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Former Cop: The Baltimore Police Department Needs to Be “Purged”

Retired Maryland State Police Major Neill Franklin says bad cops and illegal policies need to changed.

See The Real News Network’s website for both earlier in-depth reporting and current coverage of events in Baltimore, where The Real News Network studios are located.


STEPHEN JANIS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, TRNN: Hello. My name is Stephen Janis, and I’m a reporter for The Real News Network.

It’s a beleaguered institution that is now under even more intense scrutiny. I’m talking about the Baltimore City Police Department, which is already under fire after six officers were indicted in the death of Freddie Gray, who died in their custody earlier this month. But now the Justice Department has turned up the heat with the Attorney General Loretta Lynch announcing a full-scale civil rights investigation into the pattern and practice of the department that has been under intense scrutiny for years.

But the big question is what does this mean for the department, and the city it purports to serve? To help us answer that question is not just a police officer, but a person who’s been willing to critique a profession that is often veiled behind what some call a blue line. Neill Franklin is the executive director of LEAP, Law Enforcement Officers Against Prohibition, an organization that advocates for ending the war on drugs. But besides that, he’s an experienced law enforcement professional who served in a variety of command and training positions within the police department.

Mr. Franklin, thank you for joining us.

NEILL FRANKLIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LEAP: Thanks for having me, Stephen.

JANIS: Appreciate it. So tell me, your initial response just to the announcement of this civil rights investigation. What are the implications here for the department that you served for quite some time?

FRANKLIN: I kind of have mixed reviews here. First of all, it’s common knowledge to any – and everyone who has anything to do with Baltimore, who knows about Baltimore, that we know this exists. So this is nothing new. It’s not something that we have to go find. It’s right there, right in front of us, these problems that we have with the patterns and practices within the Baltimore Police Department. You know, the racial profiling and the things that go on. And the abuses at the hands of our police officers.

Personally, I don’t really think we need the Justice Department in on this if you have the right leadership in place. So in City Hall, if you have the proper leadership, people who are willing to take a strong stance in the police department, if you have a commissioner who’s willing to make and take a strong stance and just lay out the law to the men and women in the police department. The good police officers in that police department are not going to mind such a stance. They’re not going to mind a commissioner and a mayor saying if you violate the law, you’re fired. If you lie, you’re fired. You know, if you perjure yourself on the stand, you’re fired. If you do this, this, this and this, we don’t need you, we don’t want you. If you abuse our citizens, you’re fired. There’s no second, third, or fourth chance. You’ve had the training. You know how important it is. You’ve taken an oath. Okay, do it. Do things right.

On the other side of that coin though, and maybe later in the program here we can talk about the policies that we have our police officers enforcing which make their jobs very difficult at the same time, and frustrating at the same time. But we have to get to a place where we are holding people responsible, and not just the men and women in the streets. All the way up the chain.

JANIS: What you say sounds incredibly reasonable, but it’s never been executed. I mean, as long as I’ve been covering policing in Baltimore –

FRANKLIN: That means we don’t have the right leadership. We never had the right leadership.

JANIS: I mean, but is it the leadership or is the process of policing so thoroughly corrupted in cities like Baltimore that you have to change kind of the whole structure of it?

FRANKLIN: Well, I – you know, something, there’s a word that has been ringing in my head ever since Monday, a couple Mondays ago, when all of this started up at Mondawmin with the, our young people uprising, and – . The word that was used to kind of like, it was said, that was passed around, I think it was on Instagram, was “purge”. They were going to purge. Well, how about we purge the police department?

Here’s what I mean. It’s come to my attention – I don’t know if this is true or not – but that some police officers may be considering leaving since the State’s Attorney announced the charges being placed on the six officers in the Freddie Gray case. Okay, let them leave. They’re not committed anyway. If they want to leave it’s clear to me that they’re not committed. Go ahead and leave.

Purge number two. We know that the State’s Attorney’s Office has a list of officers who have perjured themselves on the stand. Internal Affairs has a list of officers – or if they don’t have an exact list, they can go through some files and find officers – who have lied on reports. Critical reports, like application for statement of charges. Probable cause statements. These are court documents. Official documents. If you’ve lied on the stand, if you perjure yourself in any of those instances, okay, how about we fire you. Because you’re no good to us.

And with the support of the State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, to come forward and say you know what? I can’t use these officers in any case where they make an arrest and now they have to testify in court under oath, because they’ve already proven that they are not credible, which means the jury’s not going to believe them. So I can’t use them. I won’t use them. So Commissioner, it’s up to you to decide what to do with them. Dead weight.

And then think of other areas, we’ve got officers who have, it’s been documented where they’ve – cases have been sustained for brutality and disrespect of citizens and so on. Those people need to be put on notice. The next time we have a sustained complaint on you, you’re fired. We’re going to give you the training, we’re going to give you remedial training, we’re going to make sure you know what’s right and what’s wrong, and make sure you know that you’re on notice. Next time, sustained complaint, you’re fired.

That’s a purge. And then we’ll end up with a good foundation of good police officers that will hopefully have the courage to report those, like Detective Joseph Crystal, to report those who are abusing our citizens, abusing their power and authority.

