After testimony in the Gun Trace Task Force trial revealed systemic corruption in Baltimore’s police department, state lawmakers filed bills in Annapolis aimed at making the department more transparent and accountable. One of those bills would require state auditors to conduct a financial audit of the department every six years.
One of the charges against the members of the now disbanded task force was wire fraud for filing false overtime claims. One officer nearly doubled his salary. And that drew Baltimore Delegate Cory McCray’s attention.
“We need to pay greater attention to overtime, basically to fiscal matters and practices," says McCray.
McCray says the police department is not audited as much as other state-run agencies.
“Because the reality is that the only people that is catching anyone stealing overtime has usually been the federal government looking at something else, and then by circumstance see that they are stealing overtime," McCray says. "This is able to get in front of it we have to start being proactive instead of reactive.”
McCray’s bill comes as the public release of city audit of police overtime use is being held up by a lawsuit. The Fraternal Order of Police is suing, claiming officers are being underpaid.
“But you can’t separate out the audit process related to the litigation from the broader question of what’s going on at the police department," Davis says. "You just can’t.
Delegate McCray says that while there have been plenty of reports of officer misconduct due to the Consent Decree, he says he hasn't "seen anything to where there are practices, the fiscal practices and matters of the Baltimore City police department. And I just find that challenging.”
City Councilman Brandon Scott, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, says he appreciates the efforts of Baltimore city lawmakers to reform the department.
“So they get audited at the city level," Scott says. "But to be audit at the state level because it is a state agency can only help. The more eyes the better.”
Ultimately, Scott says, he would like to see legislative power over the BPD rest with the city government.
“We have a great consent decree team. A great citizens’ oversight taskforce that are going to suggest and do all these great things we should do," Scott says. "But at the end of the day once they are gone. The power for the BPD should be in this building.”
Other bills making their way through the General Assembly and supported by the city council would: One, require the department to provide an annual community policing report to the state lawmakers, the mayor, and city council. Two, prohibit and penalize officers who tamper with, disable, or fail to activate body-worn cameras, and three, authorize the department to keep track of hand guns and ammunition they acquire from violent offenders.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh commended the efforts of state lawmakers to hold the department more accountable.
“We’ll we want the police department to be a transparent as possible. I think under the consent decree there is a requirement with transparency. And after what the city has just gone through I think as transparent as we can make our police department we ought to go about the business of doing that," says Pugh.
So far, one bill—the one penalizing officers who fail to activate their body worn cameras—is approved by a House committee. But none of them have made it to the House floor, nor has there been any action in the Senate. The Senate version of McCray's bill, sponsored by Baltimore Democrat Bill Fergunson, had a committee hearing yesterday. And there’s less than a month to go in this year’s General Assembly session.