Michael A Wood Jr, takes Aaron Wolfe (writer, filmmaker at Slate) through an eye-opening tour of the Baltimore streets that he used to patrol and explains the issues that he sees…
That’s why the recent emergence of Michael Wood Jr., a retired Baltimore cop, as a critic of law enforcement culture landed with impact: His voice was the relatively rare one that spoke with the knowledge of an insider but the unforgiving skepticism of an outsider.
In this video, you’ll meet Wood while he drives the streets of the city where he served as a police officer for 11 years, and hear him lay out his conception of what’s going wrong in the world of policing and how it could be made right.
On August 5, 2015, Michael A. Wood Jr, sat down for an interview w/ Kovie Biakolo of ThoughtCatalog.com
Michael A. Wood Jr. is an ex-Baltimore police officer who became well-known throughout the country for speaking out against police brutality in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, and the subsequent protests that ensued in Baltimore earlier this year. In the following dialogue, he discusses his thoughts and positions on institutional racism, policing, and the need for police reform.
“On August 3, I conducted a phone interview with former Baltimore Police [Sergeant] Michael Wood (not pictured above, but still, motorcycles), who entered the national conversation about policing this past June with a series of tweets documenting the problematic and abusive practices he witnessed while a Baltimore police officer. Our discussion touched on a variety of issues including police culture, training, the prospects for reform and who should have a seat at the table in that discussion.” – Roberto Alejandro
Visit the website to play the interview, but also just visit his website, the work is very good and helps move the discussion forward honestly. This conversation is very laid back and it like having a normal conversation with me. If you want to hear me be 100% professional, this one isn’t for you, but really if you want someone 100% profession, I’m probably not your guy anyway.
There is section of Baltimore that separates the Eastern district from the Southeastern district called the Monument Street Corridor. The area had become a focal point for Police Commissioner Bealefeld to combat violent crime. A special unit was created, the Monument Street Initiative. The unit was tasked with the dangerous job that Commissioner Bealefeld throws out as a tagline, going after “bad guys with guns.”
It was a typically dark and cold March night in Baltimore. Three of Baltimore’s police officers were working past midnight in the Monument Street Initiative, riding through that Monument Street Corridor, looking for the signs of “bad guys with guns.” Two of those officers would soon be rushed to Shock Trauma from gunshot wounds.
The officers spotted a vehicle occupied by an individual wanted for questioning in a shooting. They waited for a traffic violation, to solidify their probable cause just in case something was found in the vehicle, and conducted a traffic stop. Going after “bad guys with guns,” in the high crime location specified by Bealefeld. The distinct odor of marijuana emanated from the vehicle. The officers ordered the occupants to exit the vehicle.
One of the occupants of the vehicle immediately began to fight the officers and physically assault them. The suspect broke free and retrieved a semi-automatic handgun from the vehicle and began shooting at the officers. The officers returned fire and killed the suspect, but not until after the suspect had shot Police Officer Keith Romans in the face and Police Officer Jordan Moore in the hand. Officer Romans, a former United States Marine, stood strong and returned fire despite the profuse bleeding and pain. The two wounded officers were immediately taken to Shock Trauma, Officer Romans in a fight for his life.
Remarkably, Keith not only survived, but he was released from the hospital three days later despite the trauma caused by a bullet passing through his jaw and into his brain. Doctors said his determination to fight for his life is what saved him. Keith had his jaw wired shut for three months, and he attended therapy for the rest of the year.
He continues to have painful headaches because the bullet could not safely be removed and remains in his head, but his positive outlook and determination to make the best of a bad situation has helped him carry on.
For his bravery the night of the shooting, Keith has been nominated by his Lieutenant for a Medal of Honor. Lt. Garrity says there is no doubt “his actions that night were heroic.” Keith and his two partners were also named Police Officers of the Year by the Knights of Columbus. Just one month after the shooting, Keith and his fiancée decided to seize the moment and marry, and their family and friends helped them plan a small wedding and party held the very next evening. As Keith says, “I’m happy to be alive.” – America’s Most Wanted All-Star Award, nomination bio.
Officer Romans was awarded the Medal of Honor and the Citation of Valor for his actions that night. Officer Romans is a hero, undeniably, and should be treated like one, right? So, at this moment, what do you think happened to Officer Romans?