JANIS: But we all know the BFOP would be a tremendous obstacle to that sort of idea – I mean, I don’t think anyone disagrees with it, but the FOP will –

FRANKLIN: I don’t think they would.

JANIS: Really?

FRANKLIN: No, I – I’d go back to their 2012 crime plan. Straight from the mouths of the FOP. So yeah, I think Bob Cherry was the main signature on that. And well, Gene Ryan was the second signature on that. In that crime plan they made reference to hiring the right people, training the right people, the caliber of training. I mean, they go through a whole list of things to improve the integrity of the police officers and so on. They even talk about sergeants, and having more sergeants, and certain things to improve that rank of sergeant. And the caliber of person.

To me that says that we want high-caliber people. They talk about education. We want high-caliber people. We want people with integrity. We want people who are going to represent the agency in the best possible light. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

JANIS: But I mean, you were at the nexus of where – there’s sort of a culture though, too, right? I mean, these police officers who do things poorly, like the officers in the Gary case arguably, there’s a culture there, a training, a strategy. You know, and you were at the nexus and saw how problematic it is. How do you – how do you change that? I mean, how do you alter the culture of a department as used to doing things in the way that we’ve seen that has been so disastrous, and then now has brought national attention? How do you get at the root that obviously is creating situations and officers that cause problems? How do you do that?

FRANKLIN: Yeah. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy. So and in addition, some of the other things that you would have to put in place, in my opinion, are of course what I – what we were just talking about. But also, let’s go to the community. Number one, we have to launch or continue an aggressive educational program with the community. Making sure that they know what their rights are. Okay? Everything from videotaping to your 4th Amendment rights, to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure. Those – they need to know what the responsibilities of the police officers are. And what the limitations of the police officers are. Put everybody on the equal playing field as far as knowledge and what to expect from each. So that would need to be done.

We need to continue with maybe review boards. Somewhere down the line, maybe we need to institute a police governance board. So one person doesn’t decide who that police commissioner is going to be, and when they’re going to be terminated. Let a collection of community leaders, business leaders, a member from the Fraternal Order of Police, someone, representatives from City Hall, and so on, be this board and decide who their police commissioner’s going to be. What is the general policing policy going to be. Not to get into operation, but these are the things that are important to us, the community, as relates to policing.

So those are some examples. No, this isn’t going to happen tomorrow. But if we start it today, instituting these things, putting these things in place, five years down the road you’re going to see a significant difference.

JANIS: Now, the Baltimore City Police Department has had a reputation of being very aggressive. And you know, you have argued we need to get rid of the war on drugs and stop this sort of aggressive policing. And like, the sort of units that encountered Gray and chased him when he hadn’t committed a crime. So what would policing look like in that world that you’re talking about? Would you not have these units anymore? Would you not have people running around the city chasing people? I mean, what would it look like?

FRANKLIN: Okay, so I talked about coming back to the policy. So here we are. Obviously what I do now, I think a lot of people know what I do with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, with thousands of criminal justice professionals calling for an end to the drug war. What that means is ending the prohibition of drugs. And let’s stop trying to solve a public health issue with criminal justice solutions. So let’s put health practitioners out front. Bring, back the police up.

So immediately what we can do in policing is push low-level drug offenses to the bottom of the, our priority list. At the top of our priority list is murder, rapes, robberies, crimes against our children, and so on. Those crimes of violence.

To deal with the addicted population, and as we the police come in contact with those low-level drug offenders, low-level dealing – you know, we’ve got a ton of people out there selling heroin, for instance, to finance their own habits. In a couple cities around the country they have a law enforcement assisted diversion program. Like, in Seattle, Santa Fe, and I think one other city. So when the police officers come in contact with those people who have an addiction issue, and who may be selling, possessing drugs, they refer them to this place of wraparound services. Not just for treatment, but for health concerns and issues, and job training, job placement. Those things, those core things that people need in order to survive and thrive in a community.

So now, law enforcement is – now would be doing something that the community would value, in addition to going after violent criminals, for that addicted population, that problem population. I mean, this is something that the community would embrace. This would be very beneficial to policing, because now all I got to do is hand this person off to healthcare practitioners, and I can go back out on my post and do my work of interacting with the citizens out there, and policing.

So that’s just an example of something that can happen immediately, all at the same time, while long-term, got to have long-term solutions here, long-term we’re working on the overall policy of drug prohibition. You know, to move it into a place so we take the money out of it, which will eliminate many of those crews that we have on these different corners causing a lot of the violence in our communities.

See, these gangs cannot survive without the proceeds of the drug trade. So if we continue to take the money out of it, it makes a safer place, not just for community, but for the men and women in blue, and doing their job. And we have a lot of shootings in this city, and a foundation of a lot of that is this drug trade. This illicit drug trade. So that’s long-term stuff.

JANIS: Now, you thought about a purge. I mean, given the fact that Commissioner Batts was in charge of all that’s happened, should he be purged too? And if you don’t change the command staff, how can you hold anybody accountable?

