Police Abuse

A Look at America's Most Corrupt Police

A new book shows how the Baltimore Police Department let dirty cops flourish right under its nose.


I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America's Most Corrupt Police Squad, by Baynard Woods and Brandon Soderberg, St. Martin's Press, 301 pp., $27.99

If there's a worst-case scenario for police corruption, it would look a lot like the tale told in I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America's Most Corrupt Police Squad.

The book, by the reporters Baynard Woods and Brandon Soderberg, pieces together the story of the 2017 Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) scandal, in which a federal investigation has so far led to the conviction of a dozen Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officers on charges of robbery, extortion, racketeering, filing false reports, and lying to federal grand juries.

At the center of the story is Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, the head of the GTTF. Jenkins was a hard-charging cop with a fat misconduct file and a talent for turning up illegal guns and drugs. His crew was filled with other bad apples, including one whose habit of excessive force and petty thievery was so well-known that he's been name-dropped in local rap songs. In addition to committing massive overtime fraud, members of the GTTF padded their incomes by skimming seized cash and targeting drug dealers for robberies. As the book recounts in scenes recreated through court records, wiretap recordings, and interviews, the task force fabricated evidence, lied on search warrant affidavits, entered houses without warrants, and used GPS trackers to conduct illegal surveillance.

If this is making you think of the popular antihero from the TV show The Wire who robbed drug dealers, think again. Unlike the fictional Omar, Jenkins and his crew didn't have a code of honor. They seized heroin and cocaine and moved it through their own connections. They planted guns and drugs on innocent people to cover up their mistakes. Sometimes they just did off-the-books home invasions, with no arrests and no paper trail. The titular "monster" is what Jenkins called big targets.

It's no exaggeration to say the GTTF was a criminal enterprise using the Baltimore Police Department as a front.

Opposing Jenkins was Ivan Bates, a defense attorney in the city. Bates kept picking up cases involving GTTF members where the alleged facts didn't add up and his clients insisted that they had been ripped off. He was diligent where his opponents, ensconced in a system tilted in their favor, were sloppy.

Looming over all the events in the book is the 2015 death at police hands of Freddie Gray, which led to a Justice Department investigation into unconstitutional policing in Baltimore. Investigators would end up sharing a wall with the GTTF's office at BPD headquarters.

At the same time that Bates was on Jenkins' trail, he was also defending the six police officers charged in Gray's death. The lawyer saw the prosecution of those officers by Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, and her outrage over the case, as a cynical ploy: He and other defense attorneys had been bringing evidence of dirty cops to Mosby's office for years and were ignored.

Freddie Gray's death set off riots, and in the wake of the turmoil there was a spike in local homicides. A common narrative holds that the BPD simply withdrew from policing during this period. In fact, the police department took the leash off problem cops like Jenkins. "It's time to go out there and do what you know how to do," a deputy commissioner told BPD plainclothes units several months after the riots. Jenkins, whose career had nearly been derailed by a sustained misconduct complaint, was made head of the GTTF in 2016. 

The BPD brass wanted guns off the street, and it didn't particularly care how that happened. Jenkins and his crew delivered.

Police departments around the country have used similar plainclothes units, often called "jump-out boys," whose modus operandi is to drive up to groups standing around on the sidewalk, chase anyone who runs, and search anyone who doesn't. A criminal defense lawyer in Washington, D.C., once told me that the unmarked SUVs of the Metropolitan Police Department's vice and gun recovery squads were so common in the poorer wards of the District that when they rolled by, young men on the corner would reflexively lift up their shirts to show they didn't have weapons stuffed in their waistbands.

Several major cities have gotten rid of jump-out squads after years of complaints about harassment and excessive force. The New York Police Department disbanded its plainclothes anti-crime unit this June. Baltimore got rid of its plainclothes units in response to the GTTF scandal in 2017.

The tactics aren't limited to big cities, though. I reported in 2017 on a class-action lawsuit by several residents of Canton, Mississippi, who said the Madison County Sheriff's Department (MCSD) used roadblocks and plainclothes units to illegally harass residents of black neighborhoods. One of the plaintiffs, a 62-year-old woman, said she was hosting a barbecue when several sheriff's deputies jumped out of an unmarked car, detained and searched all her guests without a warrant, found nothing, and then left without explanation. The MCSD settled the lawsuit last year and entered into a court-enforced consent decree to reform its practices.

Woods and Soderberg's book offers a detailed look at the pitfalls of relying on this type of policing. It destroys relations between police and communities—and if it's not outright unconstitutional, it's extremely susceptible to unconstitutional abuses and corruption.

