• Justine Barron

Some Dark-ish Money and Tangled Interests Behind the Baltimore Police Department

Who is the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), and why do they keep popping up around the scenes of the Baltimore Police Department? A Baltimore Sun article points to a tangled web of special interests and traded favors.

PERF's last pick for Baltimore Commissioner, Joel Fitzgerald, was unsuccessful.

A brief but curious article appeared in the Baltimore Sun this week, exposing that Sheryl Goldstein, Abell Foundation Vice President, is advising new Police Commissioner Michael Harrison behind the scenes, including on hiring. It cites her relationship to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a national police consulting group.

Goldstein used to be influential in city crime fighting. She became the Director of the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice in 2007. She was also married to former State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein.

Goldstein left the Mayor's Office in June 2012, just hours after then-Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld announced his departure. She received a glowing send-off from the Baltimore Sun's Justin Fenton, who cited the millions of dollars in grant funding she raised that improved the department (if you count the expansion of CCTVs as an improvement). There has never been a clear, consistent explanation for Bealefeld and Goldstein's departures. Goldstein transitioned into nonprofit leadership, but she has been getting back into the BPD mix lately.

The Sun article doesn't clarify Goldstein's current role with PERF or whether she is getting paid by BPD or PERF in her capacity. I reached out to BPD with the question myself and am awaiting reply.

The article also begs the question of who felt it was important to get Goldstein's advisory role out there. Very often, the better story in Baltimore is the story-behind-the-story - who leaked it and why. In the article, BPD just confirmed the relationship. Goldstein herself refused to give comment.

The answer might lie in what is missing from theSun's story, namely two important backstories: The first is the story of PERF's relationship to BPD; the second is the story of Goldstein's role in State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby's election in 2014.

PERF and BPD - Profiting off of City Failure

For a long time, PERF has had a big influence on Baltimore policing. Some of this influence has been negative and self-dealing, as I discussed during an apperance on DMVDaily in January:

PERF is a dirty word among some BPD circles, especially the non-academic ones. Some resent the role that PERF played in pushing Anthony Batts as Commissioner in 2013 over then-Deputy Anthony Barksdale. Here is a brief summary of what I disclosed about PERF and BPD on that broadcast:

1. PERF is a paid membership organization for police and policing experts. Its members must have a Bachelor's Degree. Members may also pay more for additional police executive training programs.

2. PERF's leaders are part of an unofficial think-tank of academic policing experts, with the Harvard Kennedy School's policing programs. The Marshall Project did a great job of unravelling the influence and function of these police celebrities, in an article called "America's Rock Star Cops."

3. PERF et al. have helped shape every major modern era of policing - from Broken Windows/Zero Tolerance to the expansion of plainclothes drug squads to the technocratization of police policy. Given the fallout of these movements - mass incarceration, corrupt squads, etc. - it remains a question mark whether this circle of influencers has offered the country a net positive.

4. PERF leaders have shown no apparent interest in addressing police corruption, now or before. They tend to focus on policing as a problem that can be solved through training, policy, and more policing.

5. The City of Baltimore has given contracts to PERF to consult on policing, including after the 2015 uprising. PERF has been especially influential in helping BPD staff its leadership. Mayor Catherine Pugh has given several statements indicating that PERF was behind her decisions.

6. PERF has been involved in bringing the following commissioners to Baltimore: Anthony Batts, Joel Fitzgerald, and Michael Harrison. All of them were paid members of PERF, and all of them paid for additional advanced training. This is a clear and serious conflict of interest on PERF's part that has not been disclosed to Baltimore residents!

7. PERF and Harvard leaders showed up in Sun articles about Batts, before he took office. Portraying themselves his friends and colleagues, they spoke very highly of him. William Bratton (NYPD/LAPD) told the Sun, “Tony Batts is one of the best there is in America policing today." Their quotes took attention away from information coming out about his disastrous record in two California cities.

8. Bratton's group received a nearly $300,000 contract to draft recommendation for fighting crime in Baltimore after Batts got his job, with Bratton's help.

9. PERF does not have a track-record of recommendations that have served Baltimore well. Batts and Fitzgerald were both city-hoppers, without a great record in any of their previous posts. Batts cost the city enormously, including the severance package that he was paid after he was fired and settlements paid out to police victims.

19. PERF was also behind Mayor Pugh offering Commissioner Harrison a figure that, with bonuses, amounts to nearly $300,000. In the video above, I expressed concern that these incentives could actually pose problems when it comes to addressing corruption, as Harrison has a very strong incentive to keep his job.

Overall, PERF continues to be one of many conflict-ridden consultant groups that profits off of the city while not seeming to address its problems. I've written elsewhere about how the Consent Decree Monitoring Team and the firm behind the Sean Suiter Independent Review Board are two more such examples.

That Other Sheryl Goldstein Story

The recent Sun article also left out what makes Goldstein an interesting political figure in Baltimore. For this story, we journey back in time...

The year was 2014. The election for State's Attorney was a few weeks away. Goldstein's husband, Bernstein, was running as an incumbant against Marilyn Mosby. A story appeared on June 5 in WBAL, noting that then-Captain Robert Quick had been suspended. WBAL's David Collins "uncovered emails" between Quick and Goldstein that "made light" of Batts' leadership.

Captain Robert Quick was demoted to Lieutenant over the email scandal

By 2014, Goldstein was working for a private foundation. So Quick's emails may have "violated policy," according to WBAL, by disclosing private police information to a private citizen. Mostly, in the published emails, Quick was grumbling about his boss. Goldstein effectively responded with "sounds tough." So, it was an odd bit of breaking news. Batts was known to be retaliatory, but who went looking through Quick's emails for such a minor smoking gun?

Two weeks later, a City Paper story came out, in which former prosecutor Janice Bledsoe explained that she had been fired after investigating Quick in 2012 over fraudulent overtime. She had confronted Bernstein about whether or not he might have a conflict of interest in terms of her Quick investigation. Bernstein had previously represented Quick as a private attorney. Bernstein told Bledsoe no, there was no conflict. Then, he fired her and cleared Quick of charges. That is the story she told the City Paper. Bledsoe was in a relationship with WBAL's Jayne Miller.

So, Bledsoe was fired over Quick and his relationship to Bernstein, she said. And around the same time, a whole other story appeared on her partner's TV station that tied Quick to Bernstein's wife. If Bledsoe wasn't somehow involved in that WBAL story, that would be some coincidence. These stories all emerged in the lead-up to Bernstein's re-election.

Mosby used the Quick story to her advantage. She issued a press release titled, "Bernstein Protects Dirty Cop Who Stole From Taxpayers." Political leaders took sides: City Councilman Brandon Scott, who had held hearings on the Quick/Dombrowski investigation, told the City Paper that he believed Bledsoe about why she was fired.

The next week, Mosby defeated Bernstein and quickly named Bledsoe as her Deputy State's Attorney. From William Bratton to Janice Bledsoe, Baltimore loves to return a political favor.

So the missing third act of this story might pull together some or all of these strands. At the very least, the Sun article was missing these important backstories around PERF and Goldstein. This information would let the public know that the person helping Harrison shape his department 1) is working with a consulting firm that has not always served Baltimore's best interests; and 2) has a political history with people in BPD and SAO and so may be making recommendations accordingly.