Colorful chart tracking Baltimore City Gun Trace Task Force Settlement Payouts
Screenshot from Office of the Comptroller of Baltimore City's GTTF tracking tool.

Baltimore City’s Office of the Comptroller on Tuesday launched a new tool which publicly tracks funds the city has paid out in settlements to victims of the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF).

The city has paid out more than $22 million to date in 39 cases related to the Gun Trace Task Force, according to the tracker.

In a press release, Comptroller Bill Henry lauded the tool as something that would bring much needed “transparency, accountability, and modernization to the office.”

The GTTF was a specialized unit within the Baltimore City Police Department that was charged with multiple crimes while on duty and was the source of a massive corruption scandal in the city’s police force. The rogue unit was federally indicted in 2017, charged with racketeering, dealing drugs, planting evidence, overtime fraud, extortion, and other misconduct.

The corrupt unit has been the subject of several books, including “I Got A Monster,” written by journalists Brandon Soderberg and Baynard Woods; “We Own This City,” written by journalist Justin Fenton; and “Who Speaks For You,” written by assistant U.S Attorney Leo Wise, who was the federal prosecutor on the GTTF case. An HBO series based on Fenton’s book, and that shares the same name, also chronicles the GTTF’s corruption.

Henry said the new data tool will make it easier for residents to track the GTTF settlements.

“We have to hold those who abuse our residents and our resources accountable,” he said.

In 2020, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Baltimore City is liable for the officers’ illegal conduct, and for any settlement payouts brought against the officers involved. The tracking tool released by Henry’s office is a way for citizens to see how much that is costing the city of Baltimore. According to the tracker website, it serves to “memorialize the devastating impact of the Gun Trace Task Force on our City.”

The tool enables users to see the total amount of money Baltimore City has paid in settlements to date, how many cases have been settled, the cumulative cost of each officer involved, and in how many cases each officer is named. There are five more GTTF related lawsuits in various stages of litigation.

Legal settlements are subject to the approval of the Board of Estimates, and recommendations to settle claims against the city are based on the Law Department Settlement Committee’s assessment of the potential for an adverse jury verdict.

Speaking with Baltimore Fishbowl about the tracking tool and the settlements, Henry explained why the financial burden of paying for the settlements in these civil suits fell to the city of Baltimore rather than the police officers themselves.

“It is enshrined in state laws, several of which have been eroded as the General Assembly has tried to stop protecting cops unnecessarily,” that as city employees, police officers’ pensions are untouchable, Henry said.

The General Assembly could change the law, but Henry described a chasm in the views held towards police between elected officials from Baltimore City and those in the surrounding counties. This divide makes it difficult to enact policy change at the state level, he said.

As for the city, “it’s in their contract negotiated with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP.)” When Baltimore City has tried to remove that pension protection for officers convicted of a felony or some other egregious misconduct from the police contract, the FOP has threatened to go to arbitration, Henry said.

“It’s a matter of what is the city willing to go to arbitration over?” he said.

According to Henry, there could easily be local legislation that applies only to Baltimore City. City legislators, however, have expressed concern about the impact removing the pension protection would have on an officer’s spouse and family. Henry is not unsympathetic to those concerns but he argues that “consequences for doing something wrong are that bad things might happen to one’s family.”

Baltimore City could attempt to recover the tens of millions of dollars they have had to pay out in settlements by suing the officers in civil court. However, that would require more money, time, and resources that Baltimore City cannot afford, Henry said.

“It would be easier to have it be policy from the beginning” that police officers understand if they engage in criminal or corrupt behavior, they risk losing their pensions, Henry said.

Henry’s office is still arguing for the legislative solution, though. He likens it to the deterrent that already exists for elected officials. If an elected official is convicted of a felony, they lose their pension.

As comptroller, Henry says the GTTF settlements have had a significant impact on city finances.

“The amount of money we have paid out in GTTF settlements exceeds what we’ve paid for community rec centers for an entire year,” he said. “We have $16.25 million budgeted for community rec centers for all of Fiscal Year 2024. That’s after-school programs we can’t fund. That’s library renovations we can’t fund.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that Baltimore police officers are city employees.

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