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The Baltimore Police Department arrested seven of its own after they were indicted on federal racketeering and conspiracy charges. Video provided by Newsy Newslook

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Elite, young and tough, the cops on Baltimore's Gun Trace Task Force have gotten results for years.

"Gun Trace Task Force car stop nabs convicted felon armed w/ loaded .40 caliber pistol. Great work!" one post reads in 2015 from the Baltimore Police Department's Twitter account. 

Drug busts, illegal guns, large sums of cash: The men seemed to be helping in the city's fight to rid the community of violence.

Instead, prosecutors say, they were worsening it in a scheme that has exploded and left an already troubled department fighting more controversy.

Eight members of the task force, which was created in 2007, were indicted in a racketeering ploy that included stealing money from citizens, selling seized guns and drugs, putting innocent people behind bars and returning criminals to the streets. The massive scandal is just the latest in recent months in the city, which has been plagued by violent crime and a history of mistrust between officers and citizens.

It’s almost hard to keep up with all the developments — and the fallout. Even the city’s mayor, Catherine Pugh, admitted she couldn’t follow all the news.  

A detective was killed with his own gun one day before testifying against fellow officers. The police academy has been accused of pushing recruits through even when they don't understand basic laws. And much of the high brass in the department has departed.

All of this while the crime rate continues to rise and the city attempts to get back on its feet after years of crawling out from the shadow of a Department of Justice probe and riots that made Baltimore a talking point in police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement. Last year, the city's more than 300 homicides broke a record per capita. 

A trial with lasting impact

The arrests of eight officers sent shock waves through the community. Two of them were found guilty Monday in federal court; the others pleaded guilty. 

Prosecutors say their plot went on for years, turning officers into both cops and robbers.

Those in the community say the corruption hit a nerve and confirmed what many had complained about for years in the department. But some have hope the guilty verdicts and pleas could engender change. 

"It’s time to talk about what comes next for the city of Baltimore. This corruption went on unabated for nearly 10 years and was only brought to light as a result of a federal investigation," said NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill, who has been a community leader in Baltimore for years. "Neither City Hall, BPD’s Internal Affairs nor the State’s Attorney’s Office was able to uncover and hold accountable the officers at the heart of this criminal conspiracy."

Testimony and indictments paint a dark picture of the task force's daily routines:

Officers would steal sometimes as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars from the people they were sworn to protect or arrest.

During one incident, officers allegedly stole rent money from a maintenance worker at a nursing home. In another, one of the officers described his theft of several thousand dollars as a tax.  

They were accused of breaking into homes without warrants, one time finding a gun and a large amount of marijuana. One of the officers involved admitted during his testimony that he sold the drugs and gun back on the streets.

Andre Crowder says he was a victim of the scheme when he was pulled over and arrested after police said they found a gun in his vehicle. He claims officers stole $10,000 from him. The charges against him have since been dropped. 

He said during a news conference that he was jailed for three days. His 3-year-old son died before he could bail out.

"The three days that I was gone out of my son’s life, I lost him, so it’s bigger than the charge they put on me, the mark they put on my record, the cash that was taken," Crowder said. "It doesn’t matter because I wasn’t there to spend the last moments of my son’s life with him because of this situation."

The officers themselves have testified to helping criminals, including allowing suspects to use their equipment and acting as lookouts during crimes.

They filled out false reports, and on occasion wouldn’t document things entirely. The group also claimed overtime they didn’t work even when they were on vacation and out of the country, helping several of the officers to nearly double their salary.

A detective in the unit testified they carried BB guns in case they needed to plant a weapon on someone, a claim that could have a sincere effect on future cases in the city.

During the trial, 12 additional officers were accused of wrongdoing in testimony. They all are still on the force. 

“If we can’t trust the police, who can we trust?” Crowder said.

More: Ex-Baltimore detectives testify about force’s robberies, illegal activities

A killing, recruits and new leadership

In the midst of all of this, Detective Sean Suiter, a member of the Gun Trace Task Force, was killed with his own gun.

He was scheduled to testify against other members of the task force in November, the day after his death. Authorities have battled speculation that his death was connected to the testimony and say Suiter was not a target of the investigation.

