On the eve of the trial of six officers accused in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, outspoken former Baltimore officer and anti-police brutality activist Michael A. Wood, Jr. discussed the need for fundamental changes in American policing.
The officers are facing a slew of charges, including second degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Gray, 25, who died with massive injuries he sustained in a police van in April. His death lead to widespread protests and civil unrest which was quelled when the indictments were announced.
Wood, who retired with a medical injury, has since spoken out about his time as an 11-year Baltimore PD officer and his observations about what’s broken in the criminal justice system.
In an interview with the Real News Network, Wood said the very basis of police work is wrong. Police are measured by the number of arrests they make, not by their success in deescalating and resolving situations peacefully.
“So, you have the metric in policing, which is arrest,” he said. “So every officer is judged upon their arrests. So you don’t get credit for deescalating a situation. Say it takes an hour to deescalate a situation but you could have moved on in 5 minutes by making an arrest, well then the easy route is that you’re going to get credit for the arrest… so you may as well do it.”
Wood said there are no “official” arrest quotas, but officers that don’t make enough arrests are seen as not working hard enough, he said. As a supervisor, Wood expected his officers to make about 10 arrests a month.
“Certainly that’s part of the problem, I was pushing them for arrests,” he said. About 90 percent of what he did as an officer was “go chase drug arrests.”
He was “brainwashed” by the “blue Kool-Aid,” but began to break out of the mindset doing surveillance. That’s when the “us versus them” mentality broke down, because Wood said he was watching the people he was targeting having normal, human lives.
“We planted a tree of criminal justice in this evil soil, so everything we get out of it is going to be bad as well,” he said. “It’s the proverbial fruit of a poisonous tree, because we’re starting from a bad foundation.”
Watch the interview here: