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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Below I've posted an interview conducted by Investigative Voice with Irving Bradley, a recently retired Baltimore City police officer. I found the interview to be really interesting and thought it might be a good jumping off point for some good discussion...assuming we can remain civil. At the very least, I hope everyone finds it an interesting read.

HOMICIDE HEAT - PART I: Life, death and working the streets in Baltimore's homicide unit
Monday, 06 July 2009 00:19

By Stephen Janis

Irving Bradley has been a Baltimore police officer for nearly 30 years. Half of his tenure was spent in the department’s elite homicide unit, where Bradley tracked down killers for more than 15 years in one of the country’s most violent cities.

Just four days into his retirement, the 55-year-old lifelong cop agreed to speak with Investigative Voice and share his thoughts about crime, punishment, and the fine line between life and death on Baltimore’s mean streets.

I.V.: The city has been stubbornly violent for decades. What needs to change to actually lower the crime rate in Baltimore?

I.B.: I think that the whole system should be proactive rather than reactive. Everybody points the finger at the police department, and we can also use more resources and more cooperation; however, we need cooperation from City Hall and other agencies.

When I was a kid growing up in Baltimore City, months prior to the summer break you could fill out paper work to get a summer job.

But the city just hired 7,000 students.

Yeah, but how many kids live in the city? How many kids in the city are looking for a job? And it’s not only the kids that are looking for jobs, the parents don’t have the jobs. They have nothing to do but hang on that corner and get involved in illicit activities; they have nothing to do.

So unlike the currently popular theory of criminality, that it is a moral failing, most people don’t pick criminality as their first vocation?

People are not looking to be criminals but that’s the track they stay on because they see it as the only way out. I think if they had another avenue they would take it. But they see drugs as their best shot.

Let’s be honest: They watch television, they watch the ball players and the rappers have all this wealth and they want it. How else are they going to get it? If they wanted to work and get a job, half of them have records anyway. And who is going to hire you for a job if you have braids in your hair, or that uncombed look or your pants hanging down below your butt?

So even when it comes to murderers, is it about options?

We have both stone-cold killers and people who took a wrong turn somewhere. If they didn’t have access to a weapon, for example. Or they get into a fight and lose, and then go home and get their gun. They could be the most cowardly kid in the world, and they get a gun and they’re real brave.

So if murder is in a sense that random, what can you do as a police officer?

When I worked out in the patrol, I had the neighborhood where I would just talk to the people, talk to everyone. If there was a problem I would straighten it out. [I heard,] 'He isn't coming home, he isn’t doing this,' and I said,' I’ll take care of it.'

So what would you do?

Go and have a talk with him. I would use some words I can’t mention here, but then the mom would be happy. 'Is he coming home now?,' and I would say, 'Call me when he doesn’t.'

We have kids in the police department I used to police; they were scared to death when they saw me coming but now they’re in the department. We’re talking kids from Cherry Hill, Fairfield, different parts of the city where I worked. It’s just a matter of knowing your area, and you have to not be afraid to go into your area when you’re off-duty, to know the people, to understand the people.

We have a policy in this police department that you should not associate with people of questionable character. I like playing basketball, Druid Park, Cloverdale, Cherry Hill; I go all over the city to get basketball games. A lot of times you got to play basketball and it’s just people from the community, but what am I going to do, run his record?

How am I supposed to police people I can’t associate with? But that’s the way it is, and that’s the way we get separated from the community.Wwe can’t police against people. I’m a big guy, 6' 4', 250 [pounds], I’m not afraid of anybody in this city. Still I’d rather come across somebody in good a way, a positive way rather than a negative way.

So why is there so much tension between the police department and the community?

One issue is I think some of the people being hired now believe there are certain areas where you don’t have to treat people with respect. They drive by and say, 'Get off the steps, get off the steps or I’ll lock you up.' They’re on their steps in their own neighborhood. What are they supposed to do, where are they supposed to go? You gotta be the same everywhere you go, and you have to earn respect. Somebody gives me respect, I’ll give them respect. When they cross that line I don’t care what neighborhood they’re in, then it’s on.

