Real-Life Baltimore Police Corruption Report Reads Like Storyline for A Sixth Season of The Wire

·3 min read
The Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force was as rotten a squad as any detail in American policing. The public is just learning exactly how bad it was.
The Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force was as rotten a squad as any detail in American policing. The public is just learning exactly how bad it was.

If there had been a sixth season of The Wire–and God, we wish there was–it would have been about the Baltimore Police Department’s historically corrupt Gun Trace Task Force. Showrunners wouldn’t need to look far for source material, because a new report about the squad and how it came to be its own criminal enterprise reads like the best of creator David Simon’s scripts.

It has everything: Drug dealing cops who could’ve picked up where the infamous Stanfield and Barksdale crews left off, plainclothes detectives who took off stash houses with the effectiveness of Omar Little in his prime (RIP Michael K. Williams), plus beatings, shootings and enough institutional rot to thread a backstory about the steady decline of post-post-industrial urban America.

Just imagine this scene set in The Pit after D’Angleo Barksdale’s death in prison, or in one of the West Side rowhouses that once served as a Marlo Stanfield stash:

From the Baltimore Sun

One convicted officer who spoke to the investigative team, Victor Rivera, joined the force in 1994 and said he learned early from others how to get “down and dirty” — beating suspects who ran from them in order to teach them a lesson.

In 1997, during the execution of a residential search and seizure warrant, Rivera and a senior officer found cash, according to Rivera’s account. They exchanged a glance and a shrug. The supervisor, identified as William Knoerlein, allegedly took the money and shared a couple hundred dollars with Rivera after they left the scene, a practice that Rivera said continued for years.

“I’ve got dirt on you, you’ve got dirt on me,” Knoerlein allegedly told Rivera, who was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison last year for lying about stealing cocaine in 2009.

Riveting television, right? Come to think of it, that last part also has echoes of Denzel Washington’s psychopathic Alonzo Harris in Training Day.

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The problem is this isn’t fiction. It all really happened. Literally off of it, including the part where an allegedly dirty cop was mysteriously shot in the head the day before he was scheduled to testify against his former buddies on the squad. He had been granted immunity from prosecution for his testimony, and his yet-unsolved murder is the central story in another HBO show, the documentary The Slow Hustle, which landed last month.

There are 500 pages of anecdotes, interviews and dissection of the blanket failure of Baltimore’s police and city government’s failure to do anything about it all, which makes the treatise more of a dissertation than a simple report. This is bound to be taught to 400-level criminal justice students on college campuses in the near future.

The report itself cost the citizens of Charm City (maybe more like Harm City) more than $4.4 million to produce according to the Sun. Some of the cops it mentions, including former gun task force leader Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, will be in prison for more than two decades. Others, though, are still on the Baltimore Police Force.

That fact should have everyone anticipating, and dreading, the second book in the series.

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