How’s Baltimore Doing? Give Credit Where Credit Is Due
As a result on the federal consent decree “Baltimore taxpayers will now be on the hook to pay $1,000-an-hour lawyers (including DOJ veterans) out to create the nation’s “best” police department — on paper.”
August 11, 2016 | 8:10pm
The Justice Department’s 164-page report attacking Baltimore cops is a staggering exercise in cynicism and provides an excellent case study of how democracy and governance in our nation are collapsing.
Built on the absurdity that policing in inner-city Baltimore must mirror that in Beverly Hills, the report reaches down past the highest levels of government to pin the blame for urban anarchy on cops patrolling some of the country’s most forlorn places.
Rather than provide enlightenment or a blueprint for protecting the good people of Baltimore, the report relies on anecdotes and selective use of data to pave over complexities and nuances of inner-city policing.
Having drawn its conclusions in advance of seeking “evidence” to support them, DOJ feeds the polarization of our national dialogue and demonizes officers for a political system that’s broken from top to bottom for minorities. It illustrates that extremism is fueled at least as much by omitting facts and data that don’t support your pre-ordained conclusions as by making baldly absurd statements.
Instead of holding political leaders’ feet to the fire, DOJ praised Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who had time in the midst of this crisis to preside over the entire Democratic National Convention, for her willingness to turn state’s evidence against her own police force. The mayor gushed with relief that she’d been excused for her failures, thanking high heavens for the takeover by unaccountable, unelected Justice lawyers of the police department she was elected to fix.
If it’s necessary for the feds to place a department into trusteeship, you’d think the mayor, state prosecutor and entire city council should offer their resignations, no? Yet DOJ had no interest at all in examining the political dysfunction and abject failure that has been so costly to the impoverished in the city.
Indeed, Vanita Gupta, Justice’s civil rights chief, emphasized that the report wasn’t about fixing blame. This would be news to six cops fired as a result of the unproven allegations in the report, reflecting its focus on the littlest foot soldiers, while exculpating those whose job is to lead.
It’s not the cops’ fault that, after decades of disinvestment, Baltimore is but one city in meltdown. Police must still patrol streets where an enormous number of people have had contacts with the criminal justice system, with many convicted of felonies, including drug offenses but also some very violent crimes. Guns are never far away.
Yet the report’s major finding is that the only victims in Baltimore are those stopped unnecessarily (in Justice’s remote, ex post facto opinion) by the police and the only bad guys are the city’s majority-minority police department.
Gupta claimed the conflictive and adversarial work of the police can be done without engendering resentment by those on the receiving end — something I have yet to see anyplace.
Like it or not, many US police departments are so paralyzed and ineffectual, responding slowly to citizen issues — and to the Civil Rights Division.
Deteriorating public safety, the rise of disorder, the fact that millions of Americans are refugees from streets and towns where they feel that they and their children are endangered — none of it ever triggers any interest at the Justice Department. Only police departments that overreach in the name of public safety warrant federal interest and end up in the dock.
The DOJ report says absolutely nothing about crime or disorder, and nowhere endorses police enforcement. An organization charged with protecting civil rights fails to even mention that thousands of young men have been shot, many killed — and that more often than not the shooters get away.
They boldly remain on the streets, free to shoot again — making the cops who must navigate those streets sitting ducks.
It is reprehensible and extremist to omit the realities of the world cops inhabit, but didn’t create.
DOJ apparently shared the report with Police Commissioner Kevin Davis only as it was released on live TV. Parts had already been leaked to the press, making it a multiday story. That hit-and-run approach belies any claim this was more than a selective smear of the BPD.
Baltimore taxpayers will now be on the hook to pay $1,000-an-hour lawyers (including DOJ veterans) out to create the nation’s “best” police department — on paper. Never mind that it will be totally paralyzed, that cops will go completely fetal — that no one with an ounce of sanity would ever sign on to be a cop in a place like Baltimore.
The Justice lawyers second-guess the legality of police stops — but provide no clear guidance about when and how stops should be done. In the real world, police are always concerned first with their safety and the safety of others; the report writers would never do a cop’s job even for 10 minutes, but claim to know best about how it should be done.
This report, so devoid of solutions, exemplifies the sorry state of our political discourse. Maybe when this election is over, the public can insist on the end of a mindlessly partisan, point-scoring debate for one that revolves around the truth: Perfect solutions to complex problems are mythical.
It’s long past time to reward, rather than punish, those who conscientiously roll up their sleeves seeking to make an unfixably unfair world a little more just.
Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD cop, is a professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.