The breakdown that led to the shooting of a University of Maryland police officer during a training exercise last week does not appear to be a matter of insufficient policies and procedures. The Baltimore City Police Department, whose officer has been identified as having shot the trainee in the head after mistakenly pulling his service weapon, has policies in place that should have prevented this from happening. The problem appears to be that they were not followed, and the department's main focus needs to be on determining who was at fault — and, most likely, dismissing them from the force.
Multiple investigations into the incident are under way, and the picture of what happened Tuesday afternoon is not complete. However, it is clear that the training exercise was conducted without the knowledge of top commanders, including the director of the department's training academy, and that no supervisors were on site. The department's top brass didn't even know that city officers were using the abandoned buildings at the shuttered Rosewood Center site in Owings Mills. The officer who fired the shot, identified as 18-year veteran William Scott Kern, was reportedly on site but not participating in a drill when, evidently intending a joke, he reached for what he thought to be a paint cartridge pistol and instead grabbed his loaded handgun and pointed it at recruits who were looking through a window from another room.
The University of Maryland officer, who has not been identified, was struck in the head but survived. Whether he will ultimately recover and to what degree is unknown. Another officer was injured by the broken glass from the window.
Ultimately, though, such an investigation will not determine all those at fault because it will not reveal who knew what and when about the exercise, who authorized it and whether the culture of safety in Baltimore police training exercises has been compromised. Police Commissioner
That is essential to rebuilding public trust and restoring the reputation of his agency. A useful model for him to consider is the aftermath of the training death six years before — almost to the day — of Baltimore fire cadet Racheal Wilson. She was killed during a live burn exercise in February 2007, and within two weeks, the head of the Baltimore Fire Department's training academy had been fired amid reports of widespread safety violations. Ultimately, three people would lose their jobs over Ms. Wilson's death, and it would be a factor in Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr.'s resignation nine months later. Then-mayor
Mr. Batts has been on the job for six months and is still remaking the agency. He had changed the oversight of the agency's training activities within the last few weeks, putting an officer who had previously headed the department's fiscal section in charge, and placing the division under his chief of staff rather than a deputy commissioner. He also hired
Mr. Batts said after the shooting that he would "do everything in my power [to] find out what happened and [make sure] something like this never happens again." That's going to take more than, for example, creating rules to prevent officers from carrying loaded handguns in training drills. Those rules already exist, and the department's training procedures are already subject to regular outside audits. The situation requires finding fault, assigning blame and taking action against those whose negligence and poor judgment contributed to an entirely preventable tragedy. It is a major test for a new commissioner, and both the public and the members of his force are going to be watching him closely.