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Baltimore police reforms to begin in 2020 despite delays

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Delays in implementation of some reforms are due to a lack of resources, staff

BALTIMORE — Baltimore residents should start to see the Police Department’s consent decree reforms on the street for the first time in 2020, but many key initiatives are delayed as well.

Officers have been trained on a new use of force policy this year, and they are expected to be taught new policies this year on stops, searches and arrests; fair and impartial policing; and behavioral health. More than 200 officers are expected to receive additional week-long training in crisis intervention.

“When those trainings come into play, the community should start to feel benefits,” said Deputy Chief Daniel Murphy, a civilian who was brought to Baltimore earlier this year by Commissioner Michael Harrison to oversee the reform process.

Among the delayed initiatives is a community-policing plan — initial drafts of which were criticized as too vague by the team responsible for monitoring the reforms.

Baltimore entered into the consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice in April 2017 after an investigation found the department routinely violated residents’ civil rights, especially in the city’s poor and predominantly minority neighborhoods.

The department began regularly reporting to U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar and an independent monitoring team hired to help implement reforms. But police lacked a permanent leader for roughly the first year-and-a-half of the reform effort.

In the past year, the department has moved from drafting policies to beginning to train officers on those policies, said Murphy, who served in a similar role under Harrison at the the New Orleans Police Department.

He said police have been taking steps to efficiently address the demands of the consent decree. For example, Murphy said, restructuring the department’s command structure and moving education, training, technology and audits under the compliance unit mean consent decree work will be streamlined.

“What we’ve done is try to coordinate at a higher level and [make] the most of the resources we do have,” he said.

However, in recent weeks, the city has requested extensions in meeting a number of reform deadlines.

The independent monitoring team made up of lawyers and law enforcement experts expressed concerns earlier this month about efforts to create a comprehensive community policing plan, a strategy meant to improve the department’s relationship with the community.

Initial drafts of a plan “were insufficiently specific to provide a meaningful blueprint for community-oriented policing in Baltimore,” the monitors said in a recent statement agreeing to the deadline for the plan. “A meaningful blueprint requires details about where and how BPD officers will be assigned in their districts and what exactly they will be expected to do to engage community members."

City Solicitor Andre Davis wrote that the department needed longer to create a thoughtful community policing plan.

“The Department is using additional time to ensure action-items, timelines, technological assets, and details such as the specific types of community interactions expected by BPD officers are reflected in the plan so it can be operationalized seamlessly once it is approved” Davis wrote.

In an interview, Davis said the years-long reform process likely will have scheduling adjustments.

“I do think things are moving forward but not as fast" as he would like, Davis said. “I’m on my fourth police commissioner. When I took the job, I took the long view.”

Davis’ recent motion also requested extensions of the 2020 deadlines regarding stops, searches and arrests — to provide more time to collaborate and more time for “critical pilot testing of the curriculum, and [to] incorporate public feedback.” Officers, however, still would complete training by mid-June.

The city also sought delays in the deadlines for training on body-worn cameras and behavioral health awareness, as well as for policies on protecting residents’ First Amendment rights. As part of the consent decree process, the department will have to assess how officers protect or violate residents’ rights by evaluating officers’ body-worn camera footage “recorded during recent demonstration events as well as ordinary encounters with members of the community outside the organized protest context.”

The manual regarding how the department investigates misconduct cases will be delayed, too. The department also requested additional time for public feedback on a recently released staffing plan developed by an outside consultant.

There’s also a delay for adopting a new set of “mobile field force” operating procedures, which provide guidance to officers during a large crowd or riot response. Davis’ motion says other agencies throughout the state are reviewing polices similar to those in a Maryland State Police manual that uses a "more progressive, European approach to mobile field force deployment.” The deadline extension will allow the department to meet consent decree requirements, but also allow better align city policy with the state police policy, the motion says.

Davis said some delays are to be expected for a reform process expected to take more than five years.

“BPD is committed to ensuring that both the curriculum and its delivery be effective and compliant with the Consent Decree, and that both reflect the input of the community,” Davis wrote in the motion. “At the same time, it is essential to deliver this training as soon as possible because it will prepare officers to police Baltimore’s communities constitutionally and it will empower BPD to hold officers accountable to new policies."

Despite the delays, Davis said he has been reassured the city is on track toward eventual compliance under Harrison’s leadership.

“We’ve had some delays. We’ve got a good patch here. Michael Harrison has the vision, plan, determination to bring about real change," he said. “I just feel the movement."

In the past year, the department has adopted several new policies, including those on use of force and sexual assault investigations. Officers have been receiving training on those policies.

Ken Thompson, head of the monitoring team, said it was a significant step forward to get Harrison, a permanent leader, on the job.

“That was a notable achievement because this department has not had stability in some time,” said Thompson, adding that Harrison made several key hires to help implement reforms, including a deputy commissioner to oversee the Public Integrity Bureau that investigates misconduct cases.

Moving forward, Thompson said the department faces several challenges, including getting rank-and-file officers and first line supervisors to buy into the reforms.

“They haven’t quite bought into this,” he said.

Thompson said updating the department’s technological systems remains a challenge and the department also must address staffing needs, especially in internal affairs where they need 46 investigators.

“They are grossly understaffed...," he said. "They need a lot of help.”

Much of 2020 will focus on training the department’s 2,000-plus sworn officers on new policies, and beginning to test whether officers are following those newly revised policies out on the street. That will mean evaluating how officers stop, search and arrest residents, and whether the department improves its interactions with the community.

Ongoing improvements in technological systems, which will help the department audit its performance, Murphy said. Better analytics also will help police better deploy resources to reduce crime.

“We are accessing the top vendors in the field,” he said, with an eye toward upgrades or new systems for workforce management, to better track overtime, and early intervention, which draws from trends in internal affairs to identify problematic behaviors.

Murphy said the department would work toward better internal communication, to help officers across the department understand each of the policies as they are approved by the court and adopted into training. Commanders will be held accountable at CompStat meetings on reform benchmarks.

In the next year, Murphy said, the department also expects to finalize a staffing plan. A draft plan by an outside consultant called for beefing up patrol and reducing some support units.

The department also intends to launch the Ethical Policing Is Courageous, or EPIC, peer intervention program that Harrison helped launch in New Orleans in 2016, Murphy said. The program trains officers to intervene when they see their colleagues about to act inappropriately.

“We’re accelerating at this point," said Murphy, noting how Bredar had expressed concerns about the department’s ability to meet the decree’s requirements in the past, especially given the numerous changes in department leadership.

"In the past year, we have dramatically increased the capacity,” he said.