Michael Ryan spent 15 years at Baltimore’s Civilian Review Board as an investigator charged with looking into resident complaints of misconduct against police officers. Ryan, himself a former city cop, stopped leaving the office five years ago, reports the Baltimore Sun. Ryan, now 70, refused to travel to Baltimore’s streets to talk to the complainants or seek witnesses or evidence because he feared for his safety, and his boss had told him that, as a city-paid employee, he couldn’t take his personal gun with him on the job. Ryan, for years the board’s sole investigator, retired last year. The board, which investigates complaints of excessive force, abusive language, harassment and false arrest, has long been considered feeble.
The board’s recommendations in police discipline cases are routinely disregarded. From the time the board organized in 1999 until this year, not one police commissioner has ever heeded the board’s recommendation to impose tougher discipline on an officer. The board can only recommend sanctions and hope that the commissioner agrees. Baltimore’s board was meant to be a check on police misconduct by providing outside review in addition to the Police Department’s Internal Affairs division. Civilian oversight has grown nationwide, as the number of such review boards has increased fivefold since 1990 to more than 200, and police departments are increasingly turning to civilian-led bodies to investigate high-profile misconduct cases. Those boards have struggled over the years to be relevant, and many — like Baltimore’s — have been “rigged to fail,” said Udi Ofer of the American Civil Liberties Union, who has researched civilian oversight of police.