How long were you in the homicide unit?

I was in homicide for 15 years, for a few years I was detailed in the Northwest District because a lot of prostitutes were being murdered; a lot of women were being murdered. It was back in the early to mid-1990s. They put investigators up there, it kind of stopped. I always thought it was somebody who was robbed or given a disease by a prostitute.

What are the strangest or the most difficult cases you’ve worked?

As always the babies, the kids. For instance, the Park Heights case, which I can’t get into because we don’t know if the case is going to come back. (In 2004, three children were found beheaded in a Park Heights apartment; the two men convicted are currently appealing.) It was not a pleasant crime scene when you see kids like that. One of the detectives, Tommy Martin, it really affected him. He was on the crime scene for 24, holding it down. He eventually got out of the rotation and got into cold case. He told me, 'Irv, every time I close my eyes I still see those kids.'

So it’s always the kids' cases, innocent kids, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. To me, when the hustlers go at it, meaning Pookie on Black, both of them with extensive records who have already done mean or evil things to someone else and they just bump heads, I say if you want to be gansta than be a gansta; here’s the result.

As always, everybody says, 'You kill my boy, I’m going back to retaliate.' There’s no consequential thinking. That’s why juvenile justice is so important. To me the first time these kids get into trouble, depending on what it is, you need to punish them. A lot of times you fill out the paperwork and call the parent to the station and they sign the kid out and a few hours later you don’t where he is.

Given how intractable violence is then, have things gotten better or worse since you joined the force?

It’s gotten worse; it was bad when I came here but it’s even worse now. You got to hold family members responsible for kids; if you take care of the small things the big things take care of themselves. I grew up in a neighborhood where we would throw a football around, you hit Mr. Wilson’s car, by the time your mother got home your mother knew because people talked. Now you have a murder 12 noon, 90 degrees outside and the only thing people say is, 'I didn’t see nothing.'

Timothy Hebron, a witness is a murder case, was gunned down in April. Aren’t people justifiably afraid to share information with the police?

I let people make their own decision. We can try to protect you -- if someone says something to you or threatens you, we will relocate you. But I cannot sit on their house night and day and follow them around.

Still, I commend people for coming forward and testifying. I think the BPD should recognize them, should do more for thanking them for coming forward.

Remember, sometimes people are just as fed up as we are. If they come forward we would have an excellent clearance rate.

The clearance rate has improved this year, but still there are hundreds of unsolved cases. What do you see beside reluctant witnesses as the barrier to closing more cases?

In homicide, we need more time. There was a period of time recently when a supervisor would say you have two hours to work on the case, just two hours. It can take two or three hours just to track down one witness. You go to the house, you say, 'Is John Doe or Jane Doe here?' and someone at the door says, 'He ain't here,' and yet you know he’s in there.

So you get up early in the morning or late at night, we have an operations unit that will look for them, you have to be creative. But then you’re talking about six people looking for one guy. Believe me, it takes time. A lot of people talk about the overtime -- if it’s only two hours we don’t even put in the overtime slip. A lot of times I’ve worked a little more... I don’t even put the slip in. The guys give back just as much as they think they’re getting. You’re away from your friends, family, you gotta get paid.

HOMICIDE HEAT, PART II - Life, death and working the streets in Baltimore's homicide unit
Tuesday, 07 July 2009 07:35

By Stephen Janis

Irving Bradley has been a Baltimore police officer for nearly 30 years. Half of his tenure was spent in the department’s elite homicide unit, where Bradley tracked down killers for more than 15 years in one of the country’s most violent cities.

Just four days into his retirement, the 55-year-old lifelong cop agreed to speak with Investigative Voice and share his thoughts about crime, punishment, and the fine line between life and death on Baltimore’s mean streets. This is the second half of the interview.The first half was published Monday.

I.V.: Does it take a toll, the ongoing grind of violence?

