A couple of weeks ago Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said on my radio show “First Edition,” a little more than a year after the uprising and the (premature) conclusion of the trials of six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, morale within the rank and file of the police department is, “in a better place.” However, Davis also described morale as, “sometimes a house of cards.”
Well, given last week’s release of the Department of Justice’s devastating pattern of practice report on the already beleaguered BCPD, the socalled house of cards symbolic of the rank and file’s morale has come tumbling down once again. There might even be a few cards missing from the deck too.
Some have called the DOJ’s 163 page report the longest and the worst indictment of a major city law enforcement agency in memory.
Yet, Davis, seemingly unflappable, remains confident he can lead the way in dragging his besieged department through hell to that better place, where it is, in his words, “the model for this nation.”
“When you give DOJ unfettered access into your organization and allow them to look under every rock, you’re more than likely going to provide more information, that they’ll be able to, in our case, criticize,” Davis said on Aug. 15’s “First Edition.” “And it is devastating. It’s devastating to read the words, `bias based discriminatory policing, based on ethnicity, disproportionately impacting African American communities, disproportionately impacting young people, dehumanizing people with strip searches, in front of their girlfriends.’ That’s tough to read, but it strengthens my resolve,” Davis added.
The DOJ report specifically outlines the myriad of problems with training the men and women of the BCPD.
“In our profession, 18,000 police departments, just under a million cops in America, the least progressive discipline within most police departments, the least progressive, ironically is training,” Davis explained.
“In fact, until recently in Baltimore the only types of interactions that we train police officers in with the community is how do you interact with a suspect, how do you interact with a victim, a witness, a confidential informant or a reporting person. And it was just recently that we developed an academic curriculum that teaches people how to communicate with people and that’s something unfortunately that’s all too new to our profession and is really behind a lot of our problems,” Davis added.
Yet, thousands of Baltimore residents, mostly Black, mostly poor men, women and children who have been victimized, brutalized and some killed due to misconduct within the BCPD were imperiled disproportionately because of the so-called, “zero tolerance,” policing policy implemented by former Baltimore mayor, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley in the late 1990’s. And while zero tolerance was officially abandoned during the administration of Sheila Dixon (around 2008 or 2009) the DOJ report makes it plain the nefarious impact of zero tolerance still persists.
“I think we have to have a conversation both inside and outside of the organization,” Davis said.
“As we train our organization to police in a constitutional way, where we’re talking to people more and doing…less of those stop, question and frisk encounters… We also have to tell our community, that hey, we have to have a different conversation about some of the issues and solutions to the issues in your neighborhoods,” Davis added.
Still, Davis contends simply treating the citizens the BCPD is sworn to serve and protect with the humanity they deserve is foundational to the department becoming viable for all going forward.
“I told this to my command staff: If we want to start in one place, out of those 163 pages, if you want to pick one thing to tell your people, it’s how you speak to other people, your tone, your words, your inflection,” Davis said. “Let’s just start with how we speak to people. And then let’s get better from there,” he added.
“Maybe excited is the wrong word, but I’m determined to jump into this with everything I’ve got and help move this city forward. Is it going to take decades? Absolutely not. Within three or four years the residents of Baltimore will see a different police department.”
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on WEAA 88.9.