Former Police Commander: Poverty, Drug War Root Cause of Police Corruption Scandal
Neill Franklin, of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, dissects the revelations of the Gun Trace Task Force Trial and what it means for the future of policing
BAYNARD WOODS: For The Real News, I’m Baynard Woods. Arguments concluded in the Gun Trace Task Force police corruption trial in Baltimore today. Over the course of the last three weeks of testimony, a number of shocking revelations have rocked the police department and the city.
One officer was said to have executed a suspect because he didn’t want to chase him. The shooting was then covered up, according to the testimony of one officer, by a deputy commissioner who announced his retirement later the same day.
It was also alleged that Detective Sean Suiter, who was killed the day before he was supposed to testify to the grand jury in the case, stole drugs from Detective Momodu Gondo years earlier.
And perhaps most shockingly, testimony revealed that Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, who ran the elite plain clothes squad, came to a drug dealer in the early morning of April 28, 2015, while parts of the city still burned after Freddie Gray’s funeral, with stolen pharmaceuticals he said he took from looters. Then, Commissioner Anthony Batts claimed at the time that the sale of the looted drugs contributed to, if not caused, the spike in murders in the city.
As we wait for the jury to come back, I’m here with Neill Franklin, the executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership and the retired commander for the Baltimore Police Department.
NEILL FRANKLIN: Baynard, thanks for having me.
BAYNARD WOODS: So, one of the main purposes of this task force, like a variety of the other plain clothes task forces over the year, whatever name they went by, is to get guns and drugs off of the street. And we see in this trial the opposite happening. How did we get to this point with anti-drug squads, anti-gun squads, adding to the problem?
NEILL FRANKLIN: Baynard, this is nothing new, really. Might be new for the citizens of Baltimore, at least seeing this type of criminal activity by the police officers who have taken an oath to protect them and do the right things here in the city.
But let’s look across the country. Let’s go up to New York. Many of your watchers right now probably know the name of Serpico, right? The NYPD has been dealing with this type of corruption for a very, very long time. Chicago Police Department has dealt with this type of corruption for a very long time.
Think about this, let’s go back to alcohol prohibition in the 1920s. Police departments were dealing with this very same type of corruption, as we were working with those crime syndicates who cornered the market for bootlegging booze.
Drugs, booze, booze is drugs, it’s the same thing. When you prohibit the use and the sale of alcohol or other drugs, then you bring police into the mix of a very profitable underground business, and contracts are made between the criminals selling the drugs or the booze, and the police, for protection, their payoff, all types of things.
Police get involved in, or got involved in, the selling of alcohol back in the 1920s. You know what, they get involved in the selling of drugs today. It’s a very secretive, lucrative business and everybody wants to get in on it, even unfortunately my comrades who are wearing the uniform.
BAYNARD WOODS: Right. And there’s the certain argument that if you give these officers a wide latitude that they’re able to solve crimes and keep the average person safe. And that’s one of the reasons we give such extended power to law enforcement officers.
But now it seems like we have – historic murder rates in Baltimore, 343 last year, averaging about one a day over the last several years. There’s not even that argument. How come we as citizens keep making this argument that we need to give more powers, more money to the police departments?
NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, maybe some citizens are. This citizen’s not, and I know many others who are not. I know many others who want to actually take control of their police departments, community-controlled policing. Like we’ve done in Oakland, California. Like we’ve done in Toronto and some other cities are coming online with community policing where we have a board made up of citizens, business community folks, community leaders, and others, who hire and fire the police chief, who set the philosophy, and who hopefully control the budget.
So, we need to restrict the power that police departments currently have, that police officers currently have.
In no way, in my first comments here, talking about the drug trade and the profits and how police come in – in no way am I sanctioning this or in any way want to sound like this is an excuse. It’s not, because you see, criminal organizations like the ones that we see on our street corners, the gangs and the crews who are dealing in this violent drug trade, they grow up in certain communities, and they don’t have access to certain information, education, health, housing. There’s so many deficiencies, there’s social deficiencies, that helped this to brew.