I.B.: When I first started, you go to an autopsy you’re like, I can’t deal with this, I’m not going to able to eat, But after a while you say, I’m hungry let’s go get something to eat It’s a job, you get used to. You got a job to do, you go out and do it and get it done.

What about informing loved ones that their relative has been murdered. What is that like?

That’s one of the toughest things in the world. Even though their son shouldn’t have been born with his record and the stuff he was into, and he has beaten a murder charge or a couple of murder charges and you say, man, what is he doing out? But it’s always tough to tell any mother no matter how no good her son is; it’s always tough to tell any mother. I’ve gone on next-of-kin notification and they start yelling at me before I can say a word “What do you want now, you all are always harassing my son, he didn’t do a thing, and he was here.” And I say 'Ma'am, when was he here?' And I’ll say, Ma'am, is your son such and such'... you gotta get all the vital information. 'I’m sorry, ma'am, we got to be the one who tells you but your son was shot and he didn’t survive.' Then there’s a moment of silence and then they start screaming. You can’t get anything else.

What do you think when you see all these young men dying?

I see living conditions and situations that lead to trouble. I see young men that have a lot of kids and the judge has said you have to pay child support or we’re going to throw you jail. They don’t think they have any options and the way they think they can get things done is through violence and being in the game. And I ask them I say why you don’t get out it and they say it’s either me or them.

In other words, I kill them or they kill me. So I’ll ask them, why don’t you just get out of the game?, And they say, 'How I’m going to take care of myself? and I’ll say, you ever hear of a legitimate job? And they say, 'Ain’t nobody going to hire me.' You hear a million stories. I grew up in this city; I always kept a job, or a summer job.

But do you think there were more opportunities for you?

I think back in the day there was a little more opportunity; somebody would hire you to do something. But some people say, 'I don’t want to work at McDonalds' and I say if they’re paying you a salary, it’s better than standing on the corner looking over your shoulder for the police or contemplating robbing the corner store. They just make a bad decision. Like picking up that gun, bad decision. If you think about it for ten seconds, you probably wouldn’t even do it.

Has anyone ever expressed regret over making a bad decision in the box?

I’ve heard that. They’re like wish they had thought about. It happened so fast. They’re hot-headed. Like the 5-year-old little’s a street fight but someone had to go get a gun. So you got your butt whipped, maybe you win the next time - head up, fists. Naturally they don’t be going to the range they get they’re shooting for television so they’re always shooting sideways.

Is there a difference between a stone cold killer and a person that made a bad decision?

You mean what does a killer look like? They get immune to it, they’re get used to getting away with them, and it doesn’t bother them. They have that coldness to them. I always wonder what they’re really thinking.

Can you tell when people are lying?

Yes, one of the things is movement, don’t look you in the eyes, being somewhat agitated, saying ‘Man, you already asked me that same question.’ Or ‘I don’t know nothing.' Then I’ll say, ‘You like basketball?' 'Yeah.' 'Who’s your favorite team?' The Bulls.' You see you do know something, so don’t tell me you don’t know nothing. '

What’s the best approach, when you’re interviewing a homicide suspect?

They watch television; they already know nice guy, bad guy routine. I say, 'Look, I don't know you, don’t know me. You already know what I want to know, you know why you're up here. I don’t want to waste your time, I don’t want you to waste my time.' Sometimes they come through, sometimes they don’t. But there are other ways to get to them. We have their records, we know who they know, girlfriend, baby’s mamas. So tell them we we need to go to such and such address and pick up some evidence and they say 'Man, you don’t got to go over there,' and I’ll say, 'Let’s talk then. That baby mama isn’t going to welcome you if the police come knocking on that door because of something you might have stashed there.'

What percentage of your murder cases are drug-related?

I’m willing to say at least 75 drug-related or dispute over something, or disrespect. I had one guy who shot someone, and I asked why did you shoot him? And he said “he gave me a hard look. He disrespected me.' How’s that..he gave me a hard look.

