Published: Thu, April 13, 2017
U.S. | By Rene Hicks

Plan to overhaul Baltimore's police goes before the public

Justice Department attorney John Gore said Attorney General Jeff Sessions is anxious about "whether it will achieve the goals of public safety and law enforcement while at the same time protecting civil rights". Sessions' concerns, Gore said, are "not simply limited to Baltimore, it applies nationwide". It also led to an investigation that found the city's police routinely violated residents' civil rights.

"I want to say to the community in particular that the police department is absolutely dedicated to the consent decree process". In a city that became emblematic of police abuse, excessive force and callous treatment of young black men, Baltimore's mayor and commissioner say they are eager and ready to change not only the culture of law enforcement, but the practice.

"It is very important that our community as well as the police, our fire, all of our local officials have great relationships with the community".

Thursday's court hearing was unusual.

"It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies", the memo says. Throughout, the BPD and the city's leadership have repeatedly stated that without immediate and strong reforms, the mostly Black and brown communities most brutalized by police have no reason to trust police - undermining public safety.

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The Justice Department had requested a 90-day delay in today's hearing.

Bredar denied the request as "untimely", writing that granting such a delay "at the eleventh hour would be to unduly burden and inconvenience the Court, the other parties, and, most importantly, the public".

The review of the consent decree is being conducted as the result of a March 31 memo from Sessions that ordered a closer look at whether the agreement would meet administration goals such as promoting officer morale and boosting recruitment and training of officers.

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On Tuesday, city officials told the judge in a court filing that they oppose a 90-day extension to the hearing.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the independent watchdog New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, said a massive paper trail is necessary for the courts to determine if police departments are complying with a consent decree's terms.

"The closest thing I've seen to justice is this consent decree", he said. "We need reform in this city, especially in the use of force, to [encourage] de-escalation".

The Obama administration entered into 11 such agreements, far more than any past administration. Sessions has criticized videos that reveal police misconduct more than the conduct itself, and has never been a fan of federal investigations into local police departments.

Since then, a fatal police shooting last summer sparked two nights of violence unrest in the city's Sherman Park neighborhood and the ACLU of Wisconsin has filed a class-action lawsuit accusing the Milwaukee Police Department of illegal stop-and-frisks targeting African-Americans and Latinos.

Sessions has referred to the reports on (and agreements with) Ferguson and Chicago as "anecdotal and not-so-scientifically based", although he also confessed to not having actually read them. Police Commissioner Kevin Davis called it "a punch in the gut", and was clear in his message that both he and the department support a consent decree. It is unclear how precisely the process will unfold from here.

In some cities with negotiated consent decrees, local officials likely won't be quite so enthusiastic about change and will in fact be relieved that the new DOJ won't push them as hard as the old one.

The city invited the Justice Department investigation, which found a pattern of discriminatory policing, after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody.

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