After Judge James Bredar handpicked a group to monitor the consent decree between the Baltimore Police and the Department of Justice, one of the finalists says community input was ignored, setting a bad precedent going forward
TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. The independent monitor for the Baltimore consent decree has been chosen. Everyone was surprised it wasn’t activist favorite Powers Consultation Group. We spoke to Tyrone Powers to ask why. The city of Baltimore entered a consent decree after a scathing Justice Department report found the Police Department engaged in unconstitutional and racist tactics. Part of the agreement required the selection of a monitor, a team that would serve as an active liaison between the court, the police, and the community, and be responsible for measuring compliance by the department to the metrics established to reform it. The Real News covered a series of hearings to allow the community to engage the potential candidates and make recommendations to the city. SPEAKER: Do it best by communicating in the environments where the cops actually are. TAYA GRAHAM: During this process, a key community voice in police reform, the leaders of A Beautiful Struggle, said a local group led by former FBI agent, Tyrone Powers, was the best qualified to handle the complex task. LAWRENCE GRANDPRE: There are four choices. I think one has a record of community engagement and accountability in Baltimore specifically that none of the others can match. I think that each of the other three has a red flag. TAYA GRAHAM: But last week, Federal Judge James K. Bredar assembled his own team from two of the four finalists. New York-based Exiger and a group led by a local law firm, Venable. To sort out what this means and the implications for police reform efforts in Baltimore and beyond, we spoke to Dr. Powers about what he thinks happened and why. STEPHEN JANIS: First of all, what happened in this process? Number one, you had most of the community support. But what happened and how did it end up not being your firm? TYRONE POWERS: Yeah, it’s kind of a difficult situation to analyze except for the fact that first there were 24 teams. That was reduced based on interviews and presentations and proposals to six teams. Then we had an interview with the mayor’s office, with DOJ, with the Baltimore City Police Department, and it was reduced to four teams. Our group was part of the four teams. Then we had the community forums. It was only going to involve the four teams. We had it at the Community College of Baltimore, Morgan State University. After that, it was reduced to two teams. We were one of the two teams. We understand it was the Powers Consulting Group and Exiger. Then even before the public comment went online … Because the public comment was key in this particular process because public engagement was key. But even prior to that, the judge had decided to kind of create his own team, to pull together his own team, which was completely outside of the requirements of the monitoring process of the consent decree. It would also not allow the public to engage a team he put together because they had engaged and asked questions to the teams that had submitted proposals and were down to the final four and then the final two. The judge decided, kind of almost to hijack the process, creating his own team from people that he felt comfortable with, and then use that team as the monitoring group about any public comment or engagement. The public don’t really get a chance to see what the proposal is now because it’s a hybrid team. The public don’t get a chance to comment, don’t get to question them, there’s no community forum for them. It’s just a team that the judge put out there, which is an awkward situation anyway because as the final arbiter, the judge needs a team that he is not invested in, so that they can report back to him, so he can decide whether the city is in compliance with the consent decree as required after the DOJ report. STEPHEN JANIS: Well, was this one of the main concerns of the DOJ report and of this whole process that the community should be involved in this? Doesn’t this create problems down the road in terms of the community’s buy-in? TYRONE POWERS: It creates a tremendous problem with community buy-in. Unfortunately, I think it puts us right at the position we were before or pre-Freddie Gray. The community feels left out. You already have a city that’s on edge. This consent decree is, only 22 of them in the history of the United States. Here was an opportunity for Baltimore to change the culture of the police department, to change the police community relations, to bring some pride back to the uniform where the people and the police actually work together. This was a big thing for the city, the DOJ report. Then for that to be co-opted and essentially hijacked by the judge to say, “I’m going to decide what’s best for you. I’m going to get people on this team that I’m comfortable with. I’m going to ignore the public comment as if it never happened, that the public had never had any comment. I’m going to move forward with this,” creates that distrust, that lack of, all the things the DOJ said in their initial report are all brought back together in this process of a consent decree because of the process of the way it was operated. Then you have the old issue of the fact that out of 22 consent decrees, there’s only been one African American firm ever chosen. All the cdonsent decrees deal with either Latino or the African American community. You had a number of groups … It’s not just about Powers Consulting … apply for this, African American firms apply for