Police brutality has come under scrutiny as the subject of sweeping reforms in Baltimore. In a joint announcement by Baltimore’s mayor and police commissioner yesterday, they said their aim was to restore the public’s trust in the department. Proposed changes may include body cameras as a part of standard service equipment.
The announcement follows a series of incidents, which have caused the public to question law enforcement actions. In August officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson Missouri. Since then the city has witnessed a series of protests fuelled by public opinion that Wilson acted unlawfully.
In another incident last Thursday, Seattle police shot dead 26-year-old Cody Spafford, who had no violent criminal record and was described by his employer Renee Erickson as “sweet” and a hard worker. While the officials allege Spafford had robbed a bank and charged an officer with a knife, Erickson questioned the actions of Detective Jim Rodgers, who fired the fatal shot. Erickson told Seattle’s The Stranger she wanted attention drawn to the incident, as she believed the city needed to improve its handling of such situations.
In addition to the suggestion of body cameras, Baltimore’s plan to reduce police brutality includes a proposal to scrutinize its internal affairs department. A 41-page report titled Preventing Harm provided the outline of the city’s proposed actions. The report included the results of a six-month investigation by the Baltimore Sun, which revealed details of citizens receiving “battered faces and broken bones during arrests.”
The Baltimore Sun‘s investigation also showed that until recently, the city had not given enough attention to the number of law suits brought against its law enforcement officers for allegations of brutality. According to the Baltimore Sun, the city has paid out almost $3 million over cases of assault, and false arrests and imprisonments, while many of the accused officers still hold their jobs.
The Preventing Harm report cites Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts as wanting to increase staff numbers to handle misconduct allegations, and study the feasibility of body cameras. Batts is also pushing for greater authority to discipline “rogue cops.”
The report coincides with the news that the U.S. Justice Department may investigate the incidents of police brutality in Baltimore. CBS Baltimore reports that the City Council’s president Bernard “Jack“ Young wrote to the Department of Justice to request a full-fledged review of the Baltimore City police department’s policies, procedures and practices. Baltimore’s Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake supported Young’s actions and said it had been an issue for decades.
Images of alleged police brutality have also been captured on camera in Baltimore. Pictures taken this year show images of officers allegedly using batons and Tasers on a man, and punching another. Ms. Rawlings-Blake told CBS that getting rid of the few rogue police from within the department was vital to repairing the department’s reputation and trust with the public.
Commissioner Batts said he welcomed an investigation into his department. The investigation, which would take up to a month would scrutinize Baltimore’s internal affairs, and training procedures, as well as review the allegations of police brutality. A report published by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, shows that a review of case studies has suggested appropriate training and accountability structures are successful in lowering the incidents of police brutality.
While the city has announced plans to allocate $1.1 million for the purchase of more Tasers, Batts said he would like officers who are equipped with Tasers to avoid using “lethal force.” The city is also preparing a bill, which would require all Baltimore officers to be equipped with body cameras.
Ms. Rawlings-Blake is prepared for Baltimore’s police department to be scrutinized over allegations of brutality. The mayor also said her government was obliged to repair the broken trust between the police department and the community.
By Monica Grant