting, cancelling days off, and blocking out days for leave all have a negative effect on Officer morale. The department should establish a peer to peer mentoring program.
The physical condition of our work facilities is atrocious and does not encourage a positive attitude. The structures themselves are crumbling around our Officers; the water fountains are inoperable for health reasons; and potable water must be purchased when the department is in a constant budget crunch. The showers, in most cases, are also inoperable and, if they are functioning, the water is brown. The facilities are in desperate need of renovation or replacement to reflect the professional appearance we want to see in our Officers.
- Eliminate the practice of “drafting” which forces Officers to work involuntary overtime, increasing physical and mental fatigue. The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing stated, “Many errors in judgment can be traced to fatigue, which also makes it harder to connect with people and control emotions. But administrative changes such as reducing work shifts can improve officer’s feelings of well-being, and the implementation of mental health strategies can lessen the impact of the stress and trauma.”
- Increase civilianization of positions that do not require law enforcement powers
- Exit interviews should be conducted for members leaving the agency and the results should be disseminated as it was in years’ past
- The education incentive should be improved
- Adopt the FOP’s Blueprint for Improved Policing to recruit and create educational incentives for Baltimore City residents and students
- Better service and maintenance of vehicles
- Take home car program
- The Court Matrix must be overhauled to be effective
Patrol is the backbone of any law enforcement agency and should be fully staffed before any other staffing considerations. Patrol is so grossly understaffed that it is almost impossible for Officers to take leave and shifts are almost constantly extended to make up for the lack of personnel.
Obviously, the current understaffing has created an extremely difficult and dangerous situation in all of the nine Districts, in terms of span and control. Staffing studies done, both internally and externally, have suggested that the appropriate span and control numbers for Patrol should offer one Supervisor for every five Officers. Current Patrol staffing numbers often show a span and control count far less than is required. These numbers not only create very difficult supervisory responses but almost completely eliminate the Officer safety that comes with adequate staffing. Under the circumstances, our membership is hopeful that the Department of Justice will act swiftly to rectify this situation even if it means stripping specialized units of any manpower other than the most basic operational requirement, Patrol units and victim crime investigations.
At the present time, Patrol is bearing the brunt of the current supervisory dearth and, in conjunction with the managerial responsibility of increased Use of Force reporting, the shortage of permanent rank supervisors is untenable. The creation of a new rank such as Corporal, where either a Sergeant and/or a Corporal are on duty in each sector, will go a long way to ease this insufficiency.
- Increased foot patrol capability is necessary – Officers and community need to be able to develop a partnership
- Better control and support of shift constants. Shift commanders arbitrarily change the required manpower numbers to suit their needs rather than basing them on appropriate staffing studies and an independent review of post, sector, and district boundaries.
We agree with the DOJ finding that the BPD has recently made enormous strides toward repairing the very deep rift that exists between the agency and the community. Oversight has, and will always be, an important part of that equation. However, our membership is concerned that the oversight be appropriate and well trained rather than just reactionary. Ample training and investigative experience must be a requirement of anyone assigned to the Office of Professional Responsibility as it is imperative that our Officers be reassured that OPR investigators know Patrol operations and proper investigative techniques.
- It currently takes far too long to resolve OPR complaints and the affected Officers are often unaware of the status of their investigation.
Command places too much attention and emphasis on the negative contacts and should focus as much, if not more, on the positive contacts and responses. Our officers make contact with hundreds of citizens, on a daily basis, and more effort should be given to shining a light on the constructive interactions. Just as the agency tracks negative citizen complaints, so too should they track positive Officer/community contacts. The effectiveness of our community outreach should clearly be measured by the rise and fall of crime numbers and cases that are cleared as the result of community involvement should be publicly praised.
As with community outreach, the involvement of all actors in community oversight is imperative. We believe that more members of the community should have the ability to experience the intricacies of our work and would strongly support the implementation of a “citizen academy”. This academy would allow members of the civilian population to participate in lethal weapon scenario training as well as provide more opportunities for them to ride with Patrol Officers during their shifts. This would be especially important for those involved in the current Civilian Review Board or any other civilian oversight committee that might be established. Any committees formed related to the Consent Decree should include at least one member of the FOP Unit 1, Unit 2, and a member of the Vanguard Justice Society.
We agree that transparency is the key to better mutual understanding. We suggest, that the BPD publish policies and guidelines for public consumption. The agency’s website would be a proper venue for this purpose. There should be greater and more current release of crime data, including calls for service and response times.
- Increased emphasis on career development should be provided
As a union, we have outlined our recommendations to reform the Baltimore Police Department and its relationship with the neighborhoods it serves. The arrival of the Consent Decree is seen as a unique opportunity to bring the change that our members seek. Very little that the DOJ Report has brought forward is a surprise to those who, day in and day out, have lived through the turmoil of failed policies and misguided decisions.
The FOP as a group has made attempts in the past to rectify these issues through the Blueprint for Improved Policing and the After Action Report for the Freddie Gray Riots of last year. With a focus on changing the overall culture of the department and improving the dynamic of police, citizen interaction, we can once again return to the golden age of policing where Officers are seen as protectors and members of the community rather than an occupying force.
Increased staffing in Patrol and investigative units working with victims, implementing needed technology improvements, reinvesting in our facilities, and improving supervisor oversight will all work to build an agency in which we can all believe. The men and women of the Baltimore Police Department and the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 are fully committed to the future of our agency and the citizens of Baltimore. We look forward to an excellent and productive partnership with everyone involved.