Baltimore, MD – The Baltimore Police Training Academy’s head of legal instruction said that a third of the recruits who will graduate from the academy on Saturday have not demonstrated sufficient understanding of practical legal standards.
“We’re giving them a badge and a gun tomorrow, the right to take someone’s liberty, ultimately the right to take someone’s life if it calls for it, and they have not demonstrated they can meet [basic] constitutional and legal standards,” Sergeant Josh Rosenblatt told The Baltimore Sun on Friday. “Don’t illegally arrest people. Don’t illegally search people. These are not high standards.”
Sgt. Rosenblatt, who is also an attorney, said that he turned to the media after academy leaders refused to address the concerns raised by him and others.
He explained that 17 of the 50 recruits who are being pushed through to graduation by the department were unable to pass basic scenario-based practical tests on legal standards, such as the need to establish probable cause before affecting an arrest.
Four of the recruits were attending the academy for the second time, but were still unable to understand and apply many basic legal concepts after spending 18 months in training, he said.
The testing model wasn’t the problem, Sgt. Rosenblatt explained. He said that he personally implemented the measure two or three years ago, and that there were no problems with prior classes.
But after some recruits failed the legal tests repeatedly, academy administrators reverted to an old, less difficult multiple-choice test, and decided to have the tests administrated by police officers, instead of trainers like Sgt. Rosenblatt.
Every recruit passed the antiquated, less-rigorous test, he said.
“When I said that police officers are not more qualified to test on the law than lawyers are, I was forcefully told that I was wrong,” Sgt. Rosenblatt said.
Acting Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa told The Baltimore Sun that he will be examining the academy’s curriculum, as well as the concerns raised by Sgt. Rosenblatt.
“Under my watch, there isn’t going to be a single police officer who does not satisfactorily pass any Maryland police training requirements,” Commissioner De Sousa vowed. “They won’t be allowed to go on the streets. It’s plain and simple.”
He also defended the use of the multiple-choice test, and said that it met state standards. Commissioner De Sousa did say that he planned to review how testing was conducted on the current class of recruits, however.
“I’ll take a look and that, and we’re doing it really rapidly,” he told The Baltimore Sun.
In the recent past, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh acknowledged that the city was struggling to fill hundreds of police positions. She said that under her administration, officers were being trained and put to work more quickly.
“I was in a position that I had to step up hiring police officers for our city,” Pugh said, adding that her administration had been able dramatically reduce the time needed to “become a police officer.”
The academy’s training concerns came at a particularly instrumental time for the department, which had promised to improve constitutional policing as part of a consent decree following a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.
That investigation determined that officers had made illegitimate stops, searches and seizures, and that a lack of adequate police training was a major concern.
Following Saturday’s graduation, the new recruits will complete eight weeks of training in the field before they officially become Baltimore Police Department officers, the department said.