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City Police Training Under Scrutiny

Independent Review Board, City Council question programs

Photo: Frank Klein, License: N/A

Frank Klein

Baltimore Police officers canvassing in East Baltimore recently.


Since 2008, Baltimore Police officers have been trained such that the citizens of their communities can find “no better friend, no better diplomat, and no better role model” while the criminals have “no worse enemy.” The ideals represent the four points of a diamond in the Diamond Standard Training that nearly every Baltimore Police officer has undergone under the command of Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld III. A department spokesman credits the training for a reduction in police-involved shootings and improving community relations.

But an Independent Review Board (IRB) empaneled by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake singled out Diamond Standard Training for criticism in its October report after a police shooting at a downtown club last year. In the first City Council meeting of 2012, a freshman councilmember introduced a resolution questioning the Diamond Standard and a related hand-to-hand combat tactics course called Hicks Training.

“Today is the anniversary of a very unfortunate event in our city’s history,” Councilmember Brandon M. Scott (D-2nd District) told fellow councilmembers on Jan. 9. He was speaking about the shooting death, by four fellow officers, of Officer William Torbit in the parking lot of the Select Lounge as the club let out in the wee hours of Jan. 9, 2011. Forty-two shots were fired after Torbit, who was in plainclothes, discharged his gun into one of several assailants who had taken him to the ground in a chaotic street fight. Sean Gamble, a patron at the club, also died and three women were wounded.

“The IRB recommends that a formal evaluation of the ‘Diamond Standard’ program be conducted with respect to the crowd control situations that frequently occur in the Central District,” the 169-page IRB report reads, in part.

“[The resolution] is to make sure we implement some of the changes called for” in the IRB report, says Scott, who was elected to replace the retiring Nicholas D’Adamo and is vice chairman of the Council’s Public Safety Committee. His resolution calls on Bealefeld to report to the City Council “on the Baltimore Police Department’s relationship with the Diamond Standard Training and Hicks Training programs” and to discuss their effectiveness and how they might be “improved and made more cost effective.”

Although some police officers have grumbled about it for years, Bealefeld has staked his reputation on the unique training program. It was conceived and is overseen by Adam Walinsky, a New York lawyer with political roots in John F. Kennedy’s administration. Its “arrest and control” tactics were developed by Lewis Hicks, a former Navy SEAL and longtime Walinsky ally.

Neither Hicks nor Walinsky were ever police officers—a point against them in some officers’ eyes. Walinsky spent most of the 1980s and ’90s lobbying Congress to create a novel program called Police Corps, which recruited college graduates to police forces across the country and gave them special training. Some big-city police chiefs declined to take Police Corps cadets despite their college degrees and federally funded training, but with backing from then Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), Maryland was the first state to implement the program. Hicks (who did not return an e-mail or voice mail from City Paper) joined forces with Walinsky after leaving the Navy in the late 1990s and was hired by then Commissioner Ed Norris to train Baltimore police in “skeletal manipulation” techniques in the early 2000s. The array of joint locks and other hand-to-hand combat methods were meant to instill confidence in police and allow them to subdue and control suspects without harming them or resorting to pepper spray or other weapons.

Hicks’ $2 million contract was canceled in 2003, halfway through its four-year implementation, according to a report in The Baltimore Sun. But Bealefeld brought Hicks Training back after becoming commissioner, in part because he was concerned with the number of officer-involved shootings, many of which arose from patrol officers getting into situations where they were wrestling assailants for their guns. “In 2007 we had 33 police-involved shootings,” Baltimore Police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi says. “In 2008 there were 21, in 2009 there were 22, in 2010 there were 10, and in 2011 we had 11—one of those includes Officer Torbit. So you’re seeing a downward trend in terms of the number of times officers use their weapons.”

One recently retired officer who asked that he not be named told City Paper that, although he considered it good training, many police officers tried to avoid Hicks because the intense week-long program sometimes results in injuries.

Deputy Commissioner John Skinner, who handles training for the department, acknowledges that injuries happen because Hicks Training is realistic. “Whether firearms training or hand to hand . . . any time you’re doing anything physical there is the possibility you could get injured,” he says. “I don’t think it’s an epidemic problem, or a glaring problem.”

Over the past several years, Bealefeld has defended Diamond Standard training to both skeptical officers and city officials. The IRB was not convinced, saying in its report that it “does not have enough information to determine whether the program specifically addresses crowd control and club/bar response operations, or whether it does so sufficiently. There is not enough information to determine or independently validate the effectiveness of the ‘Diamond Standard’ training curriculum, which is not widely used by law-enforcement agencies.”

Reached by phone at his Westchester County, N.Y., home, Walinsky says many other departments would like to incorporate Diamond Standard. “Of course it’s not being done anywhere else, not because anyone doesn’t want to do it, but because no other department has had the vision and commitment to make this kind of effort,” he says. “This has been a huge effort by Bealefeld and John Skinner, and people in City Hall—a huge effort.”

As for measuring its effectiveness, “No one has ever found or created a workable statistical measure of the effectiveness of police officers,” Walinsky says. “It doesn’t exist.” He adds that the anonymous evaluations of the training by those who have gone through it are almost uniformly positive: “Overwhelmingly, they say, ‘It’s the best training I ever had.’”

About the cost, Walinsky says this: “I have absolutely no idea, and my own personal view—not an expert on the costing of training—is that cost in government is a pure accordion. You can make it look as big or small as you want it to.” He says his small research foundation, the Center for Research on Institutions and Social Policy, has a contract with the city: “I myself take no salary.

“There is no question that it represents a big investment in department manpower, which is by far the biggest investment in policing,” Walinsky adds. “There aren’t a bunch of outside trainers. All are supervisors of the BPD—it’s happening right there.”

Skinner says he does not know the contract amount either: “There are a lot of different ways you could calculate the cost. We have contracts for example with Outward Bound [as part of the Diamond Standard] and with some of the instructors who come and participate.” Using the best professionals is key to success, Skinner says, and the money to pay for it all comes from asset forfeiture—“money that we’ve seized” from drug dealers.

The department is ahead of its critics, Skinner says. The midnight shifts were about to enter Diamond Standard Training when the Torbit incident happened. The training was extended for two additional weeks, and officers from all the districts worked in the Central District during that training, to give them hands-on experience with the big bars and nightclubs. The crowd-control aspect was improved too, Skinner says. “We worked on standard operating procedures and how to work with those crowds around bars—it’s almost like a specialized component within crowd-control [itself],” he says. And the training has evolved further, Skinner says: To bolster the command and control of officers during bar closings, “in a week, all command starts a 40-hour training on decision-making during critical incidents.”

Guglielmi says the department will also be demonstrating its training techniques to City Council members during the coming weeks.

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