this. They dotted every I, crossed every T in terms of the expertise, in terms of the experience. Our team even had the former chief judge of Prince George’s County on our team, so a judge could talk to a judge. He retired to become a part of this monitoring team. We had all the qualifications. You had all the expertise. You had all the experience. It was just the judge himself deciding to take control and do what he thought was best for the city, leaving the people out, destroying the process, and kind of hijacking it completely. STEPHEN JANIS: Certainly, groups like Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle supported you. Did you get a majority of the community, support from the community input? Was there any measurement of that? TYRONE POWERS: We don’t know whether that … We don’t know the complete measurement because they sent it in online. We know we had a large community support. I think the city said that, the city solicitor said you had a massive support from the city and from organizations and so on and so forth. We had politicians who indicated that this is good because now the process had integrity, the public can buy in finally. Because of your expertise, your locality, the people can reach out to you on a daily basis. You live here in the city so we can monitor and get this police department thing right, police community relations. We had that massive amount of support. Again, the judge was putting feelers out, saying that what he wanted was someone that he was comfortable with. These are people he either practiced law with, he was a public defender in this area before, he knows Ken Thompson from the Venable Group, who I think will be the monitor of this hybrid group that he’s putting together. But it has nothing to do with what the consent decree process calls for, which is the parties to come together, the DOJ, the city, to come together, the community, the Baltimore City Police Department submit names to the judge. The judge chooses from those names. In this particular case, the judge just created his own with DOJ’s help. It puts the mayor in an awkward position because she needs federal funds from DOJ, if you need funds from the federal government. She almost has to jump in on this process, even though to an extent it’s going to be counter-productive to the city. My greatest fear is that because you haven’t had legitimate community engagement and input, that you have that divide. Not only do you have a divide in the city between the police and the community, now you have a divide between the monitors and the community, which creates even more of the ingredients for some kind of combustion sometime in the future. STEPHEN JANIS: Is there any way to appeal this process for you, or this it? Is it over? TYRONE POWERS: We’ve been looking at that in a number of ways. Initially, our thought process was we weren’t going to appeal it for the Powers Consulting Group. We were gonna appeal it for the city. Even if they chose another group, it will be a group that the public had vetted and said we are okay with this particular process. The question is ultimately the way the system is set up now and Judge Bredar has the authority. The question is if he went outside of the process it was designed in order to select a monitor, can there be some injunction? That’s what we have attorneys looking into. We’re having them look into that for the process, not so much for our particular group because our fear, and my greatest fear being a resident of Baltimore City, having a former background in the FBI and the State Police, is that if we don’t get this right, it’ll never get right for Baltimore City, the police, and the community, ‘cause this is probably gonna be the last consent decree in the United States for a very long time. Secondly, we don’t want to head back down that road to another rebellion in Baltimore City. We don’t want that. DOJ usually try to send out a group to interview the people involved in this process that is representative of the city. DOJ sent no one of color to the actual interviews. The city did, the Police Department did. DOJ didn’t even put up a pretense that they were going to do that. It’s been in a- STEPHEN JANIS: So there was all white people interviewing you from the DOJ? TYRONE POWERS: Absolutely, DOJ. It was kind of a weird particular process from the very beginning and the questions they were asking. We said from the- STEPHEN JANIS: What kind of questions were they asking? TYRONE POWERS: They were asking questions about … They did ask questions about community engagement, but to me, not enough. They were asking about expertise, IT abilities. We explained we had all them. Not only did they put us through interviews, we had interviews after the interviews. All that was ignored. The judge essentially hijacked the process. For the city … You have to remember that the person that has to pay for this is the City of Baltimore, the citizens and the mayor have to pay at least $1.4 million a year, $1.5 million a year. But that’s just for the monitoring process. That’s not for anything that the monitoring team recommend. You could go up to $10 million a year and one year. The city has to pay for this. The citizens have to pay for this. The judge is making all the decisions. As I said to the DOJ, this is a very condescending and paternalistic process to say you know what’s best for the citizens of Baltimore, and it’s counter-productive because what got us here is citizens feel that they have been disengaged. It was an us versus them mentality. What this process, the hijacking of this process does, has added to that division. TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.