Like so many in Baltimore, we were deeply disturbed by the video that surfaced over the weekend of a Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officer brutally beating an unarmed man. We appreciate the quick statements by Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle and Mayor Catherine Pugh, including the mayor’s statement that “We are working day and night to bring about a new era of community-based, Constitutional policing and will not be deterred by this or any other instance that threatens our efforts to re-establish the trust of all citizens in the Baltimore Police Department.”
The Baltimore Police Department is impaired not by “a few bad apples” but by systems—recruitment, training, policies, and procedures—that are deficient or poorly implemented and supervised. The department needs systemic solutions that address all of those components. Indeed, while we were encouraged that the BPD quickly suspended both the officer who beat the resident and the officer who chose not to intervene—and we anxiously await a decision about what charges will be filed—we know that such actions alone will not address the deeply problematic culture of the Baltimore Police Department.
This incident affirms the importance of the City’s Consent Decree with the Department of Justice, particularly the elements that require the department to implement new training and policies that emphasize de-escalation and the appropriate use of force. To best serve the residents of Baltimore and secure public safety, we need police officers who are guardians, not warriors. It is particularly important that, when officers have a military background, as the officer who acted violently reportedly does, they are aware of this new role and receive the training to make the appropriate transition.
We share the frustration that many in the community feel with the unrelenting incidents of misconduct, including excessive use of force, by members of the Baltimore Police Department. Unfortunately, the current police culture did not emerge overnight, and it cannot be corrected overnight. We continue to believe that a legally mandated community-oriented reform process, like the one that the Consent Decree requires, offers the best chance for long-term, meaningful change in policing practices in Baltimore.
We look forward to continuing to work with the mayor, the department, the Consent Decree Monitoring Team, and community groups to ensure that the decree has as significant an impact as we believe it can.