The Baltimore Police Department released details of a secret $250,000 fund yesterday after being ordered to do so by a Circuit Court judge.
Judge John C. Themelis decided the most sensitive details of the fund - which is used to buy surveillance equipment - should not be subject to scrutiny, so as to not jeopardize public safety.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Police Department said they were pleased with yesterday's ruling and settlement, in which the police, Mayor Martin O'Malley and the City Council must pay the ACLU up to $725.95 in court costs.
The ACLU sued the city and Police Department in June, demanding that officials disclose particulars of the fund after a Catholic community group and soup kitchen in Southwest Baltimore was twice denied permission to review it.
Police say the fund is essential for buying high-tech equipment to fight crime.
After testimony last week from Col. John Pignataro, the city's head of information technology, Themelis decided the fund should be public, saying that keeping it completely secret would add to the public's distrust of government.
"Disclosure of some things may put police officers in jeopardy or enable someone to conduct illegal activity," Themelis said. "But the Freedom of Information Act enhances public safety because it enhances public confidence in the system."
Maurice Bellan, a Police Department attorney, applauded the fact that "the department didn't have to turn over the substance of the information."
But ACLU attorney Dwight H. Sullivan said his organization got "exactly what [it] wanted."
Baltimore police spent the weekend blanking out parts of invoices documenting how the fund money was spent, after the ruling by Themelis on Friday.
The eight pages of invoices explaining how the money was spent detail little more than price and general category of the equipment. Of the $116,456.45 worth of invoices, $67,935 was spent on wiretap equipment, $23,321.45 on video equipment and $25,200 on computer equipment.
"Now our elected officials can look at the invoices and make an inquiry: `Can this money be better spent?'" Sullivan said.