In wake of corruption trials, Maryland ponders disbanding Baltimore Police Department

Earlier this week we talked about the stunning police corruption trials which brought down a half dozen members of the Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force. At the time, I expressed my concerns that the actions of these rogue cops would erode trust between the community and law enforcement. This has been an issue they’ve struggled with ever since the Freddie Gray riots, even as Charm City battles a gun violence rate which makes parts of the Gaza strip look safe by comparison.

What I failed to anticipate was the possibility that the erosion of trust would be as rapid and widespread as this. Barely 48 hours after the final verdicts were read, one Maryland lawmaker has introduced the idea of having the state throw up their hands and simply disband the entire Baltimore Police Department. (Baltimore Sun)

After this week’s conclusion of a federal corruption trial that convicted two Baltimore police officers, a Maryland lawmaker floated a radical proposal: Disband the Baltimore Police Department.

Del. Bilal Ali, a Baltimore Democrat, proposed the idea in a memo to Mayor Catherine E. Pugh and her newly appointed police commissioner after a federal jury convicted two Baltimore detectives for their roles in one of the city’s biggest police corruption scandals. Six other officers pleaded guilty in the case.

The idea quickly generated reaction among politicians Tuesday — from one calling it “nonsense” to others saying Ali should not be dismissed. Pugh said the idea was going nowhere.

“I’m not disbanding the police department,” she said at her Wednesday news conference.

While it sounds like a shocking idea (and I’m certainly not supporting it here), it’s not an entirely unknown concept. Last year the city of Varnell, Georgia fired their entire police department and had the county Sheriffs office take over their duties. Of course, that’s a bit easier to pull off when your town has less than 2,000 residents. I still remember back in the 70s when corruption in the New Orleans PD was so bad that they discussed scrapping the entire force and starting over, but that plan never came to fruition. Camden, New Jersey, long known as one of the most dangerous places in the country, actually did disband their police force in 2013 and turn it over to a new county unit. Shockingly, that seems to have improved matters.

But for Baltimore? Camden may make a lot of headlines, but it’s still a city of only 74K people. Charm City is nearly ten times that size and they have the eighth largest police force in the country, with more than 3,000 employees. Where would all of the replacement law enforcement officers come from and who would they report to? The county sheriff’s department would need to expand like a supernova. Even the state troopers couldn’t summon up that sort of manpower.

The rotten apples they discovered in Baltimore were beyond bad to be sure, but it was still a very small task force which was largely operating on its own. The city still has an army of good cops who have been making progress in the war on crime lately. (The city just celebrated a 12 day stretch with no murders, the first time that’s happened in years.) Citizens have been hitting the pavement and getting involved, trying to work with the police to reduce the influence of the gangs in their neighborhoods. Scrapping the entire force and starting over from scratch now would probably be more of a disaster than the problems they’re currently dealing with.