Justice In The Case Of The Baltimore Police Officer Corruption Scandal
It is no secret that within every form of law enforcement, there is some sort of drama or scandal. Some scandals may be falsifying paperwork, or even covering up facts of a case. In the case of the Baltimore Police Officer corruption scandal, two officers were convicted of criminal activities, while several more are currently being investigated. The criminal acts these police officers made severely impacted not only their jobs and the criminal justice system as a whole, but they impacted their communities as well.
To start, the police officers who were convicted were undercover detectives. According to Gonzales (2018), “The cops stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, drugs, guns, and luxury accessories while pretending to be seizing the goods for legitimate enforcement objectives. They concocted reasons to chase and search suspects or enter houses without warrants to sift through goods they wanted” (Gonzales, 2018, para.3). Knowing this helps to understand the severity of the crime that these trusted police officers committed.
Though police corruption touches most departments all over the world, it is especially bad in Baltimore, Maryland. In recent years, a reputation has been built for the exploitation of their community by stealing, lying, and benefitting off peoples suffering. They stole from innocent people and sold the stolen items for personal gain which in turn fueled the negative relationships between the police department and the community. Their dishonesty and ability to do whatever they wanted without consequences extended the distrust. This is especially true for the Gun Trace Task Force, whose members brought terror and devastation to their community. Their arrests publicly exposed the countless criminal acts these Baltimore officers committed.
The Baltimore Police department will forever be remembered for the now defunct and shamed Gun Trace Task Force. As their name implies, this task force was created in an effort to reduce violence and crime in a city riddled with tension. But in actuality, they were perpetuating violence and crime, using their power to manipulate the law and community. The GTTF was composed of 9 individuals, 7 of which were indicted. The indicted include: Detective Momodu Gondo, Detective Evodio Hendrix, Detective Daniel Hersl, Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, Detective Jemell Rayam, Detective Marcus Taylor, and Detective Maurice Ward. What would begin with a federal investigation started with Detective Gondo. He crossed paths into a federal investigation, putting him in the crosshairs the FBI. What would follow would expose corruption so deep, its rotten roots dig 10 years deeps, and deeper for all we know. These officers of the law exploited the law to a nauseating degree. To think that these people were supposed to be part of Baltimore’s finest, a hand selected elite unit, were in reality like Gotham City minions of the Joker, and it is truly sickening. The abuse of power, trust, and honor is disgusting. The worst part is, as the investigation and trial reveals, is that this is just what we know amongst these officers. The truth is, by the very notion that there is the kind of collusion amongst officers suggests that this is representative of a systemic problem. This shows the police force acting more like a gang than protectors. They protected nobody but themselves. Nothing scrupulous about the bunch. They killed. They robbed. They extorted. They stole. They had no regard for human life. The only thing important to them was their bankroll and their power. This is the modern epitome of evil. Gotham City-like mayhem. In a city with history of corruption and poverty, and a crime-rate higher in the worst 1%, what this city need is healing and the police force should act like doctors, not insurgents. The trial exposed that the corruption and collusion was beyond just the GTTF. Various other members of the police department, varying in rank, are also implicated into abuses of the badge. Then in typical gangland style, they all covered up for each other and had each other’s back. Apparently, there was no limit to the crimes they would commit, then cover up. The loot they pirated. These cops raided and pillaged the community, intimidating civilians and criminals alike, all under the protection of the law. It’s clear these officers had no fear of the consequences. They acted as if the consequences would never come. This is the epitome of hubris. Not only did they have no intention of doing the right thing, but they were obviously unprepared. They believed they would never be exposed. That’s why they all turned on each other in the end, revealing everything beyond what the federal investigation surmised. They felt they were free to terrorize people for profit. And anyone who got in their way could be killed.
Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor were the first to be convicted of federal charges including covering up their involvement in car crashes when things went bad and stealing thousands of dollars in cash, drugs, guns, and luxury accessories (Gonzales 2018). The men in this Baltimore task force were unlawfully searching and seizing from the people in their own community. They were unlawfully stopping and detaining innocent people in their town. Wayne Earl Jenkins, the sergeant leading this task force, was convicted last year on multiple counts including falsification of records and racketeering. This included planting drugs on innocent people and re-selling the drugs stolen off their targets on a daily basis (Lussenhop 2018 [this is bbc link, is it legit enough for a source?]). They had an arsenal of weapons and tools for their robberies and illegal activities (Lussenhop 2018-bbc citation). These officers deceived their people and broke the law without fear of consequence, destroying any possible genuine community relationships.
Next, by committing this crime, several cases sent to trial by these police officers have been dropped and thrown out due to their lack of credibility in the matter. According to Gonzales (2018), “So far, roughly 125 cases involving the eight indicted Baltimore law enforcers have been dropped” (Gonzales, 2018, para.9). This means that whether the original cases held value or not, they were dropped because of the officers’ inability to remain professional and honest within their line of duty. This creates not only a waste in time and money, but it also makes the community wary and mistrusting of police as a whole.
The function of a police department is to protect the people within the community from danger. The Baltimore Police Department, specifically the Gun Trace Task Force, did the exact opposite by subjecting their people to injustice. They betrayed their community on a daily basis by stealing from the people they were supposed to be protecting. By falsifying police records and planting drugs on innocent people, they were destroying whatever relationship could have existed between these groups of people. By sending innocent people to jail and stealing from the community, they made it impossible to be trusted. They lost all respect and created a bridge between the people and a department who is supposed to be serving justice. These individuals were able to use their badge as a license to kill, rob, and pillage as they marauded through the streets, harassing and victimizing as they please. They were only able to exploit this power because they were granted this immunity in the first place. They were criminals with all the power in the world. Unable to be challenged, these officers ruined the idea that Baltimore police were doing right.
The death of Freddie Grey in 2015 while in police custody damaged the community. The lack of justice served deepened the devastation in Baltimore. The officers involved with Greys death were unsuccessfully prosecuted and riots erupted. The city was mourning while the officers were stealing. Witnesses testified that officers round up garbage bags of drugs that were purportedly looted during these riots and resold them on the streets (Schuppe 2018 nbc news).
Trust was lost when lives were destroyed. When the people of Baltimore could no longer depend on their police department to protect them, trust was broken. When the carelessness of officers caused deaths of innocent lives, trust is not impossible. As former officer Jenkins carelessly pursued a man named Burley, he caused Burley to hit and kill an innocent 86-year-old man in a car crash. Jenkins then plants drugs on Burley to try and justify the fatal collision (Lussenhop 2018-bbc citation). This planting of evidence represents the dishonesty of police officers and abuse of power in this department. There is no surprise that no trust exists between the community and the police department.
Respect was lost when lives were betrayed. When the people of Baltimore could no longer depend on their police department to do their job, respect was lost. When former officer Gondo stated he had stolen as much as $100,000 from people during his career, it is hard give respect those individuals who claim they are upholding the law with their badge. They were charged with lending tactical gear like bulletproof vests to civilians to commit crimes to avoid suspicion with the department (Williams 2018 NYTimes). They were both cops and robbers. There is no respect for officers of the law who use people of the community for their own benefit. When people are unjust, respect is not deserved.
Not only did the people in the community suffer from this wrongdoing, so did the justice system. The Gun Trace Task Force affected 1,700 criminal cases (Lussenhop 2018 BBC citation) in which many were dropped due to their involvement. This means that thousands of dollars and hours of time was wasted. People were subjugated to destruction as their lives were negatively affected. With fraudulence and deception, they created doubt regarding the very foundation of the justice system. Baltimore police department as a whole has lost any reputable standing with the community due to the officers within their ranks that committed horrendous crimes over a long period of time.
The Gun Trace Task Force weren’t always portrayed as the true criminals they are. Before their arrest, the public believed that they were successfully getting guns off the streets during a rising rate of homicide. (Lussenhop 2018 BBC citation [?]) They were tough and seemly making a difference after the devastating death of Freddie Grey in police custody. This conception faded as innocent individuals had to suffer for the gain of the officers in the department. The honest reality of the Baltimore police became a dark realization as arrests began and people were exposed. It is not a surprise that the city already had its doubts with police in their community. There had been complains about police misconduct for years but the drastic strategies this task force used damaged Baltimore much more than before. It is also no surprise that the community will be reluctant to trust law enforcement after years of complaints and only recent recognition of injustice.
What these officers did is an extreme, but it’s also representative of a greater problem nationwide. Conditions such as these occur in predominantly black communities where the poverty rate is high and the drug trade is booming. Where there are high murder rates and high crime rates. In an effort to reduce these conditions, every community has a police force to protect and serve. But as we can see, that’s not always the case. Because as long as crime, poverty, and drugs are familiar to the members of these communities, police will never be friendly. In an effort to reduce crime, police treat the community members as suspects at their discretion. But not all police officer’s discretion should be trusted. We put our faith in strangers under the belief that their duty is to protect us. For many communities, that remains true. Corruption cases such as this can only exist because the conditions are there to be exploited.
Lack of community trust or respect makes for an unsuccessful police department. If there is no mutual understanding between officers and people in the community, society suffers. If the department doesn’t do their job, there is inevitable doubt. There becomes skeptical jurors in Baltimore who doubt the justice system. Jurors who become unable to be unbiased when listening to police officers in court. Faith is lost in the justice system and institutions of society are untrustworthy. This clearly represents a deeper structural problem of police departments everywhere.
Justice needs to be served before the citizens of Baltimore can begin to trust law enforcement in their community. Though the mayor replaced the police commissioner, the new one was indicted for failure to pay his taxes (Lussenhop 2018 bbc citation). This instability of the police department leadership is only a reflection of the lower ranks within the department. Stable productive change must be made for proper leadership so as to have a productive department as a whole. There needs to be much tighter supervision and oversight. Baltimore police has an immense challenge recreating authentic relationships with the people in their community. For there to be any respect from the community, the police department has a lot of work to do. For trust to be rebuilt seems like a difficult task, but one Baltimore police must accomplish. But it is also important for all departments everywhere in the nation to be aware so as to prevent catastrophe’s like the Gun Trace Task Force(GTTF) from ever having existed at all.
Lastly, besides facing decades in prison, the officers who were involved in this major scandal all must face the distain from their community. Now, not only does the community have a new-found hatred for these cops, but they will likely have mistrust and dislike for every police they encounter. This is not an easy case to recuperate from as the Baltimore Police Department now must win over their community once again.