The City of Baltimore recently came under fire after The Baltimore Sun conducted a six-month investigation that uncovered the fact that, unbeknownst to most of its bureaucrats and politicians, the city has paid $5.7 million in police misconduct and brutality settlements over the past three years. The situation reached a boiling point after video, seen in the above-embedded player provided by WMAR-TV, emerged showing a police officer brutally beating a suspect for what seems to be no apparent reason. The controversy sparked an investigation by the United States Department of Justice, and city leaders have been scrambling to put together a series of reforms in an effort to tone down Baltimore Police Department’s violent reputation.
As a first step, the City of Baltimore will provide an online database to track the results of police misconduct lawsuits, mainly so that city officials will have a way to determine if specific officers are facing multiple complaints. City Solicitor George Nilson told The Baltimore Sun that the new system will allow city officials to identify which cops need additional training. The database will list all settlements, no matter the size, so that smaller payouts below the $25,000 mark requiring a signature by the mayor’s office will still be noticed by authorities.
Said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake about the new policy, “I was really perplexed that so many elected officials said they had no idea the city has been making these settlements. I want to make sure the public and elected officials have this information. Now there’s no excuse for not knowing.” Mayor Rawlings-Blake announced last month that the city would be hiring more Internal Affairs officers to hold police accountable and initiating a study on body cameras. She also granted Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts more power to crack down on corrupt cops.
According to CBS DC, the Baltimore City Council will vote next week on a bill that would require all city police officers to wear body cameras. However, citing legal issues, Mayor Rawlings-Blake said she will likely veto the bill. She told The Baltimore Sun, “I would rather be thoughtful and right than fast and wrong… The worst thing we can do … is to roll out a program that hasn’t been thought through, and unfortunately we are dangerously close to doing that now.”
She wants the Baltimore City Council to wait for the conclusion of her study on body cameras before writing and passing a bill, but claims that she does approve of implementing them. Said Mayor Rawlings-Blake, “I am 100 percent in support of police body cameras. And residents should know that no matter what happens during the City Council process, the city is going to have body cameras.” However, she feels that the current bill, which requires all police officers to wear body cameras, goes too far. “If I’m an officer working in the evidence control room, I need to wear a body camera?” she asked.
Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. Young dismissed Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s argument that the body camera bill is poorly and unlawfully worded, telling CBS Baltimore, “Absolutely not… It’s all in interpretation. It’s all political BS.”
As a part of the police reforms, officials will consider changes to the city’s controversial non-disclosure policy on police misconduct settlements, as victims are required to sign non-disclosure agreements that infringe on their freedom to speak about what happened to them. Those who speak out risk losing a large portion of their settlement. Opponents of this policy claim that it helps the city cover up abuses while infringing on the rights of those victimized by police brutality or misconduct.