Police officers, who have been selected, who have gone through extensive interview processes, who have gone through in Maryland at least six months of training, ethics classes, racial bias classes, criminal law, you name it, all types of training. And there are checks and balances that should work.
But here’s my point. If anyone should be held accountable for the criminal acts that are being committed, police officers, those who have taken an oath to protect the citizens, to serve the citizens, and now they violate that oath to the extent of criminal activity, if there’s anyone that should be punished to the full extent of the law, it is the people who wear the uniform. It is the people who tarnish the badge. It is the people who have disrespected the community, the very community that they have sworn to serve.
BAYNARD WOODS: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot there I want to come back to. The last thing you were saying really strikes me that right now it seems like there’s a sort of return to broken windows policing going on in this city, the numbers from last year –
NEILL FRANKLIN: I sure hope not.
BAYNARD WOODS: Yeah. Especially juvenile crimes, the small gambling was up 160-something percent of arrests, marijuana for juveniles was a huge amount. And then fourth-degree burglary, 2000 percent or something.
But it seems like the officers who want that want it for everyone but police, turn a blind eye, the LEOBoR, the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
I spoke to someone in Internal Affairs about something who was actually suing the police department, along with the FOP to keep, and this was about an FOP incident. But in order to keep any civilians from ever being able to see any IAD records. It looks like one of the members of IAD was an informant that came out in court, telling these officers that they were under investigation?
How do we break what they call the blue wall of silence in order to, if police officers are the ones enforcing the laws, how do we turn the tables so that they can enforce the laws on each other?
NEILL FRANKLIN: Wow. It’s very difficult to police yourselves. No matter what kind of business you’re in, but especially this one, policing. What you’re literally talking about here is transparency, which is also important to us being able to hold police accountable, the level of power that we give to them, being able to recognize, “Whoa, have we gone too far there, maybe we need to pull back a bit, change some laws, do some other things.”
The transparency piece, as it relates to Internal Affairs investigations and complaints of citizens against police officers, and the investigations that take place, and the citizens having access to that information, what are the results? What kind of discipline, if any, was handed out, what kind of training took place after that?
There are states that have that type of transparency. You know, then there is a complaint against a police officer by a citizen, we’re talking about police-community interaction. We’re not talking about a police officer who may be in a damaged their control vehicle, something like that, absent citizen contact.
No, we’re talking about citizens they are supposed to serve, and a failure of them to properly serve, even to the extent of injuring citizens and disrespecting citizens. Those types of investigations should be completely transparent. At least to the complainant.
But I believe they should be transparent to the entire community because if there’s a police officer who has had a number of complaints sustained against them, and they’re working in my community – Baynard, if you’re that police officer, I want to know about your history of interacting with members of my community. I want to know if I should be on guard with you. I want to know that if what I just saw you do was a little mistake or a one-time occurrence, or this is a habit of yours, this is your personality. And having that information would make me more inclined to file another complaint in hopes to get you off of the force. Because if you’ve got issues like that you shouldn’t be wearing a badge, you shouldn’t be working in one’s community.
Transparency is extremely important in this line of work. This is very complex, especially with a police department like Baltimore, which is just entering into a consent decree with the Department of Justice, after a lengthy investigation which was just full of Constitutional violations. And now, according to Sgt. Rosenblatt, we’ve got police officers coming out of the academy who don’t know the law, who don’t know enough about Constitutional law, which is the primary foundation for probable cause when you make your arrest, and for searching people and so on.
From hiring and training, to sergeants and your transition from the academy to the field, and maintaining that level of integrity and being responsible and accountable. And those sergeants, those first line supervisors, are absolutely critical. We’re losing this battle at every turn in policing. And on top of all of that, I think we have, we are giving the police too much to do. The drug war is one of those things, we’re trying to solve a health condition, a medical condition with criminal justice policing, strategies and tactics. It just doesn’t work.
BAYNARD WOODS: Right.
