Despite roughly doubling in size since 2019 and a relatively steady number of complaints last year, the Baltimore Police Department’s Public Integrity Bureau took longer to investigate misconduct cases in the latter half of 2021 compared to earlier in the year.

The Police Department is required under its federal consent decree to complete misconduct investigations within 90 days, but the percentage of cases falling under that timeline dropped from a high of 31% in the second quarter to 26% and 23% the following two quarters, respectively, according to a report filed in federal court earlier this week.

The report attributes the drop to “rapid staffing turnover” in the Public Integrity Bureau during the last year and predicts that “the data will ‘rebound’ in 2022 and return to Q2 2021 levels of case completion within 90 days.”

Deputy Commissioner Brian Nadeau, head of the Public Integrity Bureau, said in an interview that while the timeliness of the investigations is important, there has been other progress in recent years for the police department’s internal watchdog: applications to join the bureau are up and the number of serious misconduct cases is dropping — a dynamic he attributed to better use-of-force training.

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The turnover within the Public Integrity Bureau, Nadeau added, is due to 14 promotions of people in the bureau to sergeant, lieutenant or captain in other parts of the department. That’s fulfilling a goal he had when he took over the unit in 2019 and wanted to attract better candidates by prioritizing career advancement.

“That’s a positive for us, but what does that do for us now, though?” Nadeau said. “We take seasoned people, we take them out of Public Integrity, and they get backfilled by somebody new. There’s always a learning curve.”

David Jaros, a criminal law professor at the University of Baltimore, said that changing the culture within the Baltimore Police Department to make the Public Integrity Bureau a place for career advancement was critical in the wake of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal.

But in light of the department’s recent administrative changes and its struggles to recruit and retain officers, Jaros said that there’s a tension when it comes to promoting people from within. Such internal promotions can result in losing the experienced personnel who can ensure internal investigations are run properly.

“If they’re simply repositioning officers because they have needs in a lot of areas, then they’re falling into their old pattern of taking their eye off the ball when it comes to maintaining integrity in the force,” Jaros said.

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City Councilman Mark Conway, chair of the public safety committee, said that he spoke to Nadeau about the report. He described the backsliding in the timing of investigations as “something to keep an eye on.”

Conway described the 90-day requirement as “pretty aggressive,” but said that it was laid out as a marker for a reason.

“We should be doing everything in our power to get there,” he said.

The troubled history of BPD Internal Affairs

Sluggardly internal investigations are a notorious practice in Baltimore policing, one that was illuminated in the wake of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal.

When Police Commissioner Michael Harrison took the helm in 2019, he rebranded the Internal Affairs division as the Public Integrity Bureau. The new commissioner had inherited an agency rife with dysfunction and morale issues, and Internal Affairs was no exception, according to a Gun Trace Task Force report by Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

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When Nadeau, formerly of the FBI’s Baltimore field office, was hired to lead the bureau, he found that one lieutenant purposefully let investigations “languish on his desk until the month they were due, thus reducing the possibility of follow-up investigations,” the report detailed.

Another long-standing problem is a “historical inability to recruit and retain quality investigators.”

“Because of IA’s negative reputation within BPD — some of it stemming from the nature of its function, and some arising from the quality of its investigations — the lack of success in recruiting high-quality investigators and supervisors has continued to impede significant and necessary improvements in the quality and timeliness of investigations,” the report found.

Nadeau said that when he first took over the Internal Affairs division, all work was done on paper, with books and binders scattered about. Now, everything is kept electronically and the agency manages internal cases with software.

“Over the past three years, we have rid this agency of so many of the problem people,” Nadeau said. “There are a lot of good people coming on now, and those people can be trained. They’re new, they’re learning the new process of the Baltimore Police Department.”

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Nadeau added: “We have to build the future of this agency. We cannot go backwards.”

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Ben Conarck is a criminal justice reporter for The Baltimore Banner. Previously, he covered healthcare and investigations for the Miami Herald and criminal justice for the Florida Times-Union.

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