In the wake of Freddie Gray's 2015 death while in Baltimore police custody, the city installed a series of reforms -- such as the consent decree -- aimed at giving more transparency for the department and how they treat suspects. But the intended consequence of the measures is that many police feel they cannot enforce the law, and that elected leaders simply look for any excuse they can to throw officers under the bus if it helps them politically. New evidence shows this is making the city more dangerous.
In 2017, Baltimore started the consent decree. Its goal was "to have a stronger police department that fights crime while it serves and protects the civil and constitutional rights of Baltimore City residents."
It required a series of internal reporting, documentation, and justification for all arrests and interactions with the public. But, a recent report shows that the city's goal is not being reached.
The Washington Post reports that an anonymous survey of 68 Baltimore police officers titled, "Feedback from the Field: A Summary of Focus Groups with Baltimore Police Officers" shows that law enforcement in the city feel low morale, confusion, and lack of support due to the new requirements. They feel the city's fear of media and political backlash is making their jobs more difficult.
"I don’t feel pride for having 20 uses of force,” one officer said while describing the "necessary techniques against an arrestee who tries to 'wiggle' out of handcuffs must be documented," according to WaPo.
"Now, I am afraid to arrest anyone because I don’t want to have so many uses of force [documented] against me," that same officer said.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison echoed these claims, saying his men and women have told him similar concerns.
“They expressed their challenges with morale and working conditions," he said. "Some are reluctant for fear of getting hurt or getting in trouble for making mistakes."
The report found that officers feel that as "the Department has been scrutinized by the media and community over the past several years, the command staff and the City have become more concerned with the Department’s image than supporting officers and boosting staff morale."
Because of this, it seems like city leaders are "ready to throw police officers under the bus to appease the media and don’t support us even when our actions are appropriate," according to one anonymous officer.
The city's reforms also require various internal discipline measures if its determined that a police officer used aggressive force. But, because the city can basically determine anything it wants as crossing a line, police officers even refuse to get out of their squad cars.
"We don’t get out of our patrol cars like we used to, because we are afraid that if we do, then we might have to level up," one officer said.
And the evidence shows these "reforms" are making the city more dangerous. Here are the stats from WaPo:
As the department is tasked with implementing reforms, it is also facing increased levels of violence. Since 2015, more than 300 people have been slain in the city each year. More than 200 people have been killed in the city so far this year, 17 percent more than at the same time last year. Nonfatal shootings are also up 30 percent, with more than 600 people injured in shootings.
The city says the reforms are designed to root out unconstitutional methods of law enforcement. Officers say it’s an overreach. It’s unclear what the city will do as the crime rate continues to rise and police morale continues to plummet.