The union that represents rank-and-file Baltimore Police officers issued a scathing report Tuesday blaming intense violence in the city on severe mismanagement of the police department, accusing Commissioner Michael Harrison and other city officials of ignoring available solutions in favor of politically correct platitudes.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 described a police department in chaos, where leaders who blame violence in part on a shortage of officers have no concept of the agency’s current staffing, no effective plan for utilizing existing officers and no ability to retain them — with nearly 20% of officers hired since 2018 having already resigned from the force.
“The BPD does not know how many employees they have, where they are assigned and what their rank is, and in many cases what their job functions are,” the union wrote in its report, titled “The Mismanagement of the Baltimore Police Department and Its Impact on Public Safety.”
Union president Sgt. Mike Mancuso said his members are engaged in “one of the most difficult crime fights in BPD history” with a patrol unit that is hundreds of officers short.
“We cannot fight crime without personnel,” Mancuso said.
The union’s criticism comes less than three months after Harrison unveiled his comprehensive crime plan to combat years of steady violence that began long before he took over the department in February.
On Tuesday, Harrison said the union’s plan highlighted many of the same historic management issues that he outlined in his plan — “They took a crime plan and turned it into a complaint,” he said — while ignoring many of the gains the department has made in the meantime.
There have been some reductions in violent crime in recent weeks that he hopes will continue, even as overtime spending has come down — which, he said, shows good management.
“We feel it’s moving in the right direction,” he said of the department.
The union alleged the department doesn’t properly track employees or their internal affairs records, doesn’t properly share and disseminate criminal intelligence between units or with surrounding jurisdictions, and doesn’t properly train officers on the mandates of the department’s federal consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department.
“BPD commanders are themselves confused and conflicted about the need for the consent decree,” the union wrote. “They, more often than not, impart conflicting direction to their subordinates, which creates confusion for the officers who, in turn, have nowhere to go for clarification or explanation.”
The city is on pace to surpass 300 homicides for the fifth year in a row. Homicides and nonfatal shootings are outpacing levels seen last year, and are near historic highs. Since homicides first surged in 2015, the police department has had five commissioners, one of whom was convicted of federal tax crimes, and the city has had three mayors, one of whom resigned amid ongoing investigations into her business dealings.
The new report is in reality the latest from the union to take a deeply critical view of department leadership, though the first under Mancuso, who became the lodge president in September 2018. Like past union reports, it takes aim squarely at the department’s own plans for improvements — this time Harrison’s — and its perceived failures to implement them in an effective way.
Harrison’s plan speaks to many of the same failings in the department as the union’s new report, including poor tracking of officers and their disciplinary records; poor use of data-driven strategies like Comstat; the need to transition administrative duties to civilian staff and beef up patrol; and the need to improve policies and training related to the consent decree.
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said Tuesday that the police union “could have saved a lot of ink by simply reading the Commissioner’s comprehensive crime plan, which actually contains thoughtful solutions to help fix issues that are long-standing within the department.”
The union said Harrison’s plan didn’t contain enough specifics to address the real problems its officers see daily.
The union also renewed an old complaint against Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, the city’s top prosecutor, saying officers aren’t proactive out of fear Mosby will target them unfairly for prosecution.
The union has claimed such hesitance on the part of officers since 2015, when Mosby criminally charged six officers involved in the arrest of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died from injuries suffered while in custody in the back of a police van.
Gray’s death precipitated protests and unrest in the city, a night of rioting, and Mosby’s unsuccessful prosecution of the officers. It also prompted a sweeping investigation by the Justice Department that found a pattern and practice of unconstitutional and discriminatory policing in Baltimore and prompted the signing of the consent decree, which mandates broad reforms.
Nearly five years later, officers who feel they haven’t been properly trained on those reforms “want to return to proactive policing, but are fearful of what many have called an ‘overzealous prosecutor,’” the union wrote.
“There is confusion among officers as to what the state’s attorney’s office views as acceptable enforcement, and it is extremely unclear in comparison to case law,” the report said.
Mosby previously dismissed the union’s claims that she acted inappropriately in the Gray case, or that she is overzealous in providing oversight of the police department and holding officers accountable. On Tuesday, she characterized the union’s claims as “divisive political rhetoric,” and said her prosecutors work with police on a daily basis.
She dismissed the idea that she is an “overzealous prosecutor,” saying she applies “one standard of justice to everyone,” whether they are a police officer or not.
With its report, the union offered 50 recommendations to the department — including a “complete overhaul” of its human resources processes, a stronger commitment to data-driven policing strategies, a “special commission to explore what has prevented the BPD from recruiting and retaining a quality workforce” and increased financial and benefits packages to keep officers from leaving.
It also called for a broader commitment to placing civilians in administrative duties to free up more sworn officers for police duties, and more training for officers — in partnership with Mosby’s office — on the requirements and proper implementation of the consent decree.
“We must move forward with the firm belief that all stakeholders are ready to take the necessary steps to transform this city from one that is under siege, to one that is healthy and vibrant; where the citizens feel secure and are truly safe,” the union wrote. “This can only be accomplished with a police department that is fully staffed, well-equipped and properly trained.”
The police department has an annual budget of about half a billion dollars, and critics have long said it could and should be run with far less funding, not more. DeRay Mckesson, a prominent advocate for police accountability from Baltimore, said the union report only provides more evidence of “the need for a deep audit of the BPD.”