Baltimore police commissioner announces integrity test for officers

Since being named commissioner last month, Darryl De Sousa has announced several strategies to root out corrupt cops


By Tim Prudente
The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — Police commanders might plant cash on a park bench to tempt officers. Or they might call a district police station to test officers over the phone.

Both are examples of the random integrity tests Baltimore’s new police commissioner says he is launching.

“These integrity tests are going to check people,” De Sousa said Wednesday. “The good officers have nothing to worry about.”

He described the integrity tests during filming of the WJZ special “Baltimore Standing Together,” sponsored by WJZ, The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore. The hourlong panel highlighted work by community leaders, police and the mayor’s office to confront Baltimore’s persistent street violence.

The filming came hours after De Sousa, 53, was sworn in as the 40th police commissioner of Baltimore. The city’s spending panel voted unanimously Wednesday to approve his four-year contract. De Sousa will earn $210,000 a year. The contract includes a $150,000 severance clause if he is fired without cause.

Comptroller Joan Pratt called De Sousa’s arrival a “new era.”

“We must demand accountability from the department,” she said.

At the filming before an audience of about 100 at the University of Baltimore, De Sousa spoke of his recent retreat with police commanders in which they planned ways to restore integrity to a department battered by scandal.

Since being named to the post by Mayor Catherine Pugh last month, De Sousa has announced strategies to root out corrupt cops from imposing polygraph tests, to hiring an inspector general, to rolling out the integrity tests. The department conducted only two such integrity tests last year.

“We have a need to fix inside before we fix outside,” De Sousa said. “I will not let this city down.”

He takes over a department reeling from the federal racketeering convictions of eight members of the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force. The rogue cops face decades in federal prison for robbing drug dealers and innocent civilians and cheating on their overtime pay. All eight men await sentencing.

Deep mistrust of the police persists, said Ted Sutton, a former drug dealer turned youth mentor. He addressed the mayor and commissioner during the filming.

“Officers don’t have a right to have a bad day,” he said. “If a person at McDonald’s has a bad day, I don’t get my fries. If an officer has a bad day, my son doesn’t come home.

For De Sousa, it was a busy first official day on the job. He was sworn in, attended the WJZ filming and was welcomed to City Hall by the public safety committee. There, he introduced his staff and said he has deployed a “10th police district” — a mobile unit that can be moved around the city.

De Sousa breezed through the confirmation process and was confirmed by the City Council Monday on a 14-1 vote. He inherits the department at a critical juncture. The force — America’s eighth largest — faces declining morale and high crime. The city suffered a record homicide rate in 2017. The department is under a federal consent decree that requires sweeping changes to end documented patterns of discriminatory policing.

A career cop, De Sousa has worked 30 years in the Baltimore Police Department, climbing the ranks from patrol officer to deputy commander. He replaces Kevin Davis. Pugh fired Davis in January, saying she had grown “impatient” with the city’s violence. The city has suffered more than 300 homicides for each of the past three years.

Violent crime has declined 29 percent so far this year compared to the same period in 2017.

Pugh also spoke at the filming.

“People ask me every day, ‘What is your major focus?’” she said. “Reducing violence is No. 1.”

She said the crime fight can also be bolstered by efforts beyond policing. She spoke of helping a 14-year-old boy she met on the roadside. He was out of school and washing car windows. His family was living on the streets. Pugh said she helped his family find a home, helped the boy find a mentor, and even took him to see the movie “Black Panther.”

So many of Baltimore’s young men are without support, she said.

“We’re just trying to reach each one,” she said.

Pugh also announced that officials will soon reopen The Shake and Bake Family Fun Center, a skating rink, bowling alley and institution in Baltimore’s Upton neighborhood. The city-owned facility closed in August for repairs. It’s scheduled to reopen soon with new floors, air conditioning and 500 pairs of new roller skates.

The WJZ filming also highlighted the work of Erricka Bridgeford, organizer of the Baltimore Ceasefire weekends, in which a groundswell of neighbors urge young men to lay down their guns, if only for a few days. Last month, Baltimore went 12 days without a killing — the longest stretch of peace since 2015. It coincided with one of Bridgeford’s ceasefire weekends.

But she said her work was just beginning.

“We can do anything,” she told the mayor and police commissioner. “Just watch us do it.”

The filming Wednesday was the first of three town hall meetings on issues of public concern sponsored by WJZ, The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore. Others are planned on the opioid crisis and city schools.

Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater and Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.

©2018 The Baltimore Sun

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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