Reforms aimed at combatting corruption in U.S. policing should be focused on achieving “radical transparency,” says Michael Bromwich, former U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General who led an investigation of a Baltimore police scandal.
A report issued this year by a team headed by Bromwich, “Anatomy of the Gun Trace Task Force Scandal: Its Origins, Causes, and Consequences,” outlines years of corruption and collusion within the Baltimore Police Department.
The Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF), began in 2007 with the goal of seizing and locating the sources of guns being used for violent crime in Baltimore. Lacking supervision, training, and accountability, the task force quickly devolved into what Bromwich described as a “jump out squad.”
In a talk sponsored by the Academy for Justice at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Bromwich told the stories of three GTTF officers who beat suspects, ran them over with patrol cars, stole thousands of dollars in drug money, and planted guns at scenes to justify stops.
In 2017, eight GTTF members were charged with racketeering, robbery, extortion and overtime fraud. Six of the eight pleaded guilty to some charges. The other two officers were convicted by a jury.
Bromwich emphasized not only the extent of the corruption, but the reasons for it. He pointed to the “quantity over quality” mindset that exists in many law enforcement units because success is often measured by arrests, not convictions.
The Bromwich report outlines the danger in pressuring officers to “put numbers on the board.” Such a a mentality only incentivizes pretextual arrests, leads to civil rights violations that go unaddressed, and detracts from the legitimate goal of fighting violent crime, he says.
What should the criminal justice system learn from the GTTF scandal? Bromwich stressed the need for effective training, conflict-free hiring processes, competent supervision, and internal accountability.
He highlighted examples of positive changes that many police departments have made after corruption scandals, including body-worn cameras, public disclosure of internal complaints, and a widely-used training program called EPIC, an acronym for “Ethical Policing is Courageous.”
HBO is broadcasting a six-hour mini-series about the GTTF scandal, called “We Own This City.” It is based on a book by Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton.