The “thin blue line” symbolizes the police’s role in maintaining civilized society. The police are the barrier between the law-abiding and the criminal, the vulnerable and the predatory, order and chaos. Across the United States, police are under attack and the blue line is wavering. In Baltimore, it has broken.
The Baltimore Police Department has been in crisis for years. The BPD operates under an onerous consent decree and is understaffed by 700 officers. Democratic mayor Brandon Scott’s “Group Violence Reduction Strategy,” apparently designed to replace cops with social workers, is responsible for much of the crisis. GVRS produced “Safe Streets,” Scott’s flagship violence-reduction initiative. The Safe Streets program hires ex-convicts and former gang members as “violence interrupters” to mediate conflicts between gang members, drug dealers, and other violent criminals. Safe Streets workers do not cooperate with the police.
In July, I observed in City Journal that Baltimore’s crime-enabling policies had culminated in the worst mass shooting in the city’s history. On July 2, 30 people were shot, two fatally, at an unauthorized “Brooklyn Day” block party in the Brooklyn Homes public housing project.
On August 30, Mayor Scott released the city’s agency after-action reports regarding the mass-shooting incident. The BPD, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC), and the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement—the agency administering Safe Streets—each submitted reports.
Many Baltimoreans had hoped that city leadership would use the report as an opportunity to end misguided policies that had elevated concerns for criminals above those for victims. They focused much of their dissatisfaction on Safe Streets, which has evaded scrutiny for years.
The critical issue affecting all BPD operations, including those on Brooklyn Day, is a massive staffing shortage. BPD officers were hopeful that in the wake of the Brooklyn Day disaster, acting police commissioner Richard Worley would finally address short-staffing and the resulting mandatory overtime, canceled off-days, and poor morale.
Instead, Baltimore’s leadership ducked responsibility, remained committed to failed policies, and scapegoated the officers and command staff of BPD’s Southern District. The fallout has put the Baltimore Police Department on the road to extinction.
Let’s take a closer look at the findings.
The BPD report reiterates anti-police critics’ condemnations of law enforcement, placing full blame on the responding officers. It excoriates the Southern District command and officers for failing to learn about the event before it occurred, not requesting additional citywide officers, and showing alleged “indifference” to the community. Acting Commissioner Worley has already made command-staff changes and is seeking to discipline supervisors and officers but refused to call to account other genuinely responsible agencies. Disturbingly, he doesn’t seem interested in obtaining more than a superficial understanding of police decision-making.
The BPD was unaware of the Brooklyn Day block party because event organizers did not obtain a city permit and circumvented police scrutiny by deliberately keeping information off social media. That the BPD lacked prior knowledge of the event isn’t inculpatory. HABC, which manages the entire Brooklyn Homes project, wasn’t aware of the event, either. The only agency with prior knowledge about Brooklyn Day was Safe Streets, and it did not inform the police.
This tragedy would not have happened without the complicity of one or more Brooklyn Homes residents. Hosting an unpermitted block party, enabling public drug and alcohol use, and stealing electricity are all prohibited by the housing authority, but no one will face any accountability for these lease violations. HABC has announced that no residents will be evicted. Worley’s report doesn’t even mention that the event was illegal.
The report also absolves the Safe Streets violence-interrupters of responsibility for the incident. The organization not only concealed its awareness of Brooklyn Day but also its mediation of two conflicts during the event involving individuals armed with guns. Safe Streets refused to notify the police of these confirmed threats. Instead, it inserted the armed antagonists back into the crowd, letting the conflicts re-escalate later.
Worley’s report also ignored how Safe Streets’s noncooperation policy with the BPD obstructed the subsequent investigation. Four of the five violence-interrupters are originally from and still live in the Brooklyn community. They know every criminal in the neighborhood, certainly knew the armed thugs they separated on the night of the shooting, and by now know the identities of all the shooters. Neither the mayor, the city council, nor the interim police commissioner have demanded their cooperation with investigators.
Safe Streets is part of the problem, not the solution. The gang-inspired “no snitching” mentality dominates Brooklyn Homes, and Safe Streets leads by example. Dozens of residents were eyewitnesses to the shooting but refuse to step forward, while others who want to cooperate are intimidated into silence. After nearly three months, only five arrests have been made, the result of surveillance video and home detention monitors placing the offenders at the scene. Nobody has been charged with murder.
Acting Commissioner Worley never stated what he expected the Southern District to do with advance intelligence if it had it, or with additional officers if it had requested them. Should the district’s officers have prevented the illegal event from even starting or inserted officers into a hostile crowd to provide a passive police presence?
In a scandal that Worley offers as a model, BPD’s after-action report includes last year’s Brooklyn Day operation plan. That event was also unpermitted, but through social media, BPD had learned of it a few days in advance. Instead of using this information to prevent the illegal party, BPD crafted an operational plan using overtime to assign more than two dozen officers to the event.
