BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A federal judge said he’s frustrated with the lack of progress he’s seeing three-and-a-half years into a federal consent decree mandating an array of improvements and reforms within the Baltimore Police Department.
During a hearing on Thursday, Judge James Bredar also stressed the importance of keeping Police Commissioner Michael Harrison on board. When he took the job last January, Harrison became the city’s fifth police commissioner in four years.
“It is critical that Baltimore retain its new police leaders as we push ahead with the Consent Decree reforms. It is critical that now we retain stability when for years there was none,” Bredar said during a quarterly hearing with the department and Consent Decree Monitoring Team.
Bredar said rank-and-file officers are right to feel skeptical of changes given that turnover, but with Harrison at the helm, the department has been “uncharacteristically stable”:
“Commissioner Harrison and his team have set a course and are following it. I think it’s the right course. It’s the course the Decree requires. Some of Baltimore’s crime statistics, particularly related to homicides and shootings, remain at disturbing levels. But it has long been the Court’s view that little progress will be made in the crime fight until there is first progress on achieving the core objective of the Consent Decree: the re-establishment of trust between the community and the police. And, it has been my view that progress toward the objectives of the Consent Decree cannot be achieved without capable, consistent leadership at the command level of the Department.”
City solicitor Dana Moore told the judge she does not anticipate any change in leadership, but that could change depending on who voters choose to be the city’s next mayor.
City Council President and Democratic nominee Brandon Scott said he would keep Harrison in charge but is “dissatisfied… with the high levels of violence” in the city and plans to “reevaluate (the city’s) strategy and identify the changes that must be made to get better results and save lives.
Republican nominee Shannon Wright said Harrison has had his chance to solve the city’s crime problems and would be asked to resign if she wins.
Independent candidate Bob Wallace would also keep Harrison, agreeing the lack of continuity is “part of the problem.” Wallace said he would “hold the commissioner to clearly defined results and benchmarks.”
At Thursday’s hearing, Bredar also warned corruption not addressed within the department is “cancerous” to reform efforts, adding any cuts to the police department’s budget only hinder efforts to closing staffing shortages.
In June, the city council approved $22 million in cuts to the department, including slashing the specialized marine and mounted units. After the cuts were approved, Harrison told WJZ that 70 members of the department would be moved from specialized units to patrol and the department was looking for outside agencies to handle some of the duties of those units.
For his part, Harrison on Thursday highlighted the department has hired five more officers this year than it has lost. Still, Bredar said the department needs to “continue to aggressively recruit” and follow through with training efforts even despite the coronavirus pandemic.
While Bredar expressed frustration at the lack of on-the-ground results, he and the consent decree monitoring team praised the department’s handling of protests this summer as some of the best in the country.
Outgoing Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young made similar comments about the department’s handling of the protests earlier in late May.