Ask a Cop: What happened to Officer Friendly, bad apples, search and seizure, and more

City Paper

Matt Loftus: There's a lot of talk about "bad apples" tainting the work of a police department that is for the most part made up of hardworking and decent cops vs. systemic issues that encourage cops to do bad. What are the incentives—good, bad, or otherwise—that prevent corruption, weed out the idiots/evildoers, or promote positive relationships between officers & poor communities?

BPD: Over the last two years the BPD has made some pretty dramatic and real reforms. The police commissioner commissioned a Strategic Plan that identified 164 areas that needed improvement. In the last year we have implemented 57 percent of those reforms. The results that we are seeing are dramatic. Over the last two years a 45 percent reduction in discourtesy complaints, a 55 percent reduction in excessive use of force complaints, a staggering 66 percent reduction in the number of lawsuits filed against the agency, and most importantly a nearly 50 percent reduction in the number of police-involved shootings. On top of that, officers who are accused of wrongdoing are now 20 percent more likely to take punishment that is offered, reflective of a more fair disciplinary process. Those officers who elect not to take offered discipline, or those facing termination, now have a nearly 90 percent conviction rate at a Trial Board (the administrative disciplinary process that can lead to firing). That number is up from 57 percent just two years ago. Those aren’t numbers we just make up. Those numbers are empirical evidence that stuff is moving in the right direction. We also know that none of those numbers matter if the community doesn’t feel it, and we know we have a lot of work left to do. You’re correct; the overwhelming majority of police come to work each day to make a positive difference. As we continue to enact reforms the numbers I mentioned will only get better, and the neighborhoods we serve will feel the impact in a positive way, rich or poor.

 

William Jones: What is the protocol for a cop being able to kick in your door and destroy it? Is there a difference if there is a window and you can be seen? Or will they just go away if you don't answer and can't be seen? (By the way, they destroyed the door I was renting, scraped me along the broken glass so I needed five stitches on my face and chin, and they told the hospital I (me) kicked in my own door inverted . . . that they were knocking on . . . was promptly evicted the next morning.) Thanks cops.

BPD: Hmmm, sorry to hear about your experience, but what can I say without all the facts? I can tell you, there are limited times when we can use force to breach a door. If we have a search-and-seizure warrant, signed by a judge, we are allowed to use force to breach a door after we announce our presence for a brief period of time. Sometimes there’s no warning, called a “no-knock” warrant, where probable cause exists to believe police officer’s safety can be an issue. Also, there are certain times where we can force a door without a warrant but those are exigent circumstances, such as a person screaming for help, seeing a wanted fugitive, or seeing a crime in progress; we don’t have to wait in those scenarios. As for us simply going away, we don’t really do that and people probably don’t want us to. Regarding any damage, you can file a complaint with the City Solicitor’s Office for the damaged property. As for the eviction the next day, the rules regarding evictions are well defined in Maryland and require a court process for eviction. I’m not sure how you were evicted the next day and that sounds like it might be an illegal eviction. There are a variety of housing rights organizations and legal remedies you can pursue if that was the case.

 

Angelo Pitts: In elementary school we were introduced to Officer Friendly. I want to know if that part of the training has been taken out because today when you have a encounter with the police it is exactly that a encounter they are almost always very rude, threatening, and intimidating. No matter how humble you are they give off this vibe as if they are there to hurt you not help you?

BPD: I hope that has not always been your experience when dealing with the Baltimore Police Department; it is a complaint we have heard before. I can tell you it is not the way the police commissioner wants officers to conduct themselves and it is a culture we are working to change.  If you see the answer to William’s question you will see we are moving in the right direction. I truly hope your next interactions are more positive. Remember, you can always call a supervisor if you feel an officer is being disrespectful.

 

Julia Sine: I just read the first edition of the new “Ask a Cop” column (albeit a bit late, the holidays and all), and I’m left with several questions: Why in the world did the BPD decide to participate in this exercise in futility in the first place? And what do they think anyone will get out of their being asked “juicer [their sic, not my sic] questions”? They certainly don’t seem at all interested in actually addressing the concerns raised in the questions they received this first time around.

Rather than take the first question’s hint and get to the greater point—that there may be occasions in which police do not respond to non-emergency 311 calls—we are instead simply told that if “it’s a police issue, we show up.” I highly doubt Mr. Rhodes would have asked that question if he didn’t have reason to believe that such is not the case. He even gets specific, mentioning “scammers walking through a neighborhood.” So why not address that?

It is really interesting the way the second question was answered; in efforts to skirt around bringing up a recent case of egregious killing of a dog by a BPD officer, an important element of that very case is mentioned: the “control pole.” I’m alluding, of course, to the case this summer of the poor dog whose throat was slit by an officer while restrained on a control pole. Did the BPD really think Daisy Hart asked this question just because she thinks dogs are neat? Or did it occur to them that perhaps there is some legitimate concern out there regarding their dog handling policies and procedures?

Finally, as someone who has lost count of the number of times I’ve witnessed dangerous driving by police while distracted by phones or computers, the flippancy with which the third question was answered makes me a little crazy. Just because a legal exemption was carved out for officers to use their phones does not mean they should be allowed to do so at the peril of the public. Are there any rules that dictate only certain situations where it’s permissible for officers to use cellphones? I guess I’d rather be hit by a cop running a stop sign because he’s talking about a life-or-death matter than be hit by one talking about the really great sandwich he had for lunch. That’d have to be a really great sandwich.

My point is, I don’t see why the BPD is soliciting questions in this way when they’re going to ignore the real reasons behind the questions they’re receiving. This is either a crass example of feigning ignorance for PR, or they truly think adult citizens are asking these questions because they’re just objectively curious about police work. That’s what small children do when they ask the cops if turning the lights and sirens on is fun. Actually, that’s kind of what the fourth question was about. Funny, that was also the question BPD seemed most enthusiastic to answer. If these are the kinds of answers BPD wants to provide, perhaps they should be publishing this column in some local children’s publication.

Or perhaps, they really do want “juicer questions.” Hey, BPD: I want to get my mom a juicer for the holidays. Nothing too fancy or high-powered. What do you recommend? Thanks!

BPD: Rather than go point by point through your question, which we can do in the next installment if you’d like, I want to offer you this.  We reached out to answer these questions as a new and different way of engaging our community.  We weren’t sure what kind of questions we were going to get and what kind of responses people wanted. It’s new and I would hope rather than tear the whole process down, you would be open to the idea of a new form of communicating with the department. I also hope you stick around to see that the answers will become better as we get a feel for what interested readers are looking for. 

In the meantime, if there’s a specific question you truly want to have an answer to, then send it to us at BPDThoughts@baltimorepolice.org and we’ll answer it.  If you want to wait, and the editors (editors, feel free to correct any typos) are game, we can go point by point through each of your questions next time. I hear the frustration in your message. I do. I hope very much that you’ll give this process an open mind as we seek to build better relations with our community. Hope you had a nice holiday and got the juicer you wanted.


Please send questions to askacopCP@gmail.com.

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