His death was ruled a homicide, which lessened suspicion that his death could be a suicide.

No one has been arrested in the death, making it the only line-of-duty killing of a cop in Baltimore's history that has not been solved. 

The FBI rejected a request to take over the investigation from Baltimore police, explaining nothing in the case would link it to a bureau investigation. City officials still believe a third party should handle the case.

More: Police: Slain Baltimore detective shot day before grand jury testimony

“Everybody seems to think there’s corruption involved in this, and by corruption, I mean another police officer was involved in Sean Suiter’s death. If the FBI thought that was the case, they would have taken this case,” City Commissioner Kevin Davis told CBS affiliate WJZ

Trust in police has been a significant issue in the city for years. Earlier this month an instructor at the department’s police academy accused officials of pushing through new recruits even though they didn’t understand basic laws.

Sgt. Josh Rosenblatt, head of legal instruction at the academy, told The Baltimore Sun that 17 out of 50 recruits failed his scenario-based tests, which included things such as the need for probable cause. 

The NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund sent a letter to police and federal officials about the allegations, explaining that having well-trained officers is important in the city “now, more than ever.”

“Officers who have not demonstrated proficiency in the legal requirement of constitutional policing should not patrol city streets,” the letter reads. “This is critical for the building of trust between communities and law enforcement and for the safety of residents and officers.”

The mayor has pledged that’s exactly what the city and department are trying to do. In January, she fired the head of the department because of the heightening crime rate and replaced him with the third commissioner the department has had in five years.

Other high-ranking members of the department resigned or retired. But filling the gaps has been a rough path.

Can police earn back trust?

The 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after being transported in a police van, highlighted the divide between police and the community. The Department of Justice probed the department and found police were abusing their power and unfairly targeting black members of the community.  

The department is currently under a federal court-enforceable consent decree to remedy the issues.

More: In Freddie Gray case, did justice system fail or prove resilient?

But the scandals have continued.

“It's just one shocking thing after another," said Peter Moskos, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former Baltimore officer.

He said the department's woes appear to have the same origins as other scandals: a high crime area, officers who make a lot of arrests and get results and a segregated unit that operates on its own.

Moskos said the future is very dependent on leadership in the department.

"I think this goes beyond the whole few rotten apples. This is a systemic issue," he said. "They need someone to take charge and make lasting changes because Baltimore could very well become a failed city."

Prosecutors in the task force trial have made sure to express that the officers charged are not indicative of the entire department. 

But the department does acknowledge the loss in trust. 

"We recognize that this indictment and the subsequent trial uncovered one of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement," Acting Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said in a statement after Monday's guilty verdict. 

"Our job moving forward is to earn back the trust and respect of the community," he said. "It will be a process and I understand the doubt, fear and pessimism, but I ensure you that rooting out anyone who thinks they can tarnish the badge and violate our citizen's rights, is a top priority of mind."

Before the verdict, De Sousa outlined some of his plans to mend relations in the community, including randomly polygraphing members of specialized units and preforming audits of overtime requests.

He even said he was considering moving the internal affairs unit, charged with investigating officers accused of wrongdoing, to the mayor's office, according to The Baltimore Sun

Residents and those who were victims of the task force scheme are pleading for an overhaul of the department. 

"Unfortunately, it takes extreme cases like this," Adam Jackson, CEO of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a social activist organization in the city, told the Sun

Jackson said adding laws allowing for more transparency and oversight would help root out the corruption but wasn't hopeful that would come to fruition.

Others say the ending of the trial is just the beginning of a new department. 

"Everybody thinks this is over. This ain’t over. This has just begun," said Shawn Whiting, who testified that police stole more than $14,000 and heroin from his house during a 2014 raid. "This is far and beyond probably one of the worst crimes in the history of Baltimore."

Follow Christal Hayes on Twitter: Journo_Christal 

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Baltimore police officers routinely discriminate against blacks, repeatedly use excessive force and are not adequately held accountable for misconduct, according to a harshly critical Justice Department report presented Wednesday. (Aug. 10) AP

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