Although I Got A Monster is meticulously reported nonfiction, the writing is good enough to generate a trainwreck fascination in watching Jenkins' schemes start to spiral out of control. But amid a nationwide debate over policing reform, it's more than just an outrageous true crime story. Woods and Soderberg show the bureaucratic and political incentives that allowed dirty cops to flourish within the Baltimore Police Department. Those incentives exist in many other cities, and it would be a mistake to take it on trust that departments elsewhere are immune to the temptations that let the Gun Trace Task Force fester.

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    2. Damn those horrible racist Republicans who run Baltimore! If only the Democrats could take back Maryland!

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  3. Aren’t “jump out boys” exactly what the law abiding citizens of the crime ridden neighborhoods are demanding? How else to “get guns off our streets?” Are the only two choices unconstitutional gun grabs or unconstitutional frisking of random passersby?

    1. To take your questions in the order asked.

      I doubt it.

      No, but they are the only two solutions that politicians understand.

  4. “Baltimore Police Department let dirty cops flourish right under its nose”

    That’s the tragic but predictable consequence of voting Republican. If only Baltimore residents voted Democrat in higher numbers, police misconduct would be virtually nonexistent.

    1. This parody goes way too far. You should have mentioned something about climate change or reduced abortion access to make it more realistic

    2. I gotta love that someone says this because we know Republican rule is nothing but lollipops and roses. Couldn’t be that suburbs and other places just so happened to remove themselves from all of society’s ills and dump them on cities to figure out.

      Nope, just definitely Republican policy. Democrats definitely couldn’t figure out how to run a spread out suburb full of wealthy folks. No siree bob.

      1. So close… you’re *so close*!

      2. Seems to me Democrats are supporting (donations to bail out rioters) and egging on the BLM protests and riots against “systemic racism” as a distraction from how they hire, train, and run their racist police forces that kill blacks, engage in misconduct, and generally harass the public.

        As for suburbs vs. the city where the riots are, yeah some suburbs are run by Democrats, which is a distraction from the fact that all the riots are in Democrat run jurisdictions. And the Democrat government, if it wanted to, could stop the riots in an hour. I’d say the difference is voters in the suburbs would vote them out of office for allowing riots, while voters in the city won’t. People get what they vote for, whether they know it or not.

        1. I keep wondering why cities & states run by Democrats for the past 50+ years still have “systemic racism” issues. If they can’t fix the problem in 50 years of single party rule, then they are they problem.

        2. Probably because the “riots” aren’t actually happening anywhere. At least there weren’t any before the traitor sent in his brown shirts to stir the pot.

          Half of the cases where there were riots that weren’t instigated by the police it some right wing white “N word” in there stirring stuff up. Like the skinhead that protesters in Wisconsin apprehended and escorted to the police station. Or the same thing happened in Philly only they beat the sh*t out of him and buddy first.

          You’re a prime example of why Republicans are about to flushed out of office nationwide. Your whole party refuses to deal with reality, you keep telling each other the lies that you really wanna believe while the real problems either fester or get worse.

          Now we get to look forward to the next two decades of Democrat rule. Yay!

          1. Flush all of them out. Thinking it’s just the Republicans is one step below thinking god exists.

            Also, it’s a bit ironic to hear your complaints about people denying reality while simultaneously declaring there were no riots.

            Have you ever had an original thought, or has all that boot polish you’ve been consuming the reason for your impudent imprudence?

  5. Just as in every other walk of life, the only real long-term solution to corrupt and incompetent police is competition.
    * Allow anyone to be a cop. No occupational licensing. Same for lawyers, doctors, barbers, etc.
    * No special privileges or immunities for cops. If they fuck up an arrest, too bad, they get assault charges like anybody else would now.

    You have to be able to charge cops with their criminal acts, and only having competing cops will do that.

    I would especially allow anyone to create their own warrants, subject to appeal by the intended target, which must be relevant, minimal, consistent, clear. If you lose a case, all your warrants rebound on you. If you fuck up a warrant execution, such as exceeding its own limits, it rebounds on you. By “rebound”, I mean your target gets to execute the warrant right back at you at a time of their choosing anywhere in the next year. Or you could come to a financial arrangement. But your target is in control.

    1. Force isn’t like every other commodity in the market. Someone gets a monopoly because they literally kill their competition.

      1. Doesn’t have to be.

  6. The book, by the reporters Baynard Woods and Brandon Soderberg, pieces together the story of the 2017 Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) scandal, in which a federal investigation has so far led to the conviction of a dozen Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officers on charges of robbery, extortion, racketeering, filing false reports, and lying to federal grand juries.
    The mayor was too busy with her book to worry about criminal activity by government officials.