NEILL FRANKLIN: We need to roll back a lot of that, we need to change our policies, change our laws. But at the end of the day, you can do this work. You don’t have to move into this place of zero-tolerance policing, you can do this work, you can do constitutional policing, and interact with people, and get guns off of the street, and all those things that the community wants to see, without violating the rights of people.
BAYNARD WOODS: Right. I want to come back to the drug war and the pharmacies because I know you have a lot to say about that. But for a minute on recruitment and the academy, and the accusations that Rosenblatt made about a number of people coming out without constitutional training. And then one of the officers who was named as involved in the car chase and then planting heroin in 2010 with Wayne Jenkins in Umar Burley’s car, riding along with Sean Suiter. Was suspended for two weeks and then put in the academy, and was then named in court this week as one of the people who tipped off the squads they were being investigated.
You were someone who was in the Baltimore Police Department at one point, would you go into that academy today if you were a younger man?
NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, when I was with the Baltimore Police Department, I was in charge of that academy. I was in charge of all training from 2000-2004. From what I’m hearing about where the academy has gone to now, it’s very disheartening.
When I was there, we were very proud of the 100 percent compliance that we had before you would leave that academy. We were very proud of what we were producing. We were very proud of how we introduced new trainees to the community, how we introduced them to young boys from Baltimore. How we introduced them to the homeless population of Baltimore, by having them serve the homeless over at Our Daily Bread. We were very proud of creating a police officer who was not just proficient in knowing the law and constitutional law, and knowing what probable cause was, and reasonable suspicion, but we were also proud of the fact that those police officers, although they may not have been from Baltimore, many of them, they got a proper introduction to the Baltimore community.
Was it as best as I’d have liked it to be? Maybe not. But at least we did what we could in that respect. What I’m hearing about that place now, your question was would I want to be in that academy right now? I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
That is such a critical component. The hiring of the right people, training them appropriately, but then you got that handoff from the academy to the streets. And we know what the culture, we’re seeing it right now, play out, in our federal court system. We know what the culture of the street is about regarding policing. And if you don’t have that proper hand-off with field training officers through the sergeants, those squad leaders, we’ve got some serious problems on our hands. Especially when you have sergeants who get caught on camera spitting on people who have been arrested. When you’ve got sergeants who you can’t find during an entire shift for whatever that reason might be.
The sergeants have a job. Their job is not just to wear some stripes on their arms. Their job is to coach, their job is to train. Their job is to guide, their job is to hold people accountable for the work that they do or don’t do. But we see what was happening with a sergeant who was in this Gun Trace Task Force.
BAYNARD WOODS: And he really was guiding …
NEILL FRANKLIN: He was guiding, he was instructing, he was recruiting, and he was kicking people out of his squad but he was doing it for all of the wrong reasons. Who was watching him? Who was holding him accountable? That’s a big question I have in this whole investigation that’s playing out in front of us. Where’s his lieutenant? How does this lieutenant, whoever he was or she was, go about holding that sergeant accountable? What’s that matrix look like? What do those reports look like? How often did that lieutenant show up while they were working? Announced and unannounced? You gotta do that sort of thing. Especially when you’re in an environment where there’s a lot of temptation.
We had the same thing in the Maryland State Police, where we had a state trooper riding up and down interstate 95, stopping black suspects and stealing money from them. Same thing. It’s a little different here, you got a whole squad that was doing it, but here’s the thing.
One of the things, and people have their opinions about Ed Norris. But let me tell you something about Ed Norris as it relates to these types of units and squads who are doing this type of work. One of the things that he wanted to do, but I think he got pushback from the union, he wanted to run anyone who came into these units, he wanted to do financial backgrounds on them. Because we know if they’re in financial trouble, we know the temptation is, it’s more than likely they’re gonna be tempted in the wrong way to do things.
We had that in place and we were also looking at the records of all the police officers who have multiple civilian complaints against them. And whether they were founded or unfounded, we were bringing those officers into the classrooms in the academy. First of all, letting them know what we observed, what we see in their jackets, about their performance and interacting with the citizens. And then we were giving them accelerated remedial training, in a number of different areas, mainly focused in the area of integrity and respect, and those sorts of things.
