Former Baltimore Police Commander Neill Franklin says the corruption exposed by the federal Gun Trace Task Force Trial is unavoidable consequence of America’s failed ‘War on Drugs’
BAYNARD WOODS: Guilty on almost all charges. That was the verdict for two Baltimore police officers charged in one of the most sweeping police corruption cases in recent memory.
ALEX HILTON: I wasn’t going to feel safe no matter what the commissioner, the mayor, no matter what nobody told me until I saw the cuffs, and I hate to say that. I hate to see anybody in prison [inaudible 00:00:21] was family. Until I saw the cuffs on his wrists, that’s when I knew it was over with.
BAYNARD WOODS: A few days before the verdict, we spoke with retired Baltimore Police Commander Neill Franklin for his response to the case.
NEILL FRANKLIN: This is nothing new really. Might be new for the citizens of Baltimore, at least seeing this type of activity, criminal activity by the police officers who have taken an oath to protect them and do the right things here in the city. Think about this. Let’s go back to alcohol prohibition in the 1920s. Police departments were dealing with the very same type of corruption. As we were working with those crimes syndicates who had cornered the market for bootlegging booze. Right? Drugs, booze, booze, it’s drugs. It’s the same thing. When you prohibit the use and the sale of alcohol or other drugs, and 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. There are payoffs, all types of things. Police get involved 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, even my comrades who are wearing the uniform.
BAYNARD WOODS: Now it seems like when we have historic murder rates here in Baltimore, 343 last year, averaging about one a day over the last several years. I mean, 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 department?
NEILL FRANKLIN: 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-led 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. We need to restrict the power that police departments currently have. 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. 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 wore 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: 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: It’s very difficult to police yourselves no matter what kind of business you’re in, but especially this one of policing. As you talked about … 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 we’ve gone too far there. We need to pull back a little bit. Maybe we 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 us, 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.
When 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 maybe damaged their patrol vehicle allegedly or something like that, absent citizen contact. No. We’re talking about citizens they’re supposed to serve and the failure of them to properly serve, even to the extent of injuring citizens and disrespecting citizens. 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 fully of constitutional violations. Now, according to Sergeant 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.
BAYNARD WOODS: 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 along with … 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 to 2004. From what I’m hearing about where the academy has gone to now, it’s very disheartening.
BAYNARD WOODS: 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. As these things unfold and we get new information; from the beginning I’ve been trying to look at this as a criminal investigator. 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 then they start telling about their accomplishes and so on, we believe them and they’re what we call career criminals. Right? 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.
BAYNARD WOODS: We learned this week that Wayne Jenkins came with … There was a lot of talk about pharmacies looted during the unrest after the death of Freddie Gray. 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.
NEILL FRANKLIN: Wow. Here we go again. Our police officers involved in the selling of drugs during a time when we have a destabilized drug market and 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 stopgap 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. Right? That means you need households where people don’t just survive, and there’s not a lot of surviving going on either, but they need to thrive. They need to be moving at least in the direction to where they have hope that tomorrow is going to be better than today, and 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: 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: I’m Baynard Woods for The Real News Network, and we’re going to continue covering the Baltimore Police and the Gun Trace Task Force trial.