Salisbury seeks to restore trust in Police Department

Salisbury Police Chief Barbara Duncan.

As part of an effort to rebuild trust in the Salisbury Police Department that has been rocked by several internal investigations in recent months, Chief Barbara Duncan and Mayor Jake Day on Thursday outlined efforts to ensure transparency and boost public confidence.

The Salisbury Police Department Comprehensive Trust Rebuilding Initiative was drafted in response to officer-related incidents of misconduct which came to light in February of this year.

“We had to take a look in the mirror,” said Duncan. “We found an overwhelming amount of positive work happening, but, unfortunately, we also saw some things that don’t reflect where we want to be as an agency. This plan is our roadmap to fixing those things and being a better department every day we’re out there.”

Duncan gave updates on all of the investigations, including one in an evidence mishandling case dating to 2011. Two of the officers were “forthcoming” with information in the case and both were eventually cleared. A third officer elected to take retirement, she said.

“Neither of those individuals have attempted to withhold any evidence from the prosecution whatsoever during the course of their investigation of that residential burglary from 2011,” she said.

All three police officers and an Assistant State’s Attorney were placed on paid leave in February when prosecutors in the Wicomico State’s Attorney’s Office uncovered a troubling 2011 memorandum in its files that indicated evidence and pertinent information may have been withheld in a 2011 criminal case in which three accused people pleaded guilty.

Meanwhile, Duncan also said a separate investigation was launched May 5 after a Salisbury police officer was arrested in another jurisdiction. The officer was placed on suspension after he was released from custody.

Duncan did not name the officer or the charges he is facing.

In another case, a Salisbury officer remains on suspension after he was charged in Delaware of threatening a civilian with a gun, she said. Court proceedings in the case have been postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Coronavirus also has stalled the investigation into thefts from the department’s evidence room, Duncan said.

In February, city officials revealed that thousands of criminal cases handled by the Salisbury Police Department over the past 23 years could be in jeopardy following the discovery of suspected thefts from the department’s evidence storage room. 

The Police Department discovered the problem in the course of a recent internal audit of its property storage facility which found evidence of a series of potentially egregious breaches of internal policy by a civilian employee.

At the time, officials said they were working to gather evidence that would allow that employee — who hasn’t been named — to face charges.

In the meantime, Duncan said the department is advertising someone to oversee the internal audit.

“The Salisbury Police Department is made up of human beings, and human beings make mistakes,” Day said. “That said, when those mistakes cross a legal or ethical line, no title, no badge, no employment or allegiance will prevent justice from prevailing in this city, in this department. Not while I’m at the helm.”

The Trust Rebuilding Initiative is written to reflect the core values of the agency: partnership, respect, integrity, dedication and empowerment.

Among the guidelines are:

  • 100 percent inventory of Property Room under supervision of independent forensic auditor in partnership with Maryland State Police, Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office and Office of the Public Defender.
  • Revive the Citizen Police Academy.
  • Stand up a Criminal Justice Task Force to propose city, county and state institutional changes to law, policy and procedure.
  • Update property room staff structure and authorities.
  • Update property/evidence policies and procedures. 
  • Launch police complaint mediation program.
  • Launch new pathways for citizen complaints.
  • Launch citizen review of Police Department policies. 
  • Continue/expand community relationship building.
  • Continue youth engagement.
  • Explore and launch new deployment tactics. 
  • Field a Community Policing Team.
  • Improve recruiting/retention with public safety tax incentives, expanded benefits package.

“I have been impressed at every step by the actions of Chief Duncan and the command staff at SPD,” Day said. “They have proven their integrity, and their dedication to this city by holding every officer in these investigations accountable for their actions, and they moved swiftly and decisively to lay out a plan of action which I know will restore public trust in the agency.”

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