Allegations by a Baltimore Police Department detective detailing harassment after he testified about wrongdoing on the part of two colleagues have highlighted challenges the department faces in attempting to enforce reforms instituted by Commissioner Anthony W. Batts.
In February, Det. Joe Crystal told WBAL-TV 11 that he was castigated by fellow officers after coming forward to testify against Sgt. Marinos Gialamas and Officer Anthony Williams, who were accused of assaulting a suspect, Antoine Green, a 32 year-old Black man, in October of 2011. Crystal’s testimony helped convict Gialamas for malfeasance in office, and Williams for second-degree assault and obstruction of justice last month.
But the harassment of Crystal shows the department still has a ways to go as it seeks to develop a culture committed to constitutional policing, or policing that respects the rights of citizens and suspects.
In the wake of Crystal’s allegations, Batts released a statement proclaiming support for the detective and pledging the department’s commitment to rooting out corruption.
“We will not tolerate corruption, wrongdoing, or erosion of the public trust,” he said, adding, “We strongly encourage and support officers across the organization to feel safe and justified in reporting criminal behavior.”
Both the assault of Green and the harassment alleged by Crystal occurred before Batts became commissioner in the fall of 2012. Since then, Batts has sought to bring departmental practices in line with constitutional policing standards, according to Lt. Eric Kowalczyk, director of media relations for the department.
According to Kowalczyk, the commissioner’s efforts have resulted in a 36% reduction in citizen complaints against officers.
“When we looked at our 2012 numbers and then we looked at the 2013 numbers, after an emphasis was placed on training and the commissioner’s really pushing of constitutional and respectful policing—that we’re going to have a reverence for human life, that we’re going to respect the citizens in the city that we serve—once the commissioner started to really push and emphasize those things, we saw that dramatic reduction in citizen complaints,” he said.
Elder C.D. Witherspoon, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapter in Baltimore, however, attributed the decrease in complaints to a feeling on the part of many Blacks that complaining would be fruitless. He pointed to the deaths of Anthony Anderson and Tyrone West while in police custody.
“I am not surprised whatsoever that the complaints have decreased,” he said. “When you have two very public [incidents] of police brutality that have transpired. . . and not one officer is even indicted of a crime, I think that people in Baltimore City are beginning to believe that anybody can kill a Black man in Baltimore City and get away with it.”
The department has not made Crystal available to the media since his allegations went public. According to Kowalczyk, once the commissioner releases a statement on any issue, it is considered the final word. Asked whether restricting Crystal from the media called into question the department’s transparency, Kowalczyk said no.
“I think this particular police commissioner has been incredibly transparent with his effort and emphasis towards open and fair policing,” he said, citing the creation of the department’s Professional Standards Bureau and the allowing of reporters and cameras in police training.
“I think [this] all speaks towards the transparency of this agency,” Kowalczyk said.
Not all would agree. Witherspoon said that any allegations of police misconduct should be handled by an outside agency and not the Baltimore Police Department.
“It’s a conflict of interest,” Witherspoon said. “It should automatically be an outside jurisdiction investigating. If the police department and the city were interested in having transparency, then they would automatically do that so as to avoid a conflict of interest or a lack of objectivity. You would think that the perception of the process would be important, but it is not. And I think that the culture that we have in this city, quite frankly, is demoralizing, to some degree,- to the citizens.”