In its Brooklyn Day 2022 plan overview, BPD acknowledged that, as in the past, Brooklyn Homes drug dealers were funding the event! The plan reads: “This event is financially supported by individuals living in the community, and who have historical connections to the sale of controlled dangerous substances” (emphasis added).
In my 29 years of policing, I have never seen an official policy so shocking—and so pathetic. BPD’s 2022 Brooklyn Day operational plan concedes that drug dealers will own and operate the event while the police serve as their security detail. This dysfunction provides insights both into police decision-making during Brooklyn Day 2023 and the subsequent criticism by anti-police politicians.
In other words, since the purpose of obtaining early intelligence had never been to stop the unpermitted event, police supervisors were not motivated to shut down Brooklyn Day 2023 once they learned about it. They decided to maintain the status quo by monitoring the party.
The police knew that they would incur backlash if they decided to shut down the event, arresting some Brooklyn Homes residents in the process. The same politicians trying to burn cops at the stake for inaction and “indifference to the community” would try to burn cops for overreaction and “indifference to the community.” Police were in a no-win situation.
As the crowd swelled to as many as 1,000 and spread over several blocks, officers faced another dilemma. Taking any enforcement action or even entering the crowd without overwhelming backup would have been impossible. Officer safety could not be maintained. Trying to disperse a huge crowd filled with thugs and gang members who were there for “lotta guns, lotta drugs . . . lotta money,” many of whom had been consuming drugs and alcohol for hours, would have resulted in mass arrests, uses of force, and probably a riot.
History helps explain why the BPD is reluctant to engage proactively in hands-on enforcement. Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore’s George Soros-supported state attorney, declined to enforce quality-of-life laws. Mayor Scott and former police commissioner Michael Harrison supported her non-prosecution policy. Mosby and her policies are now gone, but enforcement of those laws has not resumed. In fact, Baltimore’s consent decree admonishes officers from proactively engaging individuals involved in criminality and disorder. The decree states that officers will “address quality-of-life issues in a manner that minimizes stops, citations, searches, arrests, and use of force.” (emphasis added).
Officers are not only hampered by the culture of chaos that Mosby helped inaugurate but also by allegations of racism coming from the department’s highest levels. The most insidious excerpt from BPD’s Brooklyn Day 2023 report was its unsupported speculation that “officer indifference may have compromised the awareness, planning and response,” and that “[m]embers of the community can view such indifference . . . as a form of bias.”
It is absurd to suggest that the Baltimore Police Department is racially biased. For years, the BPD has been a “majority minority” department. Only 45 percent of its officers are white, and six of BPD’s last nine police commissioners have been black.
More than any other major police department in America, the BPD has been infested with woke ideology. BPD instituted an equity office that monitors alleged incidents of bias and oversees a training regimen of diversity, equity, equality, inclusion, accessibility and anti-racism (DEIA)—euphemisms for critical race theory. Officers are inundated with the debunked implicit-bias theory, alleging that hidden racism pervades policing. The equity office conducted an “equity assessment” as part of the Brooklyn Day after-action report.
BPD equity training includes a DEIA Toolkit with a video featuring Kimberlé Crenshaw, a leading critical race theorist. Crenshaw’s presentation instructs BPD officers on intersectionality, a radical leftist doctrine that has been described as “American Maoism.”
Many critical race theorists claim that America is irredeemably racist, that all whites are oppressors, all blacks are victims, and the police are an instrument of racist oppression. This explains the BPD’s equity office reflexively attributing officer inaction to race-based bias. When reality is viewed through an “equity lens,” the viewer ascribes to racism all behavior he disapproves of or doesn’t understand. Consequently, one of the equity office’s post-incident corrective actions will be mandatory training classes in equity policy for all department members. The equity office is a Trojan horse designed to destroy the BPD.
Every American big city will eventually reach its moment of truth where the future of its police department is on the line. Baltimore has come to it. The Brooklyn Day tragedy was the culmination of years of Baltimore’s crime-enabling and police-incapacitating policies. The city’s review process was an extraordinary opportunity to change its disastrous course. The city blew it.
Instead of self-reflection leading to positive transformation, the entire city administration conducted a whitewash of the event and the policies that precipitated it. They covered up the real failures to crucify the one agency that can prevent crime: the Baltimore Police Department.
Nothing kills a police department faster than the destruction of officer morale—and in the BPD, morale is dead. After this report, more good cops will quit or retire early, more officers will back off from proactive policing, and quality men and women who want to serve their community and make a difference will not even apply for the job.
Baltimore’s thin blue line is broken. Anarchy will terrorize the city’s law-abiding citizens. It will get a lot worse before it gets better. The people of Baltimore have the power to resurrect their police department—but to do that, they must first find new leadership for their city.
Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images