Giving them a chance, but we were letting them know “We’re watching you.” And then when folks didn’t do what they were supposed to do, we held them accountable. I know that program ended when we left, I know that from what I understand they’re not doing the financial backgrounds on folks who are going in these types of units. But then again, who’s watching the hen house?
BAYNARD WOODS: Again, on that issue, and we just got word that the jury broke for the day with no verdict, as expected.
But on that issue of who’s watching the hen house, and the overtime, it should be clear to trace. And as it came up in court, it was Lieutenant Oree who was supervising some of the overtime, and he was in court, and the district court here, just the week before this in a civil case for during the curfew, coming up and spraying a military-grade, not even BPD-grade, of a mix of pepper spray and tear gas on Larry Lomax, as Sgt. Keith Gladstone pulled him down by the back of his hair.
Gladstone has been described as a mentor of Jenkins, and that Oree was a lieutenant supervising some of that overtime. And then we had Dean Palmiere named in the court as going on the scene of the 2009…shooting, where he said “Fuck him, I didn’t feel like chasing him,” was the reason why he shot him and this is Gondo’s testimony.
And to be clear, Gondo has lied repeatedly, so we don’t know that any of this is fact. But Gondo said that then Palmiere came to the scene and concocted the story to say that the car was going to be running over Officer Jason Giordano, who was involved with…in some other stuff.
And then right as that testimony came out, Palmiere announced that he was going to retire from the department. Do you think that it goes up all the way through command?
NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, from the allegations, it definitely does go into command. I have a background in criminal investigation when I was with the Maryland State Police. So, as these things unfold and we get new information, from the beginning I’ve been trying to look at this as a criminal investigator and keep my emotions out of it and only look at the facts that I come to learn of. And I know there’s some that I don’t know about.
But from what I’ve been able to see, and observe, and analyze, but here’s something that as more and more names come forward. As you say, these are folks that have been charged, they’re on trial. They’re giving up information, they’re giving up names, allegedly people who have allegedly done something. Palmiere being one of those people. Other commanders who were sanctioning the overtime they know is not being worked, as a thank you for getting the guns off the streets and so on.
As they’re giving more information and more names, this is the same process that we use when we go after criminals. We arrest them, we have evidence and probable cause, and we drop the hammer on them and say, “Alright, you want to cut a deal? Give us more information. Give us some names. Who else is in your organization? Who’s doing what?”
And they start giving us names. We, the police, the investigators, believe what they’re telling us, and we use that information to go out and arrest other people involved in criminal activity, from the testimony of the criminals, the gang members. The folks from organized crime syndicates. We believe what they said, go out and arrest other people, develop probable cause, do our search warrants, and go out and raid and arrest and charge other people.
Now we have police officers who are the criminals on the stand, under the gun to give more information, to give up more names of who they’re involved with, who’s committing other criminal acts, and they’re doing it. But we can’t believe them? Why is it that we can’t believe them but we believe, as criminal investigators and police officers, when we go after gang members and others and we charge them and they start telling about their accomplices and so on, we believe them. And they’re what we call career criminals. But now we got criminals in uniforms doing the same thing but we can’t believe them because they’re talking about other people in uniforms. Just saying.
BAYNARD WOODS: Right? Like in the trial of Gondo’s childhood friend and the drug crew that he was working for, there weren’t the questions of his credibility with that.
That brings me to another question. One of the things that people talk about a lot in terms of police reform is a lot of the officers who police Baltimore don’t live here. And people say that one of the solutions is, have officers live where they police. And there’s something in this case that complicates that a little bit, that part of Gondo’s problem was that he was more loyal to his childhood friend who was a drug dealer, than he was to the citizens of Baltimore. Hershl saw himself as one person put it, as a Highland Town Bruiser.
So, does that complicate that argument?
