The mayor called on U.S. government investigators Wednesday to look into whether this city’s beleaguered police department uses a pattern of excessive force or discriminatory policing.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said even though complaints of excessive force and lawsuits alleging misconduct are down over the last few years, “we all know that Baltimore continues to have a fractured relationship between the police and the community.”
Baltimore saw days of unrest after Freddie Gray, a black man, was taken into custody and suffered critical injuries. He died a week later. Protesters threw bottles and bricks at police during a riot on April 27, injuring nearly 100 officers. More than 200 people were arrested, and about 170 cars and 250 businesses were burned.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and called in 3,000 National Guard troops and 1,000 officers from around the state and country. Hogan rescinded the state of emergency Wednesday and said all of the troops and state police had been pulled out. He said $20 million from state’s Rainy Day Fund will help pay for last week’s response.
He said the federal investigation was “probably a step in the right direction.”
The mayor’s request came a day after new Attorney General Loretta Lynch visited the city and pledged to improve the police department, telling faith and community leaders “we’re here to hold your hands and provide support.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said in a statement that Lynch had received the mayor’s request and “is actively considering that option in light of what she heard from law enforcement, city officials, and community, faith and youth leaders.”
At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest said investigating would be up to Lynch, who is “certainly eminently qualified to make this decision” as a former federal prosecutor.
“She has a very good understanding of the way that those law enforcement and prosecutorial enterprises should conduct themselves,” he said.
A Baltimore Police Department spokesman had no immediate response. An email and text message was not immediately returned.
At her news conference, the mayor also said officers would have body cameras by the end of the year.
The Justice Department is already investigating whether Gray’s civil rights were violated, and six officers face charges in the arrest and death, ranging from assault to second-degree murder.
The new investigation the mayor called for is similar to one was done in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting of an unarmed, black 18-year-old man by a white police officer.
Such wide-ranging investigations look for patterns of discrimination within a police department. They can examine how officers use force and search and arrest suspects.
Baltimore City Council President Jack Young has been calling for such an investigation since October, his spokesman Lester Davis said.
“The only way we’re going to get the kind of lasting and meaningful reforms that are going to produce results is through a full-scale civil-rights investigation,” Davis said.
At the time the Ferguson inquiry was announced in September, it was described as part of a broader Justice Department effort to investigate troubled police departments and, when pervasive problems are found, direct changes to be made. The department said then it has investigated 20 police departments for a variety of systemic misconduct in the past five years, more than twice the number of cases opened in the previous five years.
The investigations can sometimes result in a settlement known as a consent decree, in which the department agrees to make specific changes, and an outside monitor is appointed to make sure the police force complies with the agreement.
Source: The AP
Associated Press writers Brian Witte and Juliet Linderman in Baltimore, and Nancy Benac and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.