FRANKLIN: I’ll be honest with you, I’m not that intimately involved with the Commissioner to make that determination. This is when we need to have one of those governance boards in place to take a look at the work that he’s done over the past few years. You know, what were his goals? Has he accomplished these goals? Let’s hope they weren’t zero tolerance policing goals and numbers of arrests. But to take a look at what he’s done and then make a determination. I don’t know. Yeah, you’re going to have to make some changes. But I guess I’m not in a position to do that. And then make a determination, is it possible for him to continue with the new direction we’re going to be heading in? And of course, someone would have to make that determination.

JANIS: Well, you – and you, I want to talk about one of your points of expertise, quickly, training. I mean, it wasn’t really emphasized in the consultant report that the city got. It was very small. And yet it seems to be core, here. I mean, what can be done with training? Can training – everyone always trots it out. But can training really change the department thoroughly to the point where it kind of operates the way you would like it to operate? Is training that important?

FRANKLIN: Training is an important component. But in and of itself it’s a waste. Okay, so here’s what I mean. Obviously you’ve got to –

JANIS: Yeah –

FRANKLIN: You’ve got to recruit the right people. You’ve got to hire the right people. And there are many people who think that, you know, that’s a broken process. But the training commission here in Maryland places a lot of requirements on police agencies. Things that they have to do in the hiring process. For instance, do I agree with all the things that we drug test for? No, but we have those requirements. We have psychological testing, to find the psychopaths and those folks, and hopefully weed them out. But of course it’s not 100 percent. We have polygraphs. Lie detector, you know, so we can use that as a tool to finding out if a person’s been committing crimes or different things, telling us the truth, for instance.

So there’s many things in place in the hiring process. Educational requirements, depending upon where you’re at in the state, they go up and down. Baltimore City’s are still low. I believe it’s still high school. I don’t think we require an AA degree yet.

So you have the hiring process. Then you have training. A 26-week or more program where these new officers come in – and I’m telling you, Maryland has one of the best training programs for cops in the world. These cops are well-trained. You know, from criminal law, from knowing criminal law, to policy, to sensitivity training – .

JANIS: So how do you –

FRANKLIN: To cultural diversity. Here’s the third, here’s the third – .

JANIS: How do you reconcile that with what we saw with the Freddie Gray thing? How do you reconcile those? Okay.

FRANKLIN: Here’s the third piece. Here’s the third piece of this three-legged stool. Hiring, training, accountability. So when they leave the halls of the training academy, first of all we make it very clear that integrity is important. And we’ve – when I was the head of training, if you lied, you were fired. If you made a mistake, we worked on that mistake. And increased your training. But if you lied, integrity issue, you’re out.

The third piece, accountability, you need good first-line supervision. Sergeants. They shouldn’t be in the district station doing paperwork. There should be enough sergeants out there, you know, that we shouldn’t have one sergeant floating around to three, four sectors during a shift. There should be one sergeant per sector dealing with his or her squad. Not in a district station for any reason, but they should be out there bouncing from call to call to call to call, overseeing what’s happening and held responsible for the performance, the behavior, of those men and women who are doing the work out there.

But if you read the crime plan I was talking about from the Fraternal Order of Police, they make it clear that they don’t – number one, they don’t have enough sergeants out there, that sergeants probably take off or on vacation, but for whatever reason the sergeants aren’t there where they need to be.

JANIS: Well, in the case of the Freddie Gray arrest, the lieutenant was actually biking around on the street.

FRANKLIN: Well, that’s –

JANIS: That’s interesting, right?

FRANKLIN: Personally, personally, I wouldn’t have a lieutenant biking around on the street. That’s for patrol officers –

JANIS: Well, that’s what I’m saying. You know –

FRANKLIN: Maybe a sergeant.

JANIS: But the bottom line is, is it possible, we see this – this is, Baltimore City’s not the first majority African-American city where there have been problems. Is it possible – and quickly, because we’ve got to end this. Is it possible to have equitable policing in cities like Baltimore? I mean, is it possible?

FRANKLIN: Of course it is. Why wouldn’t it be? I ask the question, why wouldn’t it be possible? Of course it’s possible. It’s supposed to be possible. But again, you know, it’s about leadership, yes, it’s about hiring, it’s about training. But ultimately it’s about accountability. It’s just like – and I’m not saying that cops are children, but some of them can act like children. I’m not saying that cops are children. But it’s just like raising children. If you want these children to grow up and be successful and be able to perform and operate on their own, you know what, when you tell them something’s inappropriate – you just can’t tell them that and then when they do it nothing happens. You’ve got to have consequences. For when you do something that’s inappropriate.

And in this case, as a police officer who’s given so much power and authority, and so much trust, should have so much trust, when you step outside of that – especially when you step outside of that and break the law, I’m sorry, guy. You got to go.

JANIS: Well, Neill Franklin, it’s always fascinating to talk to you about policing. It’s very enjoyable – and I appreciate it. I hope you come back soon.

FRANKLIN: My pleasure. Thanks, Stephen.

JANIS: My name is Stephen Janis, I’m a reporter for The Real News Network in Baltimore. Thank you.

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