ACLU Challenges Baltimore Police Union's Obstructionist Attempt to Block Work of Civilian Review Board
BALTIMORE, MD - Blasting a Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) lawsuit against the Civilian Review Board (CRB) and the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) as "extreme" and "out of touch", a friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday in Baltimore City Circuit Court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland urges the Court to quickly dismiss the case as frivolous and contrary to the compelling public interest in improving police-community relations. The lawsuit, filed by the FOP this past spring, seeks to permanently bar the Police Department from providing records of Internal Affairs investigations to the CRB and to permanently strip the CRB of its ability to review internal affairs records, even though state law actually mandates such review.
The brief, filed on behalf of the ACLU and the Baltimore Campaign for Justice, Safety and Jobs (CJSJ), argues that the FOP lawsuit has no legal merit and is a transparent attempt to shut down any possibility of civilian oversight of police in Maryland. In the brief, the organizations, which collectively represent thousands of Baltimore and Maryland residents, contend that the FOP's extreme positions perpetuate distrust by reinforcing the perception that police believe they are above the law.
"Rather than working with the numerous City officials and community leaders who are looking for ways to rebuild trust and move forward, the FOP is taking the extreme position that no one outside the police department, even when authorized by the legislature, can be involved in oversight of any kind," said Sonia Kumar, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Maryland. "The FOP's lawsuit reflects exactly the type of blanket opposition to transparency and accountability that has created public distrust of police and that frustrates effective police work and public safety."
The brief explains that the mandate of the Civilian Review Board, created in 1999 by the General Assembly against the backdrop of extreme community frustration with Baltimore City police, is to do precisely what the FOP is challenging: receive and review internal affairs records concerning complaints. Under the statute, the Civilian Review Board cannot impose discipline on any law enforcement officer but makes recommendations based on its independent review of Internal Affairs records. These provisions were carefully crafted so as to not violate the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights ("LEOBR"). Yet, the FOP argues compliance with the law is unlawful under the Maryland Public Information Act ("MPIA") and the LEOBR.
The FOP's lawsuit comes on the heels of efforts to revitalize Baltimore's Civilian Review Board in an effort to build legitimacy and public trust in the wake of high-profile killings of civilians, exposés about the extent of uses of force, Baltimore's uprising, and longstanding complaints about police harassment. Indeed, the resounding national consensus among courts, law enforcement and community leaders about the critical need for transparency, including civilian oversight, as one of the most critical means to developing the public's confidence in police.
Rather than protecting the legitimate rights of officers, the FOP is seeking to place police above the law, fighting tooth and nail even the most basic efforts to recover public trust, and attacking even the most barebones institutions in place specifically to protect public trust. In stark contrast to the many officials, community members and other groups working to build healthier relationships between Baltimore residents and police, the FOP is devoting its efforts to defeating longstanding mechanisms for basic oversight.
The Baltimore FOP owes more to the residents of Baltimore and to the officers it purports to represent.
CJSJ member organizations include 1199 SEIU, ACLU of Maryland, Amnesty International, Baltimore Algebra Project, Beats, Rhymes, and Relief, Bmore United, CASA, City Bloc, Communities United, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Equity Matters, Empowerment Temple, Freddie Gray Project, Fusion Group, Jews United for Justice, Justice League, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, Making Change, Maryland State Conference NAACP, Peace by Piece, Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, Power Inside, SEIU 32BJ, Southern Engagement Foundation, Ujima People's Progress, and Universal Zulu Nation.