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Freddie Gray's death from injuries obtained while in police custody in April fanned the smoldering anger and frustration with police practices in Baltimore into a conflagration of protesting, rioting, and looting.For the next twelve months, WYPR's Mary Rose Madden will explore those practices and the culture of policing in Baltimore. She'll look at how the relationship between officers and citizens reached that tipping point and report on racial and class tensions, the documented instances of excessive use of force and probe how complaints against officers are handled.She'll look at past attempts at police reform in the city, how they compare with other cities with the same problems and how police officers are responding to calls for community-oriented policing.It will all be in On the Watch: Fixing the Fractured Relationship Between Baltimore's Police and Its Communities .On the Watch will air during Morning Edition and All Things Considered.This special series is supported by grants from the Bendit Family Foundation, Sig and Barbara Shapiro, The Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund, and Open Society Institute-Baltimore.

Cops Ask If They Can Do Their Job This Year

P. Kenneth Burns

While 2016 is a new year, the public frustrations and political criticisms from 2015 that followed high profile police incidents - like the deaths of Freddie Gray locally and Sandra Bland in Texas – continue to plague officers.  Many of them are worrying over whether or not they will be able to do their jobs in 2016.

Vince Canales, president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, says officers are not clear about what they are being asked to do.

“Right now the rules seem to be pretty fluid at this point in time,” he says adding it is difficult for officers to make split-second decisions knowing they will be second guessed by the public and politicians.

Canales also says officers are worried about potential changes to the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights; the state law guiding the disciplinary process for officers facing administrative or criminal allegations.

“You have so many individuals and groups that are out here who are taking shots at it from every which angle possible,” says Canales.

University of Baltimore Criminal Justice Professor Jeffrey Ian Ross says officers should be worried because of the greater attention brought to police incidents thanks to the abundance of people with cell phone cameras.

“The advent of smart phone technology, increase attentive individuals to post that kind of material on the World Wide Web and social media circles,” he says.

Yet cell phones in addition to police body cameras can help give as many details as possible on controversial incidents “so we’re not simply depending upon observers who are nearby or perhaps the individual who is being arrested shooting some of the video or some sort of CCTV,” he says. “It can’t hurt.”

He also suggests that on-going training and refresher trainings for officers can also help.

While rank and file officers worry, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has a different perspective.  He says “the police can’t stop being police.”

“Based on when we observe suspicious behaviors,” he says, “we still have to confront folks, we still have to investigate, we still have to have interviews with people who appear to be engaging on suspicious activity, we have to encounter people who are breaking traffic laws and other laws.”

Davis adds that because officers have been proactive, they have seized increasing numbers of guns since last summer when the murder rate spiked.

And it was officers, acting on tips, searching through vacant houses that led to the capture of 59-year-old Alan Floyd; dubbed Public Enemy No. 1 by police.  He’s accused of setting fire to an East Baltimore home on New Year’s Day; killing 61-year-old Sharon Williams.

Davis says that by the end of 2016 people will see it as a year that policing was done more thoughtfully and with better training.