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Union Questions Mayor's Faith in Department

The Baltimore Sun via YellowBrix

January 14, 2011

BALTIMORE – City police union officials said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake lacks faith in the Police Department as it investigates the fatal shooting of an officer and a 22-year-old man, and called her demand for an independent review an attempt to “utilize this tragic incident for political gain.”

“We too want a thorough investigation of this incident to reveal all the facts of that night’s events. However, at this point, this action seems premature,” said union President Robert F. Cherry, a former homicide detective. He said Rawlings-Blake should give police “a chance to conduct an exhaustive investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding this tragedy.”

The mayor said Wednesday that she was “very concerned by initial facts that indicate only police weapons were discharged” during the fight early Sunday outside the Select Lounge on North Paca Street.

A spokesman for Rawlings-Blake said she would not have a response to the union’s remarks Thursday. Officials have said the independent review will not supplant the police investigation now under way or any action that city prosecutors might take, but will serve as a check on the criminal inquiry and offer an independent critique of the Police Department’s policies and practices.

At a vigil outside the bar where Officer William H. Torbit Jr., 33, and 22-year-old Sean Gamble were killed, City Councilman Carl Stokes said he supports an independent review of the Police Department’s findings, but stopped short of promising a council hearing.

Some at the vigil shouted, “Will you call for one?”

“I don’t want to jump ahead,” Stokes responded. He said he wanted to discuss a potential hearing with other council members first.

Some members of Torbit’s family who attended the vigil said federal authorities should conduct a separate investigation.

“The FBI needs to get involved,” said Maria Crowder-El, a cousin. She said she thought a review was not enough: “I don’t trust the mayor to do anything.”

The last outside review of city police was conducted in 2004, when the Howard County Police Department examined how city police handled a domestic violence complaint against then-Commissioner Kevin P. Clark.

As a result of a lawsuit settlement, police also have agreed to let a professor and retired judge review so-called quality-of-life arrests.

Tensions between City Hall and the city’s public safety unions have been rising for months. A week ago, the police and fire unions held a news conference outside City Hall denouncing pay cuts and saying Rawlings-Blake wants to take credit for crime reductions but not compensate officers for their work.

During a debate over changes last year to the police and fire pensions, the unions paid for billboards downtown that read: “Welcome to Baltimore. Home to a Mayor & City Council who turned their backs on Police & Firefighters.”


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