By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, email@example.com
April 19 will mark four years since Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr. succumbed to the injuries he suffered while in custody of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), a death ruled a homicide by the medical examiner.
On April 12, 2015, police chased and jumped on Gray for “looking at them the wrong way” near the Gilmor Homes housing project where he lived. At some point after he was hauled into the back of a police van after being arrested dragging his leg and howling in pain, his spine was nearly severed in half. The day of his funeral on April 27, parts of West Baltimore exploded.
The Baltimore Police Department has been reeling ever since.
The department, accused of “taking a knee” after the six officers connected to Gray’s death were charged and indicted, was placed under a consent decree by the Department of Justice in the wake of the Uprising.
We witnessed BPD officers planting evidence at crime scenes, deeds captured by their own body cams.
Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)
We witnessed the surreal exploits of the notorious Gun Trace Task Force, including stealing BGE and rent money from Baltimore residents, selling dope, planting guns, fleecing the city of overtime pay and inexplicably robbing strippers, among other crimes.
We witnessed the death of Det. Sean Suiter, ruled a “likely suicide” by an independent review board, ruled murder (many believe at the hand of fellow officers) by the streets, a day before he was to testify against the Gun Trace Task Force.
We will soon witness former police commissioner Darryl De Sousa going to prison for income tax violations, while other members of the BPD stand accused of similar tax practices, which have imperiled De Sousa.
Yet, the consensus of many veteran law enforcement observers is BPD morale has been on the decline at least since the 1990’s and the implementation of the zero tolerance policing policy of then mayor Martin O’Malley.
Now, Commissioner Michael Harrison, the fifth man to lead the beleaguered department since the Uprising of April 2015 (the 10th since 2000 and the zero tolerance days) seems to be in the process dismantling the BPD’s command staff; a move Baltimore law enforcement reformers have championed for decades.
“This is really how I can hold people accountable, by reducing the layers of management, especially upper-level management in our department. And so when a district commander is performing well or not performing well, we can know that and hold that person accountable,” Harrison recently told WBAL TV’s indefatigable investigative reporter Jayne Miller, who said Harrison claims he is not simply reshuffling the BPD, but reshaping it.
A department statement outlined the details of the deconstruction of the command staff and components of the BPD, which will now be divided into four bureaus: Administration, Operations and two new bureaus, Compliance and Public Integrity. The numbers of colonels and other members of the command staff will be reduced significantly throughout the upper echelon of the department; roles and responsibilities will be re-evaluated.
The first steps of the new organizational structure will be implemented April 24. That means there is a lot more pain on the way for those who inexplicably want to defend the BPD’s status quo; welcome news for those who believe the lion’s share of the poison within the department matriculates from the command staff.
Unfortunately, (in my mind tragically) the most disenfranchised members of mostly poor, mostly Black Baltimore will lose some champions in law enforcement because of the coming restructuring. Chief (literally) among them is Melvin Russell, Chief of the Community Collaboration Division and a 39-year veteran of the department. His last day will be April 24, the first day sweeping changes will begin.
I know of no member of the BPD who served and ministered to our community more selflessly than Russell.
However, the plight of the besieged BPD is on Harrison, the weight of city is on his shoulders; he not only has the right, he has the duty to put in place the people he believes will give him the best chance of being successful, for the sake of our crumbling city.
It seems like too much of a burden for any one man or woman to bear.
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.