Internal Affairs for Dummies

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. 

 

 

The Culture of Misconduct

As the federal criminal trial of former Baltimore and Philadelphia cop Eric Snell begins, it again shines a spotlight on the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF), corruption within the Baltimore Police Department, and specifically the culture of plainclothes policing.

With the media again focused on BPD, of course cops will flock to defend their department and categorically deny any hint of wrongdoing in specialized and plainclothes units.

During today’s testimony, former GTTF detective Momodu “G-Money” Gondo, who has already plead guilty, testified that stealing was ingrained in the culture of plainclothes policing in BPD. When local crime reporter Justin Fenton tweeted out the statement, current and former cops were quick to cry ‘bullshit.’

But is it bullshit? This isn’t a fluke. This isn’t “bad apples” or a one-off incident. This is a continued pattern in the BPD.

Here are a few examples of some “bullshit” the BPD has been involved in after I was hired in 1999…

In the early 2000s officers King and Murray who robbed drug dealers.

Officer Daniel Redd who sold drugs while on-duty.

The Southwest Flex Unit who ran the gamut of misconduct.

Drug dealing officer Kendal Richburg arrested by the FBI and then years later his former partner Spencer Moore was arrested.

Lieutenant Steven Bagshaw who was paid for thousands of dollars in overtime for hours he didn’t work.

An entire specialized unit writing false reports.

The GTTF.

And those are just some of the ones that made headlines. There are countless other incidents that never became public and officers were either terminated, resigned or quietly allowed to retire while under investigation.

Stealing doesn’t necessarily have to refer to taking drugs, property or physical currency. There were many ways to steal in the BPD. I know because I saw how easy it was firsthand.

Later in my career, when I became an Internal Affairs Detective, I investigated several cases involving theft and overtime fraud. I was involved in investigating a Shootings Squad and the Homicide Unit for fraudulent overtime. Those cases were closed and the supervisors who made the complaints removed. Overtime fraud was nearly impossible to prove due to the lack of departmental oversight. That and the fact that it felt like the entire department was involved in some sort of overtime scam. Even the eventual major of Internal Affairs had his own overtime scandal and was mentioned during GTTF related testimony. 

From 2006-2008 I was a member of the Special Enforcement Team (SET). That unit was comprised of four squads of officers, two uniformed squads and two plainclothes squads. The unit was branded the “Steal Everything Team” by other BPD cops. One entire squad was suspended for allegations of misconduct, including stealing a large sum of cash from a man that turned out to be money he received in a worker’s comp lawsuit.  An officer in my squad abruptly resigned after he was accused of stealing money from a drug dealer. 

One of the first things I was taught in the SET unit was how to manipulate overtime. If my squad was scheduled to work 6pm-2am, we would come in and work a double shift. So 10am-6pm would be overtime. But we didn’t actually do much work. We would usually complete reports from the night before, go eat lunch, lift weights, hangout around the office and basically just goof off. So, yeah, we were technically AT work, we just weren’t doing any actual police work.

I did it. I took the easy money. I’m not proud of it and I’m ashamed I never had the guts to say no, but there is another culture that is ingrained in police departments, the culture of punishing “rats.” 

I ran into that culture in Internal Affairs too when I was paid a visit by Wayne Jenkins in the parking lot after work. I spent a good amount of time looking over my shoulder wondering what Jenkins and his goons had planned for me. I investigated him and his unit. I investigated cops he was close to. It’s not a great feeling and when you add gaslighting from other cops, I felt helpless. 

It’s not a simple decision to speak out against dirty cops. I took my concerns to my Chief who in turn informed Jenkins’ commanding officer. Nothing happened. I also saw firsthand what happened to another BPD cop who did have the courage to speak out against his fellow officers. That is a lonely island to be on and I readily admit that while I remained employed I didn’t have it in me to do it. I could also point to the death of Sean Suiter as an example of what happens if cops think you’re going to snitch, though that is only a conspiracy theory, or so I’ve been told.

So yes, by remaining silent and continuing to work for BPD, I am complicit in the culture of misconduct. I wanted to keep my head down and collect my pension. That didn’t work out for me though and here I am, maybe too little too late.

What Gondo said on the stand today isn’t “bullshit.” Cops lie, cheat and steal. They will do anything and everything to protect themselves and their department. The sad thing is they think it’s normal.

Baltimore’s Gun Offender Registry

This month for The Appeal I wrote about Baltimore’s Gun Offender Registry Act. At the time it was established (in 2007) Mayor Shiela Dixon touted the GORA as a tool to help reduce gun violence in the city. However, in the decade since it’s creation, the registry doesn’t seem like it’s done much of anything except give the BPD another way to exert control over people’s lives.