So far this year, more than a dozen Baltimore County officers have been involved in shootings in which civilians were killed or injured — but none of the officers’ full names have been released by the police department.
Because of a decade-old provision in the county’s contract with the local police union, the Police Department only releases an officer’s last name, rank, assignment and length of service. The arrangement is unique in the Baltimore region, where most large departments, including Baltimore City’s, routinely release the full names of officers involved in shootings.
Advocates for police reform say Baltimore County’s policy sends the wrong message to the community. County police union officials say they sought the provision in their contract for safety reasons.
“To me, it demonstrates that they don’t see themselves as needing to be accountable to the communities that they’re policing,” said Dayvon Love of the advocacy group Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle.
The rule originated in negotiations for the police contract that took effect in July 2006, said David Rose, second vice president for the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4. Union leaders felt it would balance safety concerns with the need for transparency, he said.
“We had a lot of talk about this at the negotiating table,” Rose said. “It’s really an attempt to strike a balance.”
Amid tensions over high-profile cases such as the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., police agencies across the nation have grappled with the issue of disclosing names of officers in shootings, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an independent think tank.
“Police departments are really rethinking this whole issue,” Wexler said. “It’s a national issue, and it really surfaced with the Ferguson shooting when the police did not release the name [of Officer Darren Wilson] for several days.”
Change is on the way at some big-city departments. The Philadelphia Police Department has announced that it will start identifying officers within 72 hours of a police shooting, unless there is a threat against the officer or their family, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The agency previously withheld the names, citing safety concerns.