City Police Failed to Conduct Training Reviews of Officer Shootings

… Officials unclear when department stopped following its general orders mandating reviews …

By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

9:04 PM EDT, October 14, 2011

The Baltimore Police Department has for years failed to conduct “after-action” reviews of police-involved shootings that are used for training officers who may find themselves in similar, potentially violent situations.

The revelation — a violation of the department’s internal guidelines — is among several observations that officials said would be included in a report that could be completed as early as next week. The report is being compiled by an expert panel that has been assessing police policies and procedures in the wake of the officer-involved shooting in January outside the Select Lounge club.

“It’s certainly something that’s been identified as an area where the department needs to improve and do a better job,” Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said in an interview.

Bealefeld, who has made training a hallmark of his administration, said he didn’t have specific information about the department’s record with after-action reviews. He also said he did not want to upstage the work of the panel, which is compiling its final report.

All police shootings are investigated by homicide detectives and internal affairs for criminal violations or failure to follow internal policies, but officials said they weren’t sure when the department stopped conducting regular training reviews. The department’s guidelines, known as general orders, call for such reviews.

Law enforcement experts say those after-action reviews are a crucial follow-up to the criminal and internal investigations — which focus on violations of law and police policy — because they offer guidance for officers. While a shooting may be legally justified, experts say officers may have put themselves in situations that could be avoided in the future.

“The importance cannot be overstated,” said Charles “Joe” Key, a retired police lieutenant who wrote the department’s general orders on use of force. “The purpose of a training review is in part to point out things to the officer that might keep them alive.

“In an adrenaline-fueled moment, when lethal force is used, the officer, regardless of their training, will make simple mistakes that might get him or her killed,” Key added. “The other part is to look at ways of doing things that are helpful so that you don’t necessarily have to use force.”

General order G-10 requires the department to conduct after-action reviews for the purpose of “maintaining firearms discipline and avoiding contagious fire,” which is when an officer fires a weapon because he or she sees others doing so.

Bealefeld said that he has personally taken part in more informal reviews, when commanders get together with training officials after major incidents to discuss the agency’s response. One example was a review of the police response to the Johns Hopkins Hospital standoff last year.

“But by virtue of strict adherence to the general order, or even best practices, I don’t think we’ve done such a good job,” he said of conducting full-scale after-action reviews.

Retired Lt. Col. Michael J. Andrew said that as commander of the special operations section, which includes the department’s tactical units, he would discuss and review incidents within his unit. But he said every shooting and barricade situation should result in a more formal assessment.

“Some people say you’re Monday [morning] quarterbacking, but you learn from each situation,” Andrew said. “You want to learn and teach, to make it easier for the next guy. I think we do that poorly.”

Andrew was briefly fired in 2003 after leaking a memo that criticized a fatal shooting by a police officer who stormed an apartment during a barricade situation. That memo had been written by Andrew, and he said he believed the department hadn’t adequately reviewed the case.

Two people have been fatally shot by police in the past week, including a 52-year-old South Baltimore man with no criminal record who was in bed and holding a pellet gun at the time he was shot. Bealefeld said he did not know whether education and training officers had gotten involved in the review of those cases.

Overall, police shootings have been on the decline since spiking at the beginning of Bealefeld’s tenure. Thirty-three people were shot by police in 2007, 13 fatally. This year, 12 people have been shot by police, six of them in the Select Lounge incident that killed Officer William H. Torbit and civilian Sean Gamble, prompting the creation of a review panel.

James “Chips” Stewart, a policy analyst and chairman of the Select Lounge review panel, declined to comment on the panel’s findings until the wide-ranging report is submitted, which he said could occur as soon as next week.

The general orders outline the roles of police officials in the wake of a shooting. The firearms supervisor in the education and training division is supposed to complete a review of the incident, relative to firearms training and equipment matters, and forward the report to the director of the education and training division. Officers say firearms supervisors, wearing bright-yellow shirts, respond to shooting scenes.

But after all investigations and internal hearings are completed, the firearms supervisor also is supposed to conduct a training review with the involved officers. Those reports are supposed to then be forwarded to the human resources bureau.

Gary McLhinney, a former longtime city police union president, said when he was chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority police the agency regularly completed reviews of major incidents, called “hot washes.”

“You can always find a way to do something better, and then it becomes a real-life training tool that you can then take into the classroom, whether it’s recruit training or in-service,” McLhinney said.

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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