Gary Cordner, BPD Academic and Training Director Shares Insights and Experiences:
In 2017, the US Department of Justice released a report with the inauspicious title: “Federal Report On Police Killings”. The 600-page tome contained the full report of the infamous shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri, and detailed reports on the state of policing in the cities of Cleveland, Chicago and Baltimore. The Departments of each of these cities were cited for poor supervision, racial profiling, heavy handed patrol tactics, poor training and ineffective oversight. The situation in Baltimore culminated in the fateful death of Freddie Gray in 2015, who died while in police custody, during a transport to a Baltimore Police lockup facility, following an arrest.
Consequently, years of frustration and anger in Baltimore over police misconduct and abuse boiled over resulting in violent civil unrest. Five officers of the Baltimore Police Department were charged with murder in connection with Gray’s death. All five were eventually acquitted. The Gray incident prompted an investigation into the conduct and practices of the Baltimore Police Department. The Federal investigative team also examined stop and arrest statistics as part of their audit. They found that between 2010 and 2015 there were 300K stops made by BPD officers. Of these stops 82% involved African Americans. 44% of the stops occurred in two black districts and only 3.7% of these stops ended in citations being issued. Many persons were stopped multiple times. 73% of these stops ended in arrests for such offenses as failing to obey a police officer, trespassing, hindering passage and vagrancy. 25% of the arrests were dismissed. The hit rate for evidence found in searches during these stops was about 12%.
Following a civil rights suit filed by the Maryland ACLU under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Safe Streets Act and the Violent Crime and Control Act of 1994, the Federal court intervened. Judge James Bredar placed the Department under a consent order and assigned a team to implement changes to Baltimore Police Operations to bring them into conformance with constitutional standards. A monitoring team headed by former Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey was assigned to oversee the implementation. The Baltimore Police Department established its own implementation team. Gary Cordner, a 1974 graduate of Northeastern University’s College of Criminal Justice, (PHD Michigan State) and former Dean of the College of Justice and Safety at Eastern Kentucky University was brought on board as the Academic/Training Director for the Baltimore Team. He has been on the job for three and a half years. On Thursday Afternoon, February 23, 2023 Gary was gracious enough to join MAPLE’s Police Leadership Committee to discuss his experiences. The zoom meeting was open to all MAPLE members and approximately 16 members tuned into the zoom conference.
Gary gave the members a very extensive explanation about the consent decree implementation process. The court had specifically identified several areas; such as stop and frisk, use of force, arrest procedures and complaint investigation as a priority. He said that the court had the time to closely focus on the decree implementation process. Each of the areas identified, along with others areas of concern, became the focus of policy revisions. This is an extended process, which requires both the inhouse team and the court appointed team to reach agreement on the policy elements. Once tentative agreement is reached, all policies go out for public comment. The Department is not obligated to accept recommendations from the public, but it is obligated to explain why it did not include them. Once the policies are vetted they are distributed to the members of the Department and become the subject of in-service training. Officers are required to undergo in-class and in-service training each year on mandated topics including use of force, behavioral health, community policing and stops, searches and arrests. They are given specific hands-on training to support the policy, coupled with class room engagement to ensure understanding. It takes 3 to 4 months for the entire Department to cycle through a two- day training session, but no policy is officially implemented unless and until each member has been trained on it.
Following activation of a policy, both implementation teams, regularly audit the operations covered under it. This entails randomly reviewing reports, dash cam and stationary video footage to ensure officers are conducting themselves in line with the policies. The Department must then submit regular reports to the court, which includes an “initial compliance” report and then a “sustained compliance” report. In response to a question, Gary noted that the number of sergeants in Baltimore has not decreased even though the department is down 400 officers, but the depletion at the patrolman rank has caused the level of supervision to significantly increase. There has also been significant improvement in police performance since the consent decree was implemented. In the third quarter of last year the department recorded 3,586 arrests, only 14 were dismissed by the local prosecutor with only one judged to be lacking probable cause. Use of Force incidents have dropped by 55% with injuries to defendants reduced by 41%, and injuries to officers down 30%. Gary offered, that in his mind, the true measure of success manifested itself during the George Floyd protests. He noted that the city had extended protests, which were loud and widely attended, but there was very little violence and few arrests.
The Department has taken dramatic strides to improve training. Gary’s approach emphasizes hands on interactive participation, vigorous discussion and engagement. He noted that he has tried to move the program away from “death by power point”. At the end of each in-service session, officers complete evaluations, which are regularly reviewed, and he is pleased to report that officers have found the training increasingly interesting and worthwhile.
Other issues discussed included efforts to change and modify police culture. Gary said that the Baltimore Police have adopted the EPIC program ( Ethical Policing Is Courageous). Officers are taught and encouraged to look for stress levels among each other. If one officer is having a difficult time handling a situation, another officer can tap him out and step in to relieve him. He also referenced the new Maryland Police Accountability Act, which creates three distinct boards for handling police discipline. The Police Accountability Board, which conducts investigations into complaints; the Police Charging Commission, which reviews the investigations and prefers the charges, and the Trial Board which hears the evidence and adjudicates the disciplinary cases. There is civilian involvement in each of these stages but discipline is still fundamentally under the control of sworn officers.
Director Cordner kept the attention of the group for a solid 90 minutes. He ended his remarks by providing an overview of policing based on his 50 years of experience. He said that sometimes things look hopeless, but he told the members to think hard about what the service was like when they started and what it is like today. He said, if they looked close they will see that it has changed. It is far more standardized, and the Federal government is taking a far more active role. He ended his remarks by referencing the late Egon Bittner, the well-known Brandeis sociologists whose book “Functions of Police in Modern Society” is a foundational study of the role of police in society. He said that Bittner predicted “that the most significant changes to the police service will come, when the police themselves develop their own intellectual leadership.”