By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
If the Baltimore Police Department’s (BPD) efforts to implement systemic reform and the actual behavior of its officers seem perpetually out of sync, this week’s developments only added to that perception.
That’s because as police commanders and lawyers from the Department of Justice (DOJ), gathered before federal judge James K. Bredar to convince him they were complying with a federal consent decree intended to overhaul the agency July 26, yet another officer was caught allegedly committing a crime that has become all too common for the beleaguered law enforcement agency.
Earlier that week police officials announced the arrest of Officer Spencer Moore; Moore was snared allegedly dealing Oxycodone pills by drug investigators in a Baltimore County parking lot.
The 14-year veteran was already suspended for an undisclosed departmental violation when the arrest occurred, raising serious questions of just how effective the new push to reform the department’s internal disciplinary process was proceeding.
Charging documents state the transaction occurred in a Woodlawn parking lot. Narcotics investigators witnessed Spencer exit a Lexus and hand a package to the driver of a white pickup truck. Investigators later stopped Spencer and searched his car, confiscating three bottles of Oxycodone containing 100 pills.
Two of the bottles did not have prescription labels.
Moore is facing charges of possession with intent to distribute and prescription fraud. He was released on $15,000 bail July 27 and has been suspended without pay.
But Moore’s behavior, particularly while already under suspension, draws a stark contrast to the picture presented to a skeptical judge during a quarterly public progress report late last month on the agreed to reforms that the department has been implementing for months.
In an hours-long presentation inside the federal courthouse, police officials made PowerPoint presentations showing a restructured Office of Personal Responsibility, formerly known as Internal Affairs, along with a plan to beef up staffing. City officials promised to fix the culture inside the department they acknowledged was broken.
But Judge Bredar, who is overseeing the implementation of the consent decree between the city and the Department of Justice, seemed at times impatient. One theme that dominated his remarks during the hearing was civilian oversight. In a pointed comment to City Solicitor Andre Davis, Bredar was emphatic that the future of the department depended on more civilian input.
“Civilian participation is part of the Baltimore Police Department’s future, it’s inevitable,” the Judge said.
However, after the hearing ACLU of Maryland legal director David Rocah pointed to a recent push from city officials to force members of the Civilian Review Board to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The move, rejected by the board, which independently investigates complaints of police brutality, was seen by Rocah as an indication the city was not acting in good faith on Bredar’s’ instructions.
“Here again we see a disconnect between rhetoric and action,” Rocah told the AFRO.
City solicitor Andre Davis countered that the law department, which now oversees the board was only complying with public information restrictions that shield disciplinary records of police officers from public scrutiny. He urged leaders of the Maryland General Assembly to change the law to empower the board that can currently only make recommendations, not impose discipline upon officers.
“If (House) speaker (Michael) Bush and (Senate) President Mike Miller see the needs that Baltimore City feel so deeply, they’ll make the change.”
But even as officials make plans for a 2019 legislative push in Annapolis, another troubling report released at the hearing highlighted a department that is both resistant to change and ill-equipped to police itself.
The semi-annual report from the federal monitors who are tasked with providing the federal court progress updates on the BPD found the department lacked the wherewithal to provide useful data on current interactions with the public.
“To conduct comprehensive analyses of standard measurements of constitutional S/S/A (Stop, Seizures, and Arrests) activity—such as the percentage of searches that actually result in the seizure of contraband (i.e., “hit rates”) or comparative percentages of stops based on race,” the report stated, “would entail manual review of thousands and thousands of poorly organized paper records, which is impractical.”
But even more troubling for the authors, was the behavior of the department in the aftermath of the shooting death of Detective Sean Suiter.
Suiter died shortly after being shot in a West Baltimore alley in November of 2017. His death remains unsolved.
Monitors found that the BPD needlessly maintained the multi-block lockdown of the Harlem Park neighborhood where he was shot for at least five days “after the threat of an armed and dangerous suspect had dissipated.”