I just shook my head. A man murdered for a hard look.

It’s almost like you can't look at somebody. Even now, I see it when I’m in my truck, I am at a light, four or five people have rap on and are looking hard, and I say, how are you doing? And they don’t know what to think. They think I’m going to look back hard. They don’t know what to do.

So what is the root of this anger on the streets?

They’re mad at themselves or mad at their parents for being born. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth but I ain’t mad at my mom.

You ever try to talk to them?

I’ve talked to kids and say, Look, you're out in this world trying to hustle, you’re going to end up in jail, dead or poor. Show me somebody that made it through. You can’t say Peanut King or Rudy Williams, you can’t say any of them because all of them are dead or in jail. You can’t make it out.'

And what do they say?

Some of them go, 'I’ll take my chances,' or some say, 'What am I supposed to do?' I say, 'Get a job and work hard.' But until they hit bottom for real, they’re not going to change. Like I said, nobody wants to see their kids in jail as juveniles; however, if we make it so unpleasant the first couple of times they would probably never want to go back. If we made it stricter, it would make a difference.

Do ever feel like it's hopeless?

I wouldn’t say hopeless because hopeless means that you’re giving up. Everything changes...they change, and we should change. We can’t keep on fighting crime like we did 30 years ago.

So there is a limit to what police can do? What do you think should change?

We need to take the profit out of the drug game.

Legalize drugs?

They made alcohol legal and look what happened. You take the profit out of drugs and think of what would happen with the crime rate. You can legalize certain drugs and if you want it you can go to Hopkins or University of Maryland Hospital to get it, you sign a waiver. Most people say crime will pick up elsewhere, there will be more robberies or whatever, but if you take the profit out of drugs you will see a drop in crime.

I think taking the profit motive out of drugs should be seriously considered, and I think they should look into it and do a study. When you look into it and do a study it’s alright to have people with Ph.D’s but you’re going to need some grassroots people too, you’re going to people from the street, you’re going to need to get everybody in on this study to make this decision.

We know drugs have destroyed this city, but we’ve haven’t changed how we fight crime, so it hasn’t gotten any better, not since I’ve been here. I talk to new officers and they ask me an important question, 'Let me ask you, Bradley, has it gotten any better since you started? And I say, 'No, it has not. '

Communities have just been ripped down by drugs, torn down bit by bit until all you have is a vacant lot. A city of empty lots, that what’s the drug war has bought us. Pennsylvania Avenue used to be a vibrant place. And now, after all these communities have been destroyed, people say, look at all these kids coming down to the Inner Harbor doing this and doing that. But they're just looking for something to do, where are they supposed to go? Can’t sit on the stoop in your neighborhood because you’ll get locked up, so they come downtown.

Despite the fact that things have gotten worse, do you feel like you made a difference?

I feel good about myself, I know that I made a difference. You always wish that you could do more. I have some families that are happy that I was here to help them out. And some families of the bad guys that, truthfully, who used to hate me who say now if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be alive.

I did a lot even as a patrol officer. I was creative. I mean, you have rules and regulations and we try to abide by them, but sometimes you have to improvise. Someone cusses their grandmother out again or strong arms her for twenty dollars. And you say, 'Ma'am, do I have your permission to address this issue?' And they say, 'Yes, you do.'

I locked up the grandfathers, the fathers, the sons. And now I’m working on their kids, and I say, man I’ve been around here a long time. People want to frown upon being creative but sometimes that’s what you need.

Sometimes it seems the challenges for the officers are more daunting inside headquarters than out on the street.

There are a lot of good police officers out there trying to do good, but then you see how they messed with Terry Love, very few people looked out for him, he was on his own. He prevailed, and then the prosecutors put him on the do-not-call list [to testify] and you have to ask, What were they thinking? These poples are supposed to be thinkers, then put him on the list and ruin his career.

Why do you think they went after him?

Because he filed a complaint, an EEOC complaint, with Sergeant [Kelvin] Sewell, and I think that’s why they went after him.

