In Baltimore, MD, Police Accountability
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Jewish tradition teaches that destroying one life is akin to destroying the entire world. Police violence has destroyed so many worlds in Baltimore. As part of the Campaign for Justice, Safety, and Jobs, JUFJ has been calling for accountable policing in Baltimore for five years. Right now, BPD is taking public comments on their draft Community Policing policy, and our coalition needs to make our voices heard. 

BPD is claiming that low response rates to their invitation to comment on their new draft policies means the public doesn’t care. We need to show them that they are wrong. Baltimore police must serve and protect all Baltimoreans, not treat Black residents as potential criminals. We only have until March 18 to make our voices heard. 

“Community Policing” was mandated by the Department Of Justice in the consent decree as a central pillar of BPD reform and as essential to violent crime reduction. It is also strongly supported by the activists who called for police reform even before the uprising. This policy is therefore very important and earlier draft versions were sent back by Judge Bredar’s court and the Monitoring Team to the BPD for revisions. Reading between the lines, the monitoring team is still not satisfied, especially with the level of community input. Participants placed a great deal of emphasis on soliciting community generated solutions, activities, and oversight. 

JUFJ’s Baltimore Action Team has compiled comments based on the People’s Town Hall hosted by the Campaign for Justice, Safety and Jobs. The compiled comments are below in bullet points. The bolded headings are meant to help categorize the comments into themes, but you may choose to focus on whichever aspect of the policy is most important to you. Please submit a version of these comments in your own words at the link below, focusing on the topic(s) that concerns you.

Community interaction: 

  • On page 6, the report acknowledges that the feasibility of implementing elements of this plan is “contingent on increasing staffing and capacity as outlined in the department’s Staffing Plan.” Although a recruitment campaign is discussed in the draft staffing policy, what is BPD doing to ensure not only that staffing needs are met, but that those hired are aligned with the values expressed by the community and the goals of this community policing policy? What elements will be prioritized while staffing needs are in the process of being met?
  • Community policing requires deep familiarity with neighborhoods patrolled. Policy is short on implementation strategies. To be successful, a) officers should be rotated less frequently into and out of jurisdictions, b) and requirements or incentives to live in Baltimore should be strengthened.
  • “BPD provides for all sworn representatives of BPD who interact with the public in the regular course of their activities to participate in neighborhood and community meetings and other community events; b. BPD even identifies the number and types of meetings to be attended” (§III.19.a-b).

When the policy states that Neighborhood Coordination Officers (NCOs) will visit schools, houses of worship, hospitals and similar public institutions, how will these meetings be scheduled to ensure that there are representatives of these organizations available and prepared to engage with input from their communities? In what ways are NCOs ensuring they reach the entire community and not just the people who attend the school or church that BPD decides to visit? Please be specific about how this will be implemented.

  • In the roles and responsibilities section, officers are required to proactively identify problems as the residents understand them and to aid in “daily problem-solving.”  Policy should explicitly state that these activities are to take place outside of an arrest framework; as officers engage in problem solving, arrest must be a last resort.  The draft policy mentions routing individuals to “helpful services” and “community resources.”  It should be clear that this extends to those engaged in nonviolent illicit acts.
  • The consent decree mandates that “BPD and the City provide for outreach in all neighborhoods, including neighborhoods where no neighborhood association has been established to provide consultation and input to BPD” (§III.19.f).

The proposed policy mentions neighborhoods without associations only once, on p. 7. Policy should make it clear that outreach to these neighborhoods is mandated.  It should also clarify what resources will be allocated to carry out this very difficult task, and, especially, how the BPD will seek community led input from such communities.

  • How will focus groups be organized and what input opportunities will be given to community members for development of the Neighborhood Policing Plans along with the NCOs?
  • There is no mention of foot patrols in this document despite repeated requests for patrols by residents for years.

Evaluating and Monitoring:

  • The consent decree states that “BPD will ensure that data about community policing efforts and outcomes are evaluated by command staff.” (§III.18) The policy states on p. 26 that district commanders will approve the finalized Neighborhood Policing Plan. There needs to be transparent decision-making and neighborhood approval for such a plan.   
  • §III.23 of the consent decree also mandates that surveys be conducted in English and in Spanish, however the proposed policy doesn’t mention communication with non-English speaking residents.  The only time language is mentioned is in the definition of community. The only additional mention of language in the second draft is in reference to how Sergeants deploy personnel. Please specify how BPD is planning to implement a community policing plan without laying groundwork for communicating with all of Baltimore’s communities. If this is addressed in another BPD policy please reference that in this plan.
  • This plan discusses how data will inform COMSTAT and the Data-Driven Strategies Division in their implementation of community policing. What data? Who is deciding on the data points? Will this data be available for external evaluation? It will be important to have people from outside the police department contributing to the methodology for collecting and interpreting such data to help ensure methods are bias free. Data and statistics have driven police decision making for many years and have led to the necessity of the consent decree.
  • The section on new community member responsibilities is inappropriate. Please either eliminate this section or rewrite to reflect how BPD will make it possible for the community to communicate with them. For example: BPD will make itself available to the community to participate in community meetings, regularly inquiring with community leaders for times and locations of meetings. Also, BPD will increase transparency by making pertinent information available on social media and the BPD Mobile App to keep the community informed and to give the community the opportunity to provide feedback.
  • The term “procedural justice” is not defined in the monitoring plan and is not properly defined in this document.

Success of Community Policing and Other Reforms:

  • An effective, truly independent civilian review board where citizens can lodge misconduct complaints is also essential.
  • Rigorous adherence to BPD’s new policies on immigration (non-cooperation in enforcing civil violations of federal immigration law) — otherwise positive routine interactions will be a non-starter among immigrant communities.
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