The Baltimore Police Department plans to review its rules regarding officers carrying of firearms while off-duty in the wake of a fatal shooting involving an officer out for a night on the town.
The internal review is being undertaken as a matter of course and not because the rules "aren't strict enough," Anthony Guglielmi, the department's chief spokesman, said Monday. Of particular interest is whether off-duty officers should be permitted to carry guns when they expect to be drinking alcohol.
"What we ask of officers is that they use common sense and good judgment," Guglielmi said. "They wouldn't take their guns into a swimming pool, and they shouldn't take their guns into a liquor establishment when they know they are going to get intoxicated."
The department's rules now say that officers must be armed in the city, while on duty or off.
It is unclear whether Gahiji A. Tshamba, the police officer at the center of the incident early Saturday outside a Mount Vernon night club, was drunk, though police said Monday that he was seen with a drink in his hand. Tshamba, a 15-year veteran of the department, refused to submit to a sobriety test, and investigators have yet to piece together the precise sequence of events that led to the death of a 32-year-old former Marine, Tyrone Brown, reportedly after a dispute about Brown's behavior toward the officer's female companion.
During a news conference Monday to unveil a bill that would make changes to the city's police and fire pension system, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said that Brown's death was a "very tragic and serious situation that I take very seriously" and that she expects the shooting to be investigated fully by the police department's homicide and internal affairs units.
"I cannot tolerate officers acting outside the law," she said. Asked whether she intended to prohibit off-duty officers from carrying service weapons while drinking, Rawlings-Blake was noncommittal. "No one ever wants to see this happen again," the mayor said.
Although the investigation into Tshamba's actions has just begun, Guglielmi said there was "definitely a question of judgment in this case."
Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III has asked Deborah Owens, the deputy commissioner for administration, to review the rules about officers' carrying firearms while off-duty, "specifically in bars and things like that," Guglielmi said.
"We're just going to see if they're consistent with other jurisdictions, and with reality," he went on. "If you're too drunk to drive a car, then you're too drunk to carry a gun."
The police department's firearms regulations stipulate that sworn officers "shall be suitably armed" when off-duty within the city of Baltimore, except "when engaged in such activities that a prudent person would reasonably conclude the wearing of a firearm to be inappropriate." Members of the department are sworn as peace officers and, as such, "are considered to be on-duty and ready for duty at all times," the rules say.
In most other law-enforcement agencies in Maryland, officers are not required to carry firearms while they are on their own time.
Spokesman Greg M. Shipley said Maryland State Police troopers "are told to be prepared to deal with any situation, but that does not require them to carry a firearm while off-duty." If they are using a patrol car to travel to and from home, however, troopers must be armed, under the premise that they might be flagged down and called into action by anyone who sees a passing police vehicle, Shipley said.
In addition, MSP rules state that troopers should use "prudence and good judgment" when deciding whether to carry a weapon "at any activity where the trooper will be consuming alcoholic beverages." The rules also say that, "under no circumstances will troopers display a firearm in a flagrant manner or in any manner which is unsafe or would invite unfavorable comment from the public."
Shipley said that when it comes to mixing alcohol and weapons, "the general feeling is that you should not."
The Carroll County Sheriff's Office does not require deputies to carry their firearms off-duty, but they may do so if they wish. However, deputies may not be armed if they plan to drink alcohol, or if they are already intoxicated, the department's rules state.
In addition, deputies are prohibited from operating a patrol car "with any measurable amount of alcohol in their blood or while impaired by alcohol or drugs," according to Major Phillip S. Kasten, a sheriff's department spokesman.
The Baltimore County Police Department gives its officers the option of carrying guns while off-duty, as do most law enforcement agencies in the state. Any personally owned weapons the officers choose to carry must be approved by the department's firearms coordinators.
In Annapolis, "we're allowed to carry our own weapon" while off-duty as long as it has passed departmental muster, said Tim Lowe, a sergeant in that city's police department.
The Anne Arundel County Police Department encourages its officers to carry a firearm while off-duty but does not require them to unless they are in uniform or operating a police vehicle. Its rules say that no officer may wear, carry or use a firearm "while his or her ability to use the firearm is impaired for any reason."
The Frederick Police Department has made clear to its officers that they should not carry handguns if they anticipate consuming alcoholic beverages, even though the department's rules do not specifically prohibit officers from having a firearm in a bar.
"If you're in a bar drinking, you're basically impairing yourself," said Lt. Clark Pennington, a department spokesman. "So we say you are not to wear, carry or use a firearm during any activity that would impair your ability, and that includes drinking."