NEILL FRANKLIN: In this current environment, where we have the war on drugs, and whether we’re talking policing or we’re talking corrections, and correctional officers who are coming into the business, many of them come from the community and from the neighborhood. When you think about the BGF, the Black Guerrilla Family, and the Baltimore City detention center, and the control that they established over that detention center by manipulating the guards, correctional officers, a lot of those correctional officers were actually recruited by the BGF, came from the same neighborhoods and so on, had clean records, and they were brought in just for that cause of smuggling in drugs and doing the favors of those who are the gang members.
BAYNARD WOODS: Right.
NEILL FRANKLIN: So, there’s good and bad in bringing people from the community into policing, versus bringing people from out of, living in the same neighborhood and so on that you police. Now, you can bring people in from out of the community but then maybe require that they live in the city.
There’s some good to recruiting police officers from the communities that they grew up in. But there’s also that challenge of relationships to those who are involved in gangs and so on, doing criminal activity.
But you see, we talk about these things, but we never really work to solve the foundation of these problems. Everything that we’re talking about here, right now on this show, including this, of where officers live and where they come from, and the problems associated, if we didn’t repeat the prohibition of alcohol with drugs, we wouldn’t even be talking about this. We wouldn’t because police would just be dealing with people hurting other people. Not the drug trade and not the gangs who make so much money from the drug trade.
And again, the temptations of the money, when you, I worked undercover, I managed drug task forces. We raided homes, where you’re doing a search and you open up a dresser drawer and there’s hundreds of thousands of dollars stacked in there. And you know, for some folks it can be tempting.
But again, if we didn’t have this environment of this drug war, and all the ugliness that comes with that prohibition thing, that gives so much power and control and money to organized crime and gangs, that’s the reason we’ve given so much control and power to our police departments.
BAYNARD WOODS: Right. So, what does that mean? We learned this week that Wayne Jenkins came with, there was a lot of talk about the pharmacies looted during the unrest after the death of Freddie Gray. And that Wayne Jenkins came to his bail bonds friend with two big trash bags full of what he estimated to be a million dollars worth of pharmaceuticals.
Your organization, LEAP, had a lot to say about what that did to the drug trade and to violence here. Tell me a little bit about what that means.
NEILL FRANKLIN: See, even in this current environment of an illegal drug market, when the drug market becomes stable, what I mean by it becoming stable is that the people who are selling the drugs have control over their geographic location. When organizations have that control over, their illegal organizations, meaning that there is no conflict between the groups of people selling drugs, violence goes down.
For that to happen, the police have to get to a place where they’re not going after aggressively those selling drugs because when they do and they arrest a gang or a crew from a neighborhood, now you create job opportunities. You create vacant, valuable real estate, where the other remaining gangs, crews, organizations are going to fight for those corners that we, the police, just cleared off.
So, that destabilizes the drug market. So, you’re gonna probably have some skirmishes, some shootings. Once you have the initial shootings, where they’re trying to take over this free market now, now you got retaliation that’s going to occur month after month until that settles down. But when you have a stabilized market, you tend to have less violence.
Here’s what happened after the riots in 2015. A couple things happened. We went into a curfew period for about a week. In those particular zones where we had that curfew enforced, there was no open air drug market, no drugs were being sold on the street corners. People lost a lot of money. That’s got to be made up.
Curfew is lifted, everybody hit the streets. And you’re scurrying, fighting and bumping into one another trying to make up this extra money. But what you’re talking about now, with the pharmaceutical drugs, the trash bags that our police allegedly had, when you take all of that pharmaceutical, opioid pain medication and dump it into the community, that’s another way to destabilize the market.
So, now you’ve got an influx of drugs but not that many buyers. So, the prices drop dramatically. So now, in addition to those selling the drugs scurrying after the curfew to make up lost money, now the prices are gonna go down because there are more drugs available. So, you gotta work even harder.
And from that disruption, it was a high level of disruption, yeah, you’re gonna end up with a lot of shootings, you’re gonna end up with a lot of fallout that continues well into the upcoming years. And here it is, two and a half years later, and we’re still dealing with a high rate of shootings and homicides in Baltimore city.