Is the disciplinary system broken as [former trial board chief] JoAnn Woodson- Branche claims?

Yes, it is, it is broken. Lieutenant [James] Hagin used his influence to go after Terry Love, and I’m calling him by name, and I think he’s still trying to get those guys in trouble. They’re terrible, the have three senior prosecutors on Terry’s case and you have a murder trial going on with one junior prosecutor in the next courtroom. And they dug this guy up, Andre Thomas, they dug him up and brought him back.

How does a case like Love’s, where he takes action off-duty and is then prosecuted, affect the mindset of police officers?

It made me feel like I want to retire. The suspect threatened to blow up a barbershop; if you didn’t do anything and he came back and killed someone, you would be punished, in fact you might get sent to jail, but when you act to protect people you still get punished.

So what needs to be done to protect police officers inside headquarters?

We need a truly independent watch group; I don’t think the mayor should pick them or the governor or a commissioner. I think the feds should send a watch group to oversee the department, it has to be a neutral party who does not owe nobody nothing, that’s going to be the only thing that will clean this up. It’s so important. We, meaning police, all sit around and realize we should have been more forceful, and in we I mean all officers collectively should have spoken out against the system being broken.

If we can’t get justice inside the police can the citizens get any justice if we can’t? How can we expect the citizens to come forward for justice if we aren’t treating our own right?

As an African-American officer what’s your take on the settlement of the federal discrimination lawsuit?

I’m glad it was settled. That’s been going on for a long time and it’s finally came to a head. I know for a fact high-ranking black officials are not happy. Are they going to say it? No, they’re just as afraid of retaliation, and you have white high-ranking officials who know things are wrong that don’t speak up.

We do all sorts of brave things all day long. You can call the police and say there’s a guy in a building with three Uzis and we’ll run in and take action. But when we see they’re treating these guys wrong, we all become chicken. We’re brave in one situation but not in others.

You served under probably a dozen different police commissioners; who was your favorite?

Ed Norris, he was a breath of fresh air. Under Norris you could be a police officer again. I remember one time he was late for a meeting in Western District and we were all like, “Where is the police commissioner?” Turns out he was busting a drug deal he saw on the way over to the station.

Under Norris a situation like Terry Love’s case never would have happened. He supported us and let us do our jobs, and I think we did better under him because of it.

7,396 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Aside from providing an honest look into how Baltimore is policed, the two things that I like about what he has to say are that he addresses the many roots of crime in Baltimore and, more importantly, recognizes that solving the crime problem is going to require some creative thinking. I've heard people refer to Baltimore as the City of Firsts, and that may have been true at one time, but the only original thought this city has had in my life time was making Camden Yards a downtown ballpark.

Giving stricter sentences to repeat offenders is a start, in my opinion, although I realize that the reason for criminals getting lighter sentences has more to do with a lack of resources than any debate over the harshness of punishments. In any event, it's not a new idea, but certainly one that we should move towards.

The real innovative idea mentioned in the interview is the legalization of certain drugs. It's been floated around by a few people in Baltimore, most notably socialist mayoral candidate Robert Kaufman, but not surprisingly, it's never been taken seriously by government officials. There are certainly some question marks, like whether a municipal solution can resolve a global problem. But the logic, that by legalizing drugs you take the profit away from the dealers, is sound enough that it should warrant some genuine discussion. I particularly like the idea mentioned of giving the licenses to area hospitals to sell them; it makes sense that it they're going to be the ones dealing with the effects, they should be the ones handling the supply.

The story told in this interview is just one more instance of Baltimore's refusal or inability to keep up with modern times and ideas.

106 Posts
Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't a big deal of the problem that Washington/Baltimore has had a long history of democratic leadership that isn't prepared to deal with the problems the right way?
It seems like a lot of "blame ******" talk in these cities instead of answering to the issues.

One could hope that a Bill Cosby/James Manning sort of fella with Giulianian ideas would become mayor. Then perhaps there could be some real change.
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