After last week’s confirmation hearing for Commissioner Darryl De Sousa, a hearing which some activists called “a dog and pony show” and viewed as a done deal even as they brought up concerns such as the 30 year veteran’s involvement in three fatal shootings in 1995—it was no surprise that De Sousa was quickly confirmed at tonight’s City Council meeting.
It was a bit of a surprise though when the vote was 14-1 with District 3 Councilperson Ryan Dorsey as the sole “no” vote.
“I heard answers to a lot of questions about the ins and outs of policing as we know it, and I’ve heard a vow to do things we’ve always done but somehow better,” Dorsey said to council. “While we can clearly acknowledge that this new overt commitment to not be corrupt or to not violate civil rights is certainly an improved rhetoric, fundamentally, it’s a commitment to more of the same. Our very best efforts to put forth great leaders and well-intentioned, well-stated plans has really only resulted in the need to fire and replace one commissioner after another. I believe this is because our expectations of the police department to make sustainable changes in our city are unrealistic and misplaced. I believe as do many others, we need an entirely new envisioning of policing and that’s not what I see there.”
Council President Jack Young responded by briefly lecturing Dorsey (who has taken on a gnarly post-apocalyptic sorta-shaved head and biker beard look as of late).
“You cannot look at personnel records or medical records of any city employee,” Young said seemingly misunderstanding Dorsey’s request that De Sousa release them himself.
After last week’s fractious hearing, calls for De Sousa—who activists note has touted “transparency”—to release his own Internal Affairs file increased when rumors spread into the weekend that De Sousa’s IAD file contained sustained complaints and that one involved the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the harassment of a female officer.
The Baltimore Police Department did not answer the Beat’s questions about De Sousa’s files and Mayor Catherine Pugh waited until 5:11 p.m. (which was during tonight’s council meeting) to tweet, “I have thoroughly reviewed all of the internal files of Commissioner-Designate Darryl De Sousa and can confirm that any allegation involving misconduct of any kind by the Commissioner-Designate is unsubstantiated.”
After tonight’s meeting, which also approved among other things the plan to rename the part of Wyman Dell Park where the Lee-Jackson Monument once stood after Harriet Tubman, and the banning of the expansion and creation of crude oil terminals, foam containers for carry out food, and soft drinks as the default option in children’s meals, Dorsey met for a short interview in his office before returning downstairs to a throng of thirsty news cameras ready to grill the councilperson.
“The council president noted that [De Sousa’s IAD file] isn’t public, right? It doesn’t mean that they can’t provide it to us. When I say ‘they’ I mean, De Sousa could authorize the release of his own IAD file,” Dorsey said.
He acknowledged Pugh’s tweet, which suggested she viewed De Sousa’s file: “But I didn’t get a response to that request. The mayor got a response to that, OK, fine. But we’re here to confirm her nominee.”
Dorsey said that he moved from abstaining, which he said he might do at last week’s hearing, to voting “no” due to De Sousa’s “non-answers” at last week’s hearing and repeated during his one-on-one meeting. To the most pressing questions, such as his stance on making IAD files public, making the police department a city agency, and the war on drugs, De Sousa essentially answered over and over again that he would uphold the laws as they are and would uphold them if they changed.
The sense that De Sousa would be up for the challenge of radically changing the department amid the Gun Trace Task Force scandal and ongoing distrust of the police or becoming anything more than a steady hand or modest reformer was dashed for Dorsey, as it was for many activists.
“At what point will you just say, ‘enough is enough’ with the damage we’re doing here and accept that you have a greater duty to be a steward of the city’s best interest even beyond your role as commanding officer of the police department?” Dorsey said. “I think we need a new envisioning of the police department, one that civilianizes a lot of the work—a lot of people have referred to it as a peace building operation rather than an occupational operation.”
Worse, Dorsey said, De Sousa couldn’t in private conversation commit to even a long-term deadline for reform for say, 2019 or 2020, just more “non-answers.”
“I don’t mean to be adversarial or like, in-your-face about it,” Dorsey said. “You’ve got to answer questions. It shouldn’t feel like it’s out of line for us to ask questions. It shouldn’t feel like it’s an imposition for us to be asking questions. They want to play big league ball right? You got to show up ready for the game, man.”
After the council meeting, Pugh released a statement in praise of De Sousa.
“I am extremely pleased that the Baltimore City Council has confirmed my choice of Commissioner-Designate Darryl De Sousa as Baltimore’s 40th Police Commissioner. He is a man of unquestionable integrity, empathy, compassion, and one who understands that policing is first and foremost about service to those in need,” Pugh wrote. “I have every confidence that he is the right man at the right time and in the right place to lead this department forward and to rebuild the public confidence so necessary to reducing violence and creating safe and healthy communities.”