    1. The books that were pre-ordered by the Baltimore public schools but never delivered?

      1. Schools, business and others who wanted to work with the government. Normally book deals are a reliable money laundering scheme. Self-publishing added some efficiency. The $500,000 no bid from the University of Maryland Medical System while she was a trustee was too suspicious.

  7. How is this headline not about the FBI?

    1. Apparently they’re not concerned with the root cause.

  8. If it weren’t for those darn Republicans and their 80 year lock on Baltimore and Maryland politics…

    1. Why would Trump do this? 🙁

  9. Democrat Mayors and Council members during the past 6 decades are the reason why Baltimore’s police are also corrupt.

    1. Fucking bullshit. This crap happens everywhere. https://reason.com/2017/09/19/mississippis-jump-out-boys/

  10. City run by Democrats. Also, Joe Biden is a crook.

  11. Fun fact: When Ed Norris was being interviewed for the job of police commissioner in Baltimore, a unnamed council member told him directly to his face (per Ed), that he was perfect for the job but the wrong skin color.

    Another Fun fact: Kevin Clark, a PBD commissioner was fired by Martin O’Malley by having the SWAT team raid his office and remove him. It is alleged that Kevin was investigating an O’Malley aid for child porn and a CPU was confiscated by SWAT and never logged. Kevin won his case for his unlawful firing.

    1. Did that stupid Mick ever give up his national political ambitions after his failed 2016 presidential candidacy?

  12. Did someone mention Democrats? Why pick on them when you should be focusing on Republicans and white supremacy!

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  14. Guys, we’ve fallen to #2 in the rankings.

    /Some sergeant in the Philly P.D.

  15. The lawyer saw the prosecution of those officers by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, and her outrage over the case, as a cynical ploy…


  16. If this is making you think of the popular antihero from the TV show The Wire who robbed drug dealers, think again.

    The better Hollywood tie-in is to The Shield, one of the great TV series of all time. Do not let children or anyone squeamish watch any of it. In particular it has the most disturbing ending of all time.


    1. A cubicle…fitting

  17. So this libertarian magazine just did a profile of a new book about a police gun control enforcement unit, and failed to mention once that these sorts of tactics are the natural consequences of extreme gun control enacted by the legislature and loose police accountability?

  18. When all participants of a “system” are feeding from the same nose-bag, free from competition — and are allowed (by your neighbors and friends — hopefully not you) to
    • Make the laws,
    • Enforce the laws,
    • Prosecute the laws,
    • Hire the prosecutors,
    • License the “defense” attorneys,
    • Pay the “judges”,
    • Build the jails,
    • Contract jails out to private entities,
    • Employ and pay the wardens,
    • Employ and pay the guards,
    • Employ and pay the parole officers,
    One can’t honestly call it a “justice” system. It’s a system of abject tyranny.

  19. POLICE = Professionally Organized Liars In Concert w/Evil, the evil being the seditious B.A.R. Association, have been acting as essentially mob enforcers, terrorizing the people of their cities under unconstitutional, statutory regulations which they use to fill their revenue extortion mill, kangaroo courts. They have worked hand in hand with the politicians to destroy lives of hard working people for a profit. They don’t honor their oath of office and tell the politician “we can’t do that, it’s a violation of constitutional law” they go out and do the dirty work enthusiastically and they profit immensely from it. The left wing criminals couldn’t do us any harm at all without their enthusiastic enforcers, killing, raping and pillaging their way through our communities.

    1. How’s that going for you – being clever?

  20. One of the biggest reasons the police get away with being so corrupt is that the mayor and city council are also corrupt, and the cops know where the bodies are buried. Thus the cops and the mayor and the council are co-conspirators.

    Baltimore is the city that doesn’t work. Every aspect of city government is irreparably broken. Roads, sewers, water, … everything is a cartoon-like disaster, all that’s missing is the slide-whistle sound effects.

  21. Over half (I’ve measured it) of police corruption/misconduct would go away if only the Drug War were halted.
    All of it.
    Right now!

  22. I have a feeling when it all comes out in the light of day the LA County Sheriffs office is gunna make these guys look like Boy Scouts. Especially that Compton Division. If you allow your cops to form and join freaking street gangs don’t be surprised when people start dealing with cops the way gang members are dealt with. You can’t have it both ways!

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  25. “how the Baltimore Police Department let dirty cops flourish”

    How generous, I would have said they actively pressed dirty cops to flourish but that would imply the Department was complicit and it’s difficult to argue that it wasn’t.

  26. Who ruined it? I couldn’t quite make out what you were saying you fucking piece of repeatin shit. Don’t you have an antifa riot to instigate?

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  28. A great learning platform it is. I’ll upgrade my knowledge especially I’ll learn about the American police system.

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