A Baltimore Police Department officer stands on a street corner during a foot patrol assignment. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

An ongoing failure by Baltimore police internal affairs detectives to investigate misconduct complaints against officers in a timely manner has resulted in 76 such cases expiring without any conclusions on the officers’ guilt or innocence since 2016, the Baltimore Sun has found.

Emails between Baltimore police commanders, obtained by the Sun through a public records request, show a pattern of detectives and their internal affairs supervisors failing to investigate administrative misconduct cases within Maryland’s one-year limit for such work.

Critics of the department have said its failure to fully investigate every complaint against officers is evidence it cannot be trusted to hold itself accountable and needs outside oversight.

The emails show some senior internal affairs officials repeatedly expressing frustration with both the system and the lack of urgency on the part of department leadership to address the problem.

Maj. Stephanie Lansey-Delgado, who was appointed head of internal affairs by then-Commissioner Darryl De Sousa in early 2018, wrote in one April 2018 email to unit supervisors that administrators “have not been aggressive on getting the cases back before expiration.” Administrators “need to have a system where they are tracking the soon to expire [cases] for the entire division to make sure nothing expires,” she wrote in another email.

A lieutenant responded that such a system was in place.

“Well we need to work on the system,” Lansey-Delgado replied, “because a case just expired.”

The partially redacted emails show the issue is far broader than was indicated during a recent court hearing in which 12 cases were tossed by a judge for having been left unresolved for a year. And they expand on the finding this week by federal consent decree monitors that the department struggles to investigate its own, particularly when complaints come from members of the public.

While criminal investigations of officers can extend beyond a year, other administrative cases expire, including citizen complaints about discourteous and dismissive behavior and internal complaints about insubordination, breaches of protocol and serious failures of duty.

The department said this week that 26 internal affairs cases were allowed to expire in 2018 out of more than 2,600 complaints. The department previously said only eight cases expired last year.

In 2017, 22 cases expired. The cases related to a variety of issues, including officers allegedly making “inappropriate comments,” failing to properly investigate a car theft and failing to write a report after using force. In 2016, three cases expired.

An additional 25 cases have expired this year, including the dozen court cases tossed in May, the department said.

In a statement, police spokesman Matt Jablow said Commissioner Michael Harrison, who took over the department in February, “recognizes the significant issues facing our internal affairs operations and the importance of correcting those issues as quickly as possible.”

Jablow said Harrison is “fully committed to establishing a more robust, efficient and effective internal affairs unit to make BPD a significantly better department and help rebuild our relationship with the community we serve.”

Jablow would not answer specific questions.

But the emails provide insight into the unit’s scramble to fix problems. In October — the same month the Sun began asking questions about expiring cases — Lansey-Delgado sent another email noting the “reoccurring issue” and again urging supervisors to better track each investigation’s progress.

“Please review all cases assigned under your supervision and double check with your detectives and sergeants that they are aware of the correct dates,” Lansey-Delgado wrote. “Please also provide an accurate listing of the cases that are due to expire . . . and a status of each case toward completion.”

In a January email after another case expired, Lansey-Delgado urged sergeants to carefully track the expiration dates on ­cases in part because “it was deemed too difficult for the detectives to do it for their own cases” — a claim the department would not explain.

The department repeatedly declined to make Lansey-Delgado available for an interview.

The emails do not identify accused officers by name or outline their alleged offenses, and the department won’t release information related to internal affairs complaints against individual officers.

Commanders hold a weekly meeting called IAstat at which they analyze and seek to improve internal affairs work. It is one of several departmental efforts to improve internal affairs operations in the face of scathing critiques in recent years from Justice Department investigators, federal consent decree monitors and members of the public — all of whom have watched repeated corruption scandals arise within the department.

The Justice Department, in its report precipitating the city’s 2017 consent decree mandating changes, identified internal affairs as a major problem area for the department.

Late last year, the city public defender’s office called for an investigation into what it alleged was a widespread police practice of wrongly expunging internal affairs files of officers accused of misconduct. Last month, a judge tossed out a dozen internal affairs charges against Baltimore police officers because the department filed them too late under the provisions of the state’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.

“I do not grant relief gladly in these cases,” said Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill, noting some involved serious allegations against officers.

Sgt. Mike Mancuso, the president of the police union that represents rank-and-file officers, said the judge was right to throw out the cases, but the department’s failure to promptly adjudicate internal affairs cases does not benefit officers. The one-year limit on investigations was put in place to prevent cases from dragging on, but that’s happening anyway, Mancuso said — and not just in the expired cases.

Most cases in which officers are exonerated, or in which complaints are not sustained, are ruled on only in the final days before they are set to expire, leaving officers to “sit suspended or with a bogus charge hanging over their head for that long,” Mancuso said.

He said the department doesn’t vet the cases for legitimacy early on, as it should. He also said the department is being “unreasonable” with disciplinary offers when it does try to settle cases, resulting in more cases going before full administrative boards than ever.

All of that contributes to morale among officers being “the lowest I have ever seen,” Mancuso said.

Internal affairs is not the only area in which the department has struggled in recent years. Homicides and shootings have been at historic highs. And both the police department and the police union have suggested crime is out of control in part because the department — with a half-billion-dollar annual budget — is understaffed and can’t recruit fast enough to outpace attrition.

The work of the internal affairs unit has long been clouded in secrecy, both for the heightened sensitivity around the investigations it conducts and the state’s protective laws around police personnel files, which are not subject to disclosure under public information laws. Public defenders have accused the office of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby of further obfuscating the public record of police misconduct by withholding internal affairs files of officers they are putting on the witness stand in criminal cases, though Mosby’s office said it has increased transparency in recent years.

The department also has promised increased transparency as part of its efforts to change and regain the public’s trust under the consent decree. But it hasn’t budged on internal affairs issues.

Harrison has said in previous interviews that internal affairs detectives should be the best of the best, and that he is taking a careful look at the unit and its leadership. The department said this week that Harrison is “in the final stages of concluding a national search” to appoint a new deputy commissioner in charge of the Public Integrity Bureau, which oversees internal affairs.

The five-year Crime Reduction & Departmental Transformation Plan that he released last week said the department is moving forward with an “Internal Affairs Modernization” and building an “Early Intervention System” to better track misconduct allegations. It provided no timeline for those improvements.

The total number of internal affairs employees has increased in recent years, even as the total number of complaints against officers has declined, according to department data.

However, the department said those figures are misleading. Individual internal affairs detectives handle more cases than in the past because of a 2016 decision requiring they handle all complaints, including those originating with command staff, it said. Each police district’s staff previously handled such command complaints, which represent the bulk of all complaints, the department said.

The median number of cases being worked on by internal affairs detectives is 58, police said. Figures for past years were not available.

— Baltimore Sun