That’s in my opinion, and the opinion of our organization, which we said from day one, that’s our opinion of this, but that’s just our opinion of one of the major factors in the uptick in violence. There are other things relative to it, but I’m just saying, that’s a major part of it.
So, here we go again. Our police officers involved in the selling of drugs, during a time when we have a destabilized drug market, an uptick in shootings and murders, and here again they’re supposed to be part of the solution. But here again, the foundation to solving the violence in our community is not the responsibility, it cannot be done by the police. The police are a temporary stop gap for things that trouble us in our communities.
Long-term success, long-term solution in reducing violence in Baltimore city, is about housing. It’s about jobs. It’s about education. It’s about healthcare, it’s about nutrition. It’s about mental health, it’s about continuing to reduce the lead-based paint in these homes that are being rented to people. It’s about constitutional policing. But most of it is about creating a healthy society, healthy neighborhoods.
That means you need households where people don’t just survive, and there’s not a whole lot of surviving going on either, but they need to thrive. They need to be moving at least in a direction to where they have hope that tomorrow is going to be better than today. Next week is going to be better than this week, for me and my kids, and so on. Because when you have hopelessness, not only does that lead to higher rates of drug abuse, but it also leads to higher rates of violence as people struggle to get one leg up.
BAYNARD WOODS: Right. So, one last question on that. To get to that point, how could community, it’s clear that police can’t police themselves. And you started to say this, about community controlled policing. How could community controlled policing help get us to this more healthy place in the city and in general?
NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, unfortunately right now in policing, all across this country, it’s just too political. Most of your police leaders are either hired by the mayor, city manager, or by a governor, so on. The only elected folks in policing are your sheriffs across the country.
Your major cities, it is the political arm, the city council and the mayor, who are responsible for that. Therefore the police chief is typically walking on eggshells. “If I don’t produce some resemblance of success or progress, I’m out the door. Just like the man or lady before me. So, I gotta come up with something that looks like success.”
And in this day and age of numbers, we are just crazy about numbers, the problem is, we pick the wrong numbers to demonstrate success. In policing, we’ve chosen arrests. We’ve chosen the visible sign of busy police officers, which is making arrests. That’s what we’ve chosen.
Instead of the lack of visible activity. I was talking to someone from the Baltimore Police Department, who used to be Pete… I was talking to him earlier today. And we were talking about how today’s policing is so much different from policing in Baltimore when he was there.
You ask some of these young police officers today, what’s post integrity? They have not a clue. They don’t know who lives there, who works there, they don’t know who their troublemakers are, there’s no relationship. And in many cases, it’s not their fault, because they get moved from one post to the next, one sector to the next. And they don’t have the time or the opportunity to establish post integrity. Knowing that post, that geographical area that they’re responsible for, from front to back, bottom to top. And who does what, and who doesn’t do what?
That’s the type of stuff we should be measuring. If that’s your post, what I’m measuring is the lack of crime.
BAYNARD WOODS: Right.
NEILL FRANKLIN: That occurred on your post during your 8 or 10-hour shift. And I want to know how you went about doing that. Who you interacted with. How do you do that? But no.
We’ve come up with the stupid matrix of tickets. Arrests. And now we think this is a good thing because we’re moving to civil citations for a number of things. So yeah, where does that lead? That leads to people who can’t pay fines so they end up in prison anyway. It’s stupid stuff. We gotta get back to post integrity, we gotta get back to getting these officers out of their cars, on the streets, interacting with people, developing relationships. Hold them responsible for the lack of crime that’s on their particular post.
BAYNARD WOODS: Right. Well Neill, thanks so much for all of this context, to help us understand the vast web of problems we see coming to light in this trial. And to help us figure out how we might be able to move forward in policing in Baltimore. This is Neill Franklin, the executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership and a retired commander for the Baltimore Police Department and the Maryland State Police.
Thanks so much Neill.
NEILL FRANKLIN: Thanks, Baynard.
BAYNARD WOODS: And I’m Baynard Woods for The Real News Network. And we’re gonna continue covering the Baltimore Police and the Gun Trace Task Force trial.