Treated like a hero, Officer Romans was not. Despite sacrificing time away from his friends and family, by working the brutal hours of the Baltimore Police Department’s operations units (usually 7pm-3am with Sunday and Monday or Monday and Tuesday off) and getting up every day in time to make it to 9am court (imagine what that does to your life), going after Bealefeld’s “bad guys with guns,” risking his life to serve the city of Baltimore, standing strong while injured to return fire, having honorably served in the Armed Forces, and so much more, Officer Romans was thrown away like so many other things that get swept under the rug in Baltimore.
It used to be that officers who were injured in the line of duty and were left disabled would stay as an instructor or in a desk position, something would be found. The blinded Agent Cassidy, who taught at the academy for many years after being shot, is an example. It is not only police tradition to take care of those that were disabled after risking their lives, it is simply the human thing to do. But now, not even Agent Cassidy is a member of the Baltimore Police Department because it has established a hardline medical policy. That policy, in short, requires any injured officer to return to 100% full duty within a year, if not they will have 90 days to file for a disability pension or be terminated, yes terminated.
The decision to make that policy came from good intentions, as so many bad ideas do. With a significant percentage of the BPD force unable to work the streets because of medical limitations. Most of those on limited duty were not there for long and the names rotated frequently because of the many minor injuries and sicknesses that happen with over 2,800 members. Some of those names were on medical for extremely long periods of time and some seemed to be taking advantage of the system. To cut down on malignant members and avoid allegations of bias, the BPD made the blanket policy of a one year maximum. The BPD effectively shifts the costs from their budget to that of the pension system, which is largely funded by…do you know? Other police officers.
Once forced to apply for a disability pension, like Officer Romans was, one of three things can happen:
LOD: A line of duty disability pension is awarded. The member will be retired and awarded 66.66% of the average of the member’s last three years of salary and the award is tax free.
Non-LOD: A non-line of duty disability pension is awarded. The member will be retired and awarded the 2.5% per year of service of the member’s last three years of salary pension that they have been paying for an earned regardless. This is essentially retiring early but tax free.
Denied: The pension board denies the award of a disability pension and the member is retained by the BPD in a permanent limited duty status. Their career cannot progress, stuck in desk jobs, and must retire immediately upon reaching the qualifications for a normal service retirement.
Officer Romans was immediately granted a line of duty disability pension which seems okay, but appearances are very deceiving. There are a few things to keep in mind that are subject to another discussion, BPD salary is low compared to surrounding jurisdictions, there have been many promises broken by Baltimore (tuition reimbursement, pension contribution rate, medical insurance contributions, et cetera), BPD officers are over worked, and more. The biggest problem for Officer Romans was that he was a rookie, forced out from this heroic act with only 3 years on the job. There is a big pay difference between a rookie BPD officer and veteran officer.
This article will be concluded with what a hero like Officer Romans receives and it is so incredibly despicable that it should literally make you sick. Keep in mind what Officer Romans did, what he went through, what he sacrificed, that (unlike other departments) BPD does not include overtime in pension benefits, that police do not pay into or receive social security benefits, and that the BPD shifts the entire medical insurance premium onto the separated member that has less than 5 years of service. The question that remains, is how any supervisor, leader, citizen, can look a person in the eye and tell them to be an aggressive police officer and go after these, “bad guys with guns?”
Salary average with 3 years of service (for Officer Romans): $42,000
66.66% of that $42,000: $28,000
Medical insurance premium with wife and child per bi-weekly paycheck: $600
Per year of that medical insurance: $15,600
Disability pension minus medical insurance: $12,400
Per week pension for a disabled hero that sacrificed all: $238
That’s $142 per week less than an unemployment payout, $212 per week less than a social security disability pension benefit.
For those that do not see it my way. Those who think police need to continue on this war against its citizens. That police need to ensure ultimate compliance with the law, for our safety, of course. What does your vision of the future look like? I see it as armed occupiers, armored vehicles, and cameras on every corner, ensuring that the servants obey the masters. Even if you are right and that is the safest path. Is that the vision of the future that we want to work towards? Do we want to spend our money, sacrifice the lives of our loved ones, imprison our fellow human beings in cages, criminalize those in need of mental/medical care, pick up the bodies of youths lost to the inevitable wars of prohibition, and imprison our lives in fears of the others? Or, do we want to band together and strive towards the visions I speak of along with, DeRay McKesson, Bree Newsome, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and many others. Our future is a different one altogether. It is a world in which human beings return to being one.