Crime Scenes: Baltimore police to bring back inspections unit

Major to head group keeping officers accountable, safe

February 16, 2011|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Every hour on the hour, Baltimore police dispatcher John McCall had to remind officers on the street to wear their seat belts. "All units," he began, "please remember to buckle up so you can hear this announcement tomorrow."

That was more than a decade ago, and McCall's brand of police shtick is no longer a fixture on the radio. But new reminders will be coming for officers who disregard the rules and drive without seat belts, or who walk in scuffed-up shoes, or who misuse office equipment, or misspend money.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III is restoring the Inspections Unit.

Internal Affairs still handles corruption and brutality cases, but its members have little time to enforce the finer points of professionalism — standards that, if left to slip, erode the spit-and-polish look demanded of a paramilitary organization.

Different police commissioners at various times have both established and disbanded the Inspections Unit. Of the most recent incarnation, "the fuel kind of ran out of it," said department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

The head of inspections will be Maj. Marty Davenport, now the night watch commander in patrol. The size of his staff has not been determined, but he will report directly to Bealefeld. Officers in his unit will not take punitive action against fellow cops, but will report their findings to commanders, who will be expected to make appropriate adjustments.

Inspectors will examine whether undercover officers are appropriately spending money on informants, whether cops are carrying the required equipment, whether vehicles are clean and up to code and have all their headlights, and whether officers are illegally texting while driving. The new unit won't cost the department more money; rather, officials hope it will save money by enforcing fiscal responsibility.

"It's important to make sure we're operating up to professional standards," Guglielmi said. "And given the concerns of the budget, cops and civilians have to be careful to keep up their equipment, whether it's a police car or a BlackBerry. … We want to make sure we're not being wasteful, something every big organization needs."

It's more than a shoeshine patrol.

Guglielmi said inspectors will ensure plainclothes officers are wearing yellow jackets or other identifiable clothing, changes ordered after an officer in street clothes was mistaken for a gunman and shot and killed by colleagues last month.

And inspectors will monitor seat belt use, a longstanding problem among police officers in Baltimore and beyond. Car accidents are one of the leading causes of line-of-duty deaths; in October, an unbuckled city officer speeding at 71 mph on U.S. 40 died when his cruiser hit the back of a fire engine.

Lt. Col. Michael J. Andrew ran one of the last real inspection units back in 2006. But he said his staff quickly went from six to three, though he said he kept close tabs on seat belt use while also doing full-scale audits of the aviation and police dog units.

The 37-year veteran stands with command staff reviewing graduates from the police academy and notes how they cross the stage, "proud, with a sparkle in their eyes," their uniforms perfectly pressed, walking erect and standing at attention.

"Bring them back a year later, and you see something entirely different," Andrew said. "They get out to a district and get a supervisor who says, 'Forget about everything you learned in the academy. Here's the way the real world operates.' "

The president of the Fraternal Order of Police union, Robert F. Cherry, noted a deterioriation in appearance of the rank-and-file cops. "I think we need to tighten up," he said.

Cherry said pins need to be appropriately fixed to collars, shirts unwrinkled, faces shaved. "I think image is everything," he said. "It sends a message that this is a professional department that maintains a high level of standards. …It shows how we relate to the public."

The labor chief, who is loudly fighting City Hall over cuts to the budget, pension and pay, said his troops still need to be presentable. "Despite these tough times, and that we're at war with the mayor, we still have to show some pride," he said.

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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