Oh, did you dig 'em?
There stood Baltimore police Commissioner Leonard Hamm and Mayor Martin O'Malley in front of television cameras, showing Balti-morons that even on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday they were hard at work, serious about cleaning up corruption in the Police Department.
Yeah, it was quite the heart-wrenching, noble scene. I had to choke back the tears of pride just watching it.
Hamm spoke publicly for the first time about allegations that an officer in the flex squad at the Southwestern District coerced a woman into having sex with him in exchange for her freedom. And about the two other officers who allegedly stood by. And about the drugs, counterfeit DVDs, dice and other gambling items detectives reportedly found when they searched the Southwestern District station house.
Hamm said he has a plan to keep corruption from creeping into flex units in the future. From now on, members of such squads will rotate out in three years. Officers who want to join such units will have to take polygraph and drug tests. Their work, Sun reporter Jennifer McMenamin wrote in an article yesterday, will be "periodically monitored." Hamm hinted at what he told me in an interview last year: that he has no tolerance for officers who break the law.
"What happened in the Southwestern District is an embarrassment to us all," Hamm said in McMenamin's article. "We need to go back to best practices. And that's what we're going to do to see that this thing doesn't happen again. ... Our job now is to be sure that we clean our house, and that's what we're going to do. That's what we're focusing on; that's what we're concentrating on."
Then it was the mayor's turn.
"We will not allow," O'Malley vowed, "any people within this force to sully the reputation or the integrity of the brave men and women who go out courageously every single day and put their lives on the line."
Where has this guy been for the past year?
Earth to O'Malley: The department's reputation is already "sullied." Citizens have been complaining about arrests for petty charges -- and arrests for trumped-up and bogus charges -- for at least eight months. Two Baltimore circuit judges tossed out gun cases because they didn't trust the word of the police officers who testified. Another judge asked a grand jury to look into why so many Baltimore residents don't trust the police.
That, friends, is a description of a department that is already sullied. If the charges against the officers in the Southwest District's flex squad prove true, then it will only confirm what many already believe about the "cowboy element" on Baltimore's police force.
But that's not the worst of it.
How will the department look now when any of its spokesmen speak out against things like the Stop Snitching DVDs, T-shirts and caps?
Hamm acknowledged during the news conference that allegations about the Southwest District flex squad's corruption dated back to 2002. So for three years, cops in a unit allegedly run buck-wild and no other officer knows about it?
Believe that and you believe a dead dog can play fetch.
Margaret Mead doesn't believe it. She's one of a cadre of excellent Baltimore defense attorneys who don't believe the sun comes up in the west just because the police and the mayor say it does.
"I am not buying it," Mead said about the news conference. "They had been investigating these officers for at least six months and nobody was doing anything. The internal affairs division has done nothing about it. This has been going on in this department for at least two years. Where are the supervisors?" Mead said police acted only after the charge of rape was leveled at one flex squad officer.
Police spokesman Matt Jablow said Hamm addressed what was being done about the flex squad in his news conference.
"He said the allegations went back [to 2002]," Jablow said. "To date we haven't been able to put together a solid case against them. It wasn't for lack of trying. Police officers have rights, as well. They deserve to have solid cases against them."
Mead was also considerably underwhelmed by Hamm's proposals for keeping flex squad cops honest.
"Polygraph tests and three-year rotations?" Mead asked. "Is that going to protect the citizens of Baltimore?"
On the matter of cop credibility vis-a-vis the "Stop Snitching" culture running rampant through the streets, Mead said some have accused police of having a "no-snitching" code of their own.
"They have their own `code of blue,'" Mead said. "They're not going to tell on their fellow officers. I have police officers angry at me for bringing this up."
The Police Department had no comment on Mead's "code of blue" allegation.
Councilman Kenneth Harris said the so-called code of blue is one reason why Baltimore must have an independent civilian review.
"It [the code of blue] does raise questions to that credibility," Harris said. "That's why the civilian review board is necessary."
William Murphy, a well-known Baltimore lawyer, said what's necessary is for O'Malley to be the mayor and let cops do the policing.
"It's a shame that Mayor O'Malley is the police commissioner instead of Commissioner Hamm," Murphy said. "We've had six police commissioners, a thoroughly demoralized Police Department and police on the lowest level who won't listen to any commissioner or his top brass because they feel he won't be long for this world. Mayor O'Malley is a terrible cop."