The Baltimore Police Department, which is under a federal consent decree, recently released a new policy and training on stops, searches, and arrests.

The 371-page document provides legal guidance, lesson plans, and scenario-based training about a wide range on situations that officers encounter on a daily basis, including voluntary contacts, field interviews, investigative stops, and arrests.

PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler spoke with Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison about the rollout of the new policy and training. Commissioner Harrison also serves as PERF President.

Chuck Wexler: What is the goal of these new policies?

Commissioner Harrison: Baltimore is in a federally-mandated consent decree. In the investigation that led to the consent decree, one of the Department of Justice’s main findings was that members of the Baltimore Police Department historically were participating in unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests. And that is one of the main factors, among other things, that led to a number of unauthorized uses of force.

We had to create policies on when, how, where, and what constitutes a constitutional stop. We had to put that in policy, and train the entire department on stops, searches, arrests, and the Fourth Amendment.

We’re not just telling officers what they can’t do. Rather, we talk about the Fourth Amendment and less intrusive means of stopping and searching people. We talk about the least intrusive actions to take as an alternative to an arrest, when possible.

We revised our policies, in consultation with the consent decree monitoring team, the Department of Justice, and the federal judge who oversees our consent decree. We have now trained the entire police department – well over 2,500 sworn members – in our new stop, search, and arrest policy. Now that the training is complete, the policy recently went live.

Wexler: What is your response to people who might think this will “handcuff” police?

Commissioner Harrison: This does not handcuff our officers. This teaches officers what we actually can do and, to a large degree, how to go about doing it. How to have appropriate types of engagement with the residents of Baltimore. And when we observe violations of law that rise to the level of reasonable suspicion, when and how to conduct those stops in the least intrusive manner. And when we should be looking for weapons, how to go about doing that in a constitutional way.

We’re teaching them what we can do and how to do it, so we’re moving away from the narrative that it’s about what we can’t and shouldn’t do. This is all about doing it the right way.

Wexler: What was the previous practice that led you into the consent decree?

Commissioner Harrison: I’ll give you one example. Historically, our officers were allowed to, and in many cases instructed to, clear corners. When I say “clear corners,” there could be people congregating. In those congregations, perhaps some were dealing drugs, perhaps some were armed with dangerous weapons, and perhaps they were trespassing at a residence or a business. The pattern and practice was that officers would clear those corners, either on their own or because they were instructed to. When people did not follow those directions, they were arrested. Perhaps they were stopped and searched without having committed a crime.

That led to what the Department of Justice calls a “pattern and practice” of unconstitutional stops. We’re now teaching officers how to engage and how to recognize the violations that rise to Fourth Amendment reasonable suspicion. We’re teaching when to take enforcement action and when to apply a community policing non-enforcement engagement as an alternative to enforcement.

We’re reeducating our officers, and we’re showing them how what we used to do was an unconstitutional practice and led to a consent decree. We’re giving them the tools to go out and be a community policing organization in the right way. That’s a way that builds trust instead of breaking trust, and builds relationships instead of compromising and ruining relationships.

Wexler: How would you expect your officers to handle a situation where a resident calls about a group of teenagers congregating in front of their house?

Commissioner Harrison: For the first time, we have a comprehensive community policing plan that will tell these officers how to engage.

The expectation now is to engage with procedural justice. Officers would introduce themselves, explain what they are doing, why they are there, and what they aim to accomplish. That does two things. First, it will hopefully satisfy the complainant who called. And it will hopefully educate the young people who are the subject of the complaint about how their actions may be impacting the community. It can be done in a way that builds a relationship with the responding officers, because they aren’t just there to clear the corner or arrest everyone congregating. Many people may very well be standing there and not violating the law. We’re teaching officers how to address that situation in a way that’s more engaging, and using enforcement only when enforcement is necessary. It’s a community policing-minded approach that teaches engagement along with enforcement.

We’re also teaching them the language they should be using while engaging, with procedural justice in mind. It’s a way to build relationships and accomplish the goal at hand.

Wexler: Does this impact your approach to getting guns off the street?

Commissioner Harrison: We always want to make sure our officers are being safe. We take a lot of guns off the streets of Baltimore, because there are a lot of guns on the streets of Baltimore. We recognize that dynamic, and we recognize the culture of violence that exists here and that we deal with every day.

With that in mind, we’re not suggesting in any way that officers take their eyes off the people who they suspect could be illegally carrying guns. We absolutely want to make sure we’re responding appropriately. But we want to make sure that we’re not painting everybody with the same broad brush by treating every group of individuals we see as a group that’s out carrying guns. When we make that assessment and suspect that’s the case, we will apply the appropriate policing tactics to intervene and make that scene safe by removing that gun and that bad actor.

The goal here is to make sure the officers understand how to engage the person who may not be violating the law. And we want them to recognize when it is appropriate to elevate their suspicion because their observations are aligned with the law on reasonable suspicion. Then we act appropriately.

Wexler: How do you expect officers to handle situations involving people in a mental health crisis?

Commissioner Harrison: We’re in the process of training and retraining members on Crisis Intervention Team Training and behavioral health. We want them to be able to recognize a mental health crisis, how to take appropriate action, and how to refer people to other services when necessary.

We’re also working on a joint model that would have a health care provider be the lead responder to these types of calls. And in the future, there could be a solo response from a health care provider. But until that time, we’re training our officers to recognize these calls and appropriately handle them in the least intrusive manner possible.

Wexler: How would you say you’re progressing on the consent decree?

Commissioner Harrison: I think this has been a long time coming, and we’re proud of the progress we’re making as we move forward through this consent decree. We look forward to the day when the Baltimore Police Department will be a model for other departments, and we think we’re well on our way.

Wexler: Are the goals of reducing crime and implementing a consent decree mutually exclusive?

Commissioner Harrison: No, they’re not mutually exclusive, because it’s been done before. We did it in New Orleans, other cities have done it, and it’s actually happening here in Baltimore.

They are connected. As we build relationships and regain community trust, people are more apt to speak with us about crime issues that they may have been apprehensive to speak with us about in the past. They will be more inclined to help us because we’ve shown them that we can keep them safe and protect them.

It has been done before, and that’s how we know it can be done again.



PERF previously asked members to share information about how they are supporting officer wellness during the pandemic.

We received the following message from the Douglas County, CO Sheriff’s Office (DCSO):

In January of 2019, DCSO created a wellness program that put the peer support team, chaplain, and wellness under one umbrella. We secured a state grant that covers mental health costs for our agency. We contract with 3 different culturally competent psychologists. Any member of the Sheriff’s Office can contact the psychologist directly to make an appointment, as we respect the confidentiality of our members.

Once we secured some great mental health services, we began branching out with other services. Here is what we provide to all of our members:

  • In-house chiropractic services
  • In-house massage therapy
  • In-house acupuncturist
  • In-house physical therapist
  • In-house neurofeedback
  • Partnership with a gym that provides free workouts with trainers
  • 5 hour in-service resiliency training
  • Multiple resiliency classes for members and their families, like date night, marriage retreats, healthy coping strategies, and financial courses, to name a few
  • Created a regional peer support team with 8 law enforcement agencies and 5 fire agencies.

It is apparent that the current environment has increased stressors for law enforcement, on top of an already stressful job. Our peer support team tracks data with peer contacts, and one of our biggest issues last year was career stress. We also have seen a 35% increase in mental health services.  For 2021, the primary focus of the wellness program is to find ways to reduce stress for our members through in-service trainings, briefings and every other opportunity we have to help our members out


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.