In October 2013, I transferred into the Internal Affairs Division (IAD) of the Baltimore Police Department.
I thought I was going to be a part of helping to rid the department of bad cops and in the fight against misconduct. I was dead fucking wrong. What I walked into was an office full of (mostly) lazy detectives who were simply there for better work hours and the chance to sit at a desk all day.
The initial orientation training I received was sub-par to say the least. It was mostly focused on teaching me how to use the IAPro computer software, which is used to log and track officer complaints. During my tenure in IAD, detectives received little formal organized training specific to internal investigations and for the first few months I operated with a very limited understanding of the Maryland Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBR). I was told my real training would come from shadowing senior detectives and observing as they investigated cases and conducted interviews with complainants and officers accused of misconduct.
So what did I learn from my “senior” detectives? Not much. I learned that a lot of them had little experience investigating anything beyond calls they responded to in patrol and very few had any prior experience as detectives or members of specialized units.
What I did learn was how to discourage citizens from making complaints while also doing little follow through on complaints already made and to limit the involvement of the Civilian Review Board (CRB) in certain complaints.
Prior to the 2015 in-custody death of Freddie Gray and the subsequent Department of Justice report which revealed appalling instances of unconstitutional policing and the complete institutional failings of the department, it was easy to close a citizen complaint with very little effort. Cases could be closed by placing the blame on the citizen who made the complaint by saying they failed to follow-up or provide any further information. This was called a “Preliminary Closure” and only required a very brief written report documenting the nature of the complaint and the efforts made by the primary detective to follow-up with the complainant. Post Freddie Gray and the arrival of the DOJ, it became a little harder to simply close-out cases, but it still happened.
I learned several tactics from other detectives to make it appear as though a complainant wasn’t cooperating. (I should add that there were times citizens made complaints and actually didn’t follow-up and never contacted IAD again.) One tactic was to cancel or reschedule in-person interviews at the last minute. This was especially frustrating to citizens who relied on public transportation to get to our office and/or took time off of work. Another was to schedule interviews either very early in the morning or very late in the afternoon, again disrupting people’s workday or forcing them to get childcare, etc. Basically, the goal was to make it as inconvenient as possible for the complainant.
If a complainant didn’t respond to the IAD office, detectives were supposed to try and contact them at home. Home visits were usually conducted during business hours, so people wouldn’t always be there. In that case, we were supposed to leave a card at their residence requesting they contact the office. I saw more than one detective leave a card in the bushes next to a house, on steps where it would blow away, or in some other out of the way place where it most likely wouldn’t be seen.
Some citizens made complaints against the officer or officers who arrested them. If they made the complaint while a criminal case was pending, we had to advise them of their Miranda rights if they wanted to provide us with a statement about the incident. That was usually enough to scare them out of making the complaint, but if someone insisted on providing a statement we would really emphasize that maybe they should consult with a lawyer first. After all, even though we were Internal Affairs detectives, we were still cops. We would encourage people to wait until after their criminal case was adjudicated and then file their complaint. We did all this while trying to appear as concerned as possible with protecting the citizen from self-incrimination. Of course we knew that most people would never come back, especially if their case was dropped in court.
The Civilian Review Board can also investigate certain complaints independently of IAD. The CRB has the authority to investigate complaints involving allegations of excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, harassment, and abusive language. Citizens can take their complaint directly to the CRB, in which case IAD would then be notified of the complaint. If a citizen came directly to IAD with a complaint that included any or all of the five categories that the CRB handled, we were supposed to flag the complaint in our system and provide the citizen with a CRB complaint form. If the citizen chose not to complete the form, we were still supposed to notify the CRB of the complaint.
We had ways around notifying the CRB. Our most common excuse was to hide behind the fact that CRB complaint forms are supposed to be notarized. If someone didn’t have valid identification we’d tell them they’d either have to come back with it or take the form directly to the CRB. If they did have valid identification then we could use the excuse that there weren’t any notaries in the office. Some detectives were actual notaries, and at one point during my time in IAD command wanted us all to become notaries. We filled out the applications, but several detectives (me included) never followed through with the process and like many other grand ideas in BPD, it was soon forgotten about. Some detectives also had a knack for talking people out of completing the form by explaining away the CRB as having no authority over BPD officers. While they can investigate and sustain a complaint and even recommend punishment, BPD is under no obligation to abide by their findings. Some detectives just flat out didn’t notify the CRB period.
We would also downgrade complaints to avoid triggering the CRB’s involvement. For instance, if someone made a complaint that included an officer using abusive language, we could mark the complaint as an “Inappropriate Comment” and handle it as a supervisor’s complaint.
When the CRB did investigate cases their investigators would contact IAD to request files, interviews, transcripts, etc. In one instance an investigator contacted me with a general request for information. I was told by a supervisor not to provide them anything unless they asked for something specific.
Now it seems the BPD isn’t even bothering with hiding the fact that they don’t want to cooperate with the CRB and are flat out refusing to provide them with case files.
During my time in IAD I also observed many instances of cases not being properly investigated because the primary detective was friendly with the accused officer. I sat in on interviews that seemed more like two pals chatting over beers than an actual investigation. Since I had very few friends within the department, I was only once briefly assigned a case involving cops I knew and worked with previously. I took the case back to my sergeant and explained that I didn’t know if I could be impartial and that I felt uncomfortable investigating people I had worked closely with. He begrudgingly assigned the case to another detective.
Case folders weren’t secured. Most sat out in plain view on desks for anyone to pick up and read. Or walk away with. There was a secure file room for completed case folders, which civilian employees and supervisors had access to. I have been inside of it. To call it well organized would be a joke. The office itself was just a terrible mess and literally anyone could have picked up a sensitive document or case folder, which is what might have happened when a former cop was set to be appointed to a high ranking command position but had his IAD history leaked to the media.
I don’t want to imply that supervisors condoned or encouraged any of this behavior, but to my knowledge no one in the division ever conducted any sort of spot check or audit of our cases. These were experienced detectives teaching me how to close cases without doing an actual investigation.
I can’t speak to the current conditions at IAD, since I stopped working there in April 2016. The department has begun giving polygraph exams to IAD detectives again, a practice that had ceased a year or so before I worked there. When I joined IAD I was told by a long time detective that the polygraph exams had stopped because too many officers were failing and they couldn’t fill vacancies. According to City Solicitor Andre Davis, some current detectives elected to leave IAD instead of submitting to the polygraph exam.
And yes, I was complicit. I observed this behavior firsthand and used some of these tactics myself. It isn’t something I did without consequence because in addition to the undiagnosed PTSD I was suffering from, the moral dilemma presented by working in IAD added to my already crumbling mental state. I saw what happened to cops who tried to take on the department and I didn’t have that courage. I also had my own run-ins with certain dirty cops and I had a legitimate fear for my own safety. But that’s no excuse. I had an obligation to make the department aware of what I thought was egregious misconduct, but I didn’t. I kept quiet with the hope of biding my time till I could retire, and that is a decision I regret everyday.