Policing internal affairs

Our view: Police Commissioner Bealefeld needs to say more about his efforts to root out corruption or risk losing the public's trust

July 26, 2011

The Baltimore Police Department's announcement that Maj. Nathan Warfield has been removed from his post as commander of the internal affairs division doesn't quite add up. The department issued a news release about the move last night, after The Sun's Justin Fenton had asked questions about photos on Mr. Warfield's Facebook page showing him at a party and at a basketball tournament with Officer Daniel G. Redd, who is under indictment on drug charges, and with another man, Sam Brown, who is charged in a separate heroin distribution conspiracy. As is typical, the department provided no indication for why it was making this move. But given the perplexing questions this case raises and the recent scandals in the department — not just the arrest of Officer Redd but also the indictments and guilty pleas in a towing kickback scheme that may have involved as many as 50 officers — the department needs to say more, or it is going to lose the public's trust.

The case of Major Warfield is a question of who knew what and when. Although Officer Redd was only indicted this month and had been on the streets until then, the department evidently had suspicions about him for years — enough so that he was passed over for promotions. Major Warfield had been his commander in the Northwest District before being promoted to head internal affairs in 2009. It is hard to imagine that, if police commanders had suspicions about an officer in his district, Mr. Warfield wouldn't have known it. It is harder to believe that he hadn't known about it once he was promoted to internal affairs. The fact that he still had the photos on his Facebook page after Officer Redd was arrested is beyond odd.

It's possible that there's an innocent explanation. Perhaps Major Warfield knew about Officer Redd — who, according to the FBI, is accused of actually dealing drugs in the parking lot of the station house where he was assigned — and was maintaining the pretense of friendship to avoid tipping him off that federal investigators were closing in on him. But if so, why remove him from internal affairs? And why was Major Warfield also pictured arm-in-arm with Mr. Brown, who in the 1990s was charged (though ultimately not prosecuted) with first-degree murder, handgun violations and assault with the intent to rape? Two sets of Facebook photos show Major Warfield with both men at two separate events. He certainly shouldn't be considered guilty by association, but the association does at least require some explanation.

Baltimore has been buffeted by a series of scandals in recent months. Even beyond the guilty verdict against Mayor Sheila Dixon and the no contest plea to campaign finance violations byCouncilwoman Helen Holton, we've had the towing scandal, reports of Public Works employees drinking and gambling on the job, another worker bilking the city of $55,000 by falsifying time sheets, suspected cheating on the emergency medical services exam, and now the case of Officer Redd.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III has said that rooting out misconduct in the department is a top priority, and we have been willing to believe that the recent pattern reflected greater vigilance against wrongdoing as opposed to a sudden increase in corruption. But these new questions about the very person whose job was to root out bad actors in the police department make it more difficult to maintain that benefit of the doubt.

What is needed here is greater transparency. Mr. Bealefeld has to start answering questions about what's been going on in internal affairs — not just in regard to Major Warfield's relationship with Messrs. Redd and Brown but also about the division's efficacy in general, which is difficult to gauge given the paucity of information that the department has released about its investigations since Mr. Warfield took command. The nature of ongoing investigations and the department's partnership with federal investigators does present limitations on what Mr. Bealefeld can say, but he has to give us something. He and other city officials have asked us to trust that they are working harder than ever to police themselves. But trust without a basis of evidence is blind